between the lines; The actress Nichola McAuliffe recalls how the lesson of Love's Labour's Lost was not lost on at least one teenage member of its audience

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When I was about 14, I went to see Love's Labour's Lost with Joan Plowright and Jeremy Brett, and at the end there are two lines spoken by the heroine Rosaline that have stayed with me ever since. Berowne, who has been very witty at the expense of others, has asked Rosaline to marry him, but she says that he must wait 12 months. Meanwhile, she orders him "with all the fierce endeavour of your wit / To enforce the pained impotent to smile".

On a school trip at about that time, I'd made a lot of people laugh at a boy one day, and he had no ammunition against it, no defence. Later that evening, someone close to me asked: "Why did you have to humiliate him with your wit?" Why? Because I could. So when I heard those lines of Shakespeare, it was a lesson that struck me very hard and has stayed with me, that to use your natural wit as a weapon is to abuse or denigrate a God-given talent. To make people laugh is a wonderful thing, but taken to extremes it's Adolf Hitler. At its best, it's Ken Dodd.

The postscript to all this came not long after. I knew a guy who had recently been disabled after an operation on his spine went wrong, and who was very angry about it. He gave me a book to read that summed up how he felt. In return I gave him Love's Labour's Lost with that line, "To enforce the pained impotent to smile," inscribed in the front.

"Thank you," he said to me. "Yes, you have, and I am."


n Nichola McAuliffe (above) is currently appearing in 'Hobson's Choice' at the Lyric, Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1 (0171-494 5045)