The theme of this series of posts is the poetic conceit that life is akin to a work of art. Perhaps the best-known instance of the conceit is the passage from Shakespeare's As You Like It: "All the world's a stage, /And all the men and women merely players . . ." Of course, Shakespeare was neither the first nor the last to employ this idea.
At some point in our lives, the thought may occur to us that we are playing (whether by choice or by fate) a role in an unfolding entertainment of some sort. Whether that entertainment is drama, comedy, tragedy, or farce is the (unanswered) question.
Masque of All Men
In the cold-windy cavern of the Wings
With skeletons of unused sets above them
The actors' painted heads clustered,
Clustered and whispered. One head whispered,
'This has been my life: the Prologue often,
And then no Play. Or when the play has come
The players have departed, the parts being played
By understudies, makeshifts, shifting
The balance, the play, the purpose:
The lines dissolving and the play transposing
Itself into another, an unrehearsed;
So that the prompter, script discarded, idly
Sits in the echoing cavern
Among cold winds beneath the unused sets.'
And others whispered, 'Your life? Yes, and mine.'
'And mine.' 'And mine.' 'And mine.'
A. S. J. Tessimond, Voices in a Giant City (1947).
Tessimond's description of the life we actors lead seems apt: there never is a script, is there? Nor a prompter. I am reminded of the dream in which you show up to take an exam on the final day of class and suddenly realize that you have not attended any of the lectures and have not read any of the required course materials. You are on your own.
"Flask Walk, Hampstead, at Night" (1933)