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)Reuse content