Thursday, May 03, 2007

Happiness of Life

Rehearsals have started for our 2007 Summer show at the Swan, Love's Labors Lost. Bob Hall has again assembled a wonderful cast -- more on all of them, in future postings -- and the first read-through was filled with laughter and not a few discoveries.

One of the first discoveries was prompted by a bit of what seems almost throwaway dialogue between Nathaniel, the local curate, and Holofernes, a schoolmaster, both from the precincts around the court of Navarre. The teacher has invited the clergyman to dine with him at the "father's [house] of a certain pupil," in order to continue a literary debate.

Nathaniel is grateful and observes that "society (saith the text) is the happiness of life."

Holofernes replies that "the text most infallibly concludes" that sentiment.

Since Nathaniel is a man of the cloth, we might presume that "the text" to which he refers is the Bible. But there doesn't seem to be a single passage in all of scripture that supports such a "conclusion," no matter what Holofernes says.

Is Nathaniel mistaken? He is, after all, only a curate -- likely hired to serve a congregation in place of the priest who actually holds the living, or income, from the parish's tithes.

Is Holofernes mistaken? He seems, after all, far more attuned to the literature of Greek and Roman antiquity than to anything else.

Is Shakespeare mistaken? There has been plenty of discussion about the playwright's "true" religious affiliations -- or lack thereof.

Or is there another "text," close to hand, that might convey the message that the definitive source of happiness in this life is society: company, companionship, community?

One possibility is the script itself. Along with the play's obvious considerations of love and more subtle considerations of learning, Love's Labors Lost also meditates on human isolation and intimacy. And maybe Nathaniel distantly echoes a rather famous biblical text (from the Geneva version): "It is not good for the man to be himself alone."

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