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,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.– William Shakespeare “As You Like It” 2:7
This is an historic quotation from one of the most prolific writers of our time. Scholars hold it up as a great metaphor. But what if it goes beyond a metaphor? What if Shakespeare knew something about the nature of reality and the only way he could disseminate this knowledge was through his plays. He certainly reached a lot more people writing plays that he ever would have preaching, or writing philosophical theories.
I think that it is possible that Shakespeare used his plays to draw people in so that he could entertain them and also tell them something about the world in which in we live. His use of low humour shows that he wanted to reach regular people. And he certainly did that. His plays are timeless and still read five hundred years after the fact.
The legendary rapper Krs-One has admitted to using the same kind of technique. He is known as “The teacher” in hip-hop. He has some great messages in his songs. And he certainly reaches a lot of people but he doesn’t do it by preaching. He uses rap to draw people in that wouldn’t otherwise even want to hear his message. In fact, his first album cover has him holding a gun and even it’s title Criminal Minded drew in a certain audience. Krs-One then used the power of words to tell the truth as he saw it. And people listened and took it in, whether they care to admit it or not. He remains a popular artist twenty years later as well.
Some people might think it disrespectful to be talking about these two brilliant minds in the same breath. I don’t think it is. They both used the popular form of entertainment for their day to get a message across. The messages may be hidden in their art and people may not choose to take anything away from them other than a good play or a good song, but it is still there.
I might be accused of reading too much into the quote above. People will say that it is simply a metaphor and nothing more. They will argue up and down that we can’t just be characters in a story. It sounds implausible and it raises tonnes of questions and objections. And while that may be true, it doesn’t rule out my theory that we are all characters in a story.
More Storied Thursdays to Come.