Paul Greenberg

I think continually of those who were truly great.
Born of the sun they traveled
a short while towards the sun,
And left the vivid air signed with their honor.

-Stephen Spender

You know how it is. You're flipping though the paper, get to the obituary page, and there is the name of some once prominent personage - a politician, an artist, an athlete or some other celebrated figure you may never have met, and who hasn't been in the public eye for years. But he long ago became an indelible part of your own consciousness, someone who has entered not just your thoughts but dreams.

So that, years later, long after the name has disappeared from the daily news or Broadway marquee, you see it atop an obituary, and you want to read every word, not just to learn more about a figure who had such a powerful effect on you, but to relive the experience he gave you.

Such a name is that of Paul Scofield, the British actor who has died of leukemia at the age of 86. He was a man of the stage who gave many a memorable performance, for he brought to his craft a remarkably adaptable voice, body and persona. At six-foot-two, he could play a towering monarch, yet disappear into the background if that was required.

To quote the director Peter Brook, who recalled waiting for Mr. Scofield to rehearse the part of the priest in Graham Greene's "The Power and the Glory": "The door opened and a small man entered. He was wearing a black suit, steel-rimmed glasses and holding a suitcase. For a moment we wondered why this stranger was wandering on our stage. Then we realized it was Paul, transformed. His tall body had shrunk, he had become insignificant."

Paul Scofield had many triumphs on stage, including his Salieri in "Amadeus." The actor Richard Burton, no small talent himself, once said that, "of the 10 greatest moments in the theater, eight are Scofield's."

The role that made Paul Scofield's lined features and timbered voice internationally known was that of Sir Thomas More in Robert Bolt's "A Man for All Seasons." The relationship between a great play and a great actor is complicated. The actor is both true to the playwright's lines and truer, for he makes them distinctively his own. It is one thing to read Robert Bolt's lines on paper, and be moved and enlightened. It is another but different thing to have been moved and enlightened by watching Paul Scofield bring the lines to stage, screen and life.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.