The Many Parts We Play

At this time last year, we thought about the back-to-school blues through the lens of Shakespeare’s legendary “All the world’s a stage” monologue from As You Like It. As summer comes to a close, the lines about children “creeping like snail unwillingly to school” ring as true as ever; but today, we wanted to take a step back and think even more about the world as a stage. As Shakespeare proclaims, “one man in his time plays many parts” – and how right he is.

Think about our daily lives in our chosen professions, in all their variety. Think about the number of interactions in which we take part, from the personal to the anonymous. We live in an age in which we can even construct a distinct public identity – from Facebook profiles to Instagram pictures to Twitter accounts. In his words, Shakespeare not only highlights the phases of human experience, but anticipates a multimedia world in which we are all, indeed, on stage.

But don’t just take our word for it. Marlon Brando, one of the greatest actors of all time, once remarked, “We couldn’t survive a second if we weren’t able to act […] We act to save our lives, actually, every day.” (See his interview with Dick Cavett.)

Impossible Courage

As a tribute not only to the Bard, but to Christopher Nolan’s recent inspired film Dunkirk, we offer an edited version of the powerful “St. Crispin’s Day” speech from Henry V. In this monologue, King Henry rallies the English troops – greatly outnumbered by their enemy – before his invasion of France. Exploring still another facet of national history, Nolan’s film captures the miraculous rescue of British troops by civilians in World War II – highlighting their impossible courage in a time of turmoil. Bound by shared humanity, those heroes are – as Shakespeare’s Henry would declare – a “band of brothers.”

Though in obviously vastly different circumstances, the cast and crew of any production share a parallel sense of purpose. Certainly this came to the fore in a Shakespeare For Our Children performance at Salem Montessori in which a young man named Alexander revealed his own impossible courage: performing the St. Crispin’s Day speech in its entirety – rousing his fellow performers, as well as the audience, in a stirring rendition of the speech. It was not only Shakespeare’s words that were so powerful, or even the excellence of Alexander’s interpretation; it was the bravery that the 12-year old showed in tackling the epic speech.