On the World as a Stage

The Scroll of History
The Scroll of History as a Giant Stage at the 2008 Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;”
— Shakespeare “As You Like It”

“There are such curtains which drop down in life.
God is passing to the next act.”
— Victor Hugo “Les Misérables”

The notion that the world is a stage didn’t originate with Shakespeare. Many ancient Greeks and Romans recognized their roles and played them well. For instance, Cicero wrote in De Senectute (On Old Age), “Since Nature has fitly planned the other acts of life’s drama, it is not likely that she has neglected the final act as if she were a careless playwright.”; Augustus, the first Emperor of Rome, who was partly responsible for the death of Cicero and the demise of the Roman Republic, reportedly said these last words, “Have I played the part well? Then applaud as I exit”; Saint Paul wrote, “I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men.” (1 Corinthians 4:9)

Actors Performing on the Scroll
Dancers Performing Calligraphy on the Scroll

One might wonder: If the world is a stage, why is it that no one returns for curtain calls?

Perhaps it’s because the spectacle is not over yet, and we’re all active in the play. Actors should seek applause and praise not from his fellow actors on stage, but from the playwright and the audience. It is not our role to applaud or criticize others’ performances while we’re required to perform our own part; nor is it befitting for us to wander aimlessly, as though we have forgotten our lines and the role we’re cast in. It’s not an actor’s concern whether his character dies a violent and tragic death or lives happily ever after, his concern is to embody the character faithfully as it is intended and scripted by the playwright.

May we so live our lives that when the curtain finally falls, we shall hear the cheer from the audience, “Well Done!”

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