Saturday, May 25, 2013

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

Comedies, in Dr. Burton's words, "unmask general hypocrisy." So can tragedies. This well-known monologue by Jacques in As You Like It got me thinking about roles we play: gender roles, roles in the workplace, roles in our family relationships ... the idea of acting/scripting in real life.

A well-regarded sermon by Dieter Uchtdorf (for any readers who aren't Mormon, don't worry, he's very cool!) discussed the different roles a man plays in his life. More than the typical dialogue within the Mormon community, he emphasized that men wear many hats, and that is important that no one is shunned because they fit into one role better than another.

None of the "titles," or roles, focused on professional attainment or (and this is important!) ecclesiastical positions, or "callings," as they're termed in LDS circles. They were all deeper and longer-lasting than that. (Healer of Souls, son of God, &c.)

This is where Willy and Biff Loman come in. They clearly have a broken relationship: with each other, with Linda, with society in general. Willy's unrelenting focus on popularity is shallow and ultimately unrewarding. Charley and Bernard are nerds, but I believe they have a larger, wider view of themselves and how they fit into society.

Only actors with the last name Hoffman can play this role.
Willy Loman's problem isn't so much that he's a bad salesman. (Which he is.) It's that he doesn't have a balanced view of himself. To use modern psychobabble, he has poor self-esteem.

The 1940s in which the play is set would see a large shift in definitions of American masculinity. The obvious starting point is the Second World War as a generational divide (a fascination of mine). Also, the idea of a man as a breadwinner, able to provide a stay-at-home wife with stuff, really gelled at this cultural moment. (Previously, women were largely contributors to household finances, whether through dowries or actual work.)

I want to make memory a focus of this and future blog posts: how we think about thinking. When Loman is rehearsing his life to himself, he seems to miss the kairos, to use a word I blatantly, shamelessly stole from Jamie: his proper exits and entrances.

One man in his time plays many parts. 

Uchtdorf, a well-balanced man, didn't miss this fundamental truth.

Loman did.  More's the pity.


  1. (Nearly unrelated to your post) I will watch any movie with Philip Seymour Hoffman. The man can vivify any page-born character.

    1. Have you seen Synecdoche, New York? I think of Dr. Burton when I hear that film title.

  2. All those general authorities are so chill aren't they? I had a similar comment in a blog post I wrote for Nephi's Psalm.