“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.”
(Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII, lines 139-143)
I apologize for my absence over the past week or so. I’ve been on vacation with my husband, and our destination was the Shakespeare festival in Ashland, Oregon. There, we saw 4 plays, three by the Bard himself, one of which was As You Like It.
Melancholy Jacques utters this famous line, arguably the most famous in Shakespeare’s entire repertoire. One of my professors once argued that most of Shakespeare’s plays came down to this one main point, that we are all acting in this great play called life.
“All the world is a stage.”
Until I wandered the streets of Ashland, I never truly understood the quote. All summer long, Ashland hosts a handful of Shakespeare plays, as well as plays from other famous playwrights, on three main stages. On any given day, except Monday (the actor’s sabbath), you can catch at least two different plays, a matinee and evening show. Everywhere you go, there’s another play to watch, another show to see. One show has just ended, and another one is soon to begin.
“And all the men and women merely players”
Ashland’s festival is known for bringing in highly accomplished actors of the stage and screen, and I recognized several familiar faces staring back at me across the stage. Dan and I had a fun time playing “spot the actor” in public. It wasn’t very hard. They were everywhere. Because the actors play roles in several shows during the full summer, they live in the area and consequently, they dine and shop in area stores. We sat at a brewery next to a table of actors, ones I recognized from a show that we’d seen earlier that afternoon. Players are everywhere. You never know who is an actor, and who is not.
“And one man in his time plays many parts”
As we watched several shows over the course of our stay, we began to recognize actors that had roles in multiple plays. “Wasn’t he Baptista in The Taming of the Shrew?” we’d ask, when we saw the same actor play a shepherd in As you Like it. The same man played wildly different roles, but he was believable and likable in both. After As you Like it, Dan was kind enough to accompany me to an actor’s discussion, where an actor was going to answer questions about the play. We were pleased when Baptista/the Shepherd showed up. We had one more dimension to add to him, his “real” persona. But, even as he answered our questions about the life of an actor and what sort of roles he liked, I wondered if this was just another part he was playing.
All of us are actors. We all play parts for different audiences, whether we realize it or not. It was true 400 years ago, in Shakespeare’s time, it’s true today, and it was true 2,000 years ago in Israel.
One group in particular, the Pharisees, were master actors. They acted for their own gain, to make themselves look holier than they were, to earn brownie points with God. In ancient Greek, the word that means “actor” is “hupokrites,” or as we say it “hypocrite.” When Jesus was ranting against the Pharisees in Matthew 23, calling them “hypocrites,” he was calling them out on their acting (no “Jesus, meek and mild” here, folks). Shakespeare’s insight into man was nothing new. Jesus recognized it long before.
Unbelievers love pointing out the times when Christians act as hypocrites, when we act one way, pretending to be holy, even when we’re not. Maybe it’s the part we play on Sundays when we go to church, or the mask we wear when we are out in public. I must point out that there’s a big difference between playing a role and simply failing to live up to an ideal because sin gets in the way. Nobody is perfect. That’s why we need Jesus. We’re hypocrites when we, like the Pharisees, wear a mask of perfection, but our hearts have no desire to be like Jesus.
By God’s grace, we don’t need to play the hypocrite. We can play the role he designed for us to play: the authentic, humble, and contrite person who needs a savior.