Saturday, 01 August 2009

Shakespeare Saturday: All the world's a stage

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,

(from As You Like It)

I've learned to interpret this passage as the epitome of art vs. reality and the interplay between the two. While I think that's a valid and meaningful interpretation, I've recently begun to think that it puts a lot of the emphasis on the stage and very little on the players.

The view of people as players is very interesting. It suggests that we don't show our true selves to the world. Usually, this is seen as a bad thing, but Jaques (and so, I would guess, Shakespeare) seems more concerned with the fact that it is inevitable. I would agree with him. None is us is willing to expose our whole self to another person.

Exhortations to "come out from behind your mask" or to "be your true self" become meaningless in this view. While Jaques' opinion seems to be that we have no choice of our role in the play, I would say that we do have a choice, but that we choose to remain players in some senses through morality.

We play the part of an interested friend; most of the time it is a expression of how we really feel, but sometimes, when we are tired or unhappy, we are only playing a part. It's right, I think, to play that part in order to preserve the friendship.

Sometimes I feel like shouting and screaming, but I play the part of a rational person. Other times, I show my true feelings. I regret the latter far more than I've ever regretted the former.

I am happy to be a player, so long as I am not a puppet. I'll give my life my interpretation and live it the way I believe is best, but there are some things the audience doesn't need to know.

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