Benedict Cumberbatch Reads a Colorful Complaint Letter by George Bernard Shaw

During a Letters Live event on November 14, 2023, actor Benedict Cumberbatch read aloud a very colorful complaint letter that famed Irish playwright and critic George Bernard Shaw wrote to The Times in 1905 after a performance of Don Giovanni at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.

Now let me describe what actually happened to me at the Opera. Not only was I in evening dress by compulsion, but I voluntarily added many graces of conduct as to which the management made no stipulation whatever.

The letter further explained that he was quietly enjoying the opera while appropriately dressed when a woman with a hat made of a large dead bird sat down and blocked his view. Needless to say, Bernard Shaw was not happy.

For this lady, who had very black hair, had stuck over her right ear the pitiable corpse of a large white bird, which looked exactly if someone had killed it by stamping on the beast, and then nailed it to the lady’s temple, which was presumably of sufficient solidity to bear the operation. I am not, I hope, a morbidly squeamish person; but the spectacle sickened me.

Bernard Shaw went on to complain about what he saw as double standards in appropriate dress.

I suggest to the Covent Garden authorities that, if they feel bound to protect their subscribers against the dangers of my shocking them with a blue tie, they are at least equally bound to protect me against the danger of a woman shocking me with a dead bird.

Lori Dorn
Lori Dorn

Lori is a Laughing Squid Contributing Editor based in New York City who has been writing blog posts for over a decade. She also enjoys making jewelry, playing guitar, taking photos and mixing craft cocktails. Lori can be found posting on Threads and sharing photos on Instagram.