After more than twelve years rebelliously stuffing myself with chick lit, I have finally got my heavy Complete Works of Shakespeare down from the top shelf. It’s been so long I am surprised to see how many of the plays have little ticks beside them, as ones I’ve read. I thought I’d start with the lighter comedy, As You Like It, but even that was too hard to get into. I began flicking through it, noticing that I had helpfully annotated it for myself. The words I’ve put in my heading today have been marked with two pencil lines on either side in Act Two of the play. Its aptness struck the more grown-up me this time.
We do all go through the motions of living, playing a part – sometimes with the mask off, but mostly with it firmly fixed on. Many times I’ve caught myself fixing a smile on when I get out of the car, open the front door, enter a room of people. Sometimes that mask is easy to lift up, other times it’s a self-preservation tactic. So if I do it, I’m guessing everybody else does too.
I occasionally catch people who have dropped their act, and reveal what is truly going on behind the scenes. I have observed others who are just laughing that bit too loud, or talking too much. It might just be friendliness (most are actually happy!), or it might be insecurity dressed up as frivolity. (Can you tell I’ve been reading Shakespeare?!)
What to do then? I suppose we need to allow people space to be themselves, and not just rush on to another conversation that seems easier. Never stop at the ‘fine’s or the state of the weather, for
‘This wide and universal theatre/ Presents more woeful pageants than the scene wherein we play in.’
Wouldn’t it make your day if you stopped long enough to acknowledge somebody’s else woeful pageant, or to summon a smile from them that was fundamentally true? And you don’t have to retreat to a ‘rustic world of forest and field’ to do that!