But anything so o’erdone is far from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is to hold, as ‘twere, the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.

It is remarkable that so many centuries later this sense of purpose still feels insightful. Theatre artists tend to squabble over things. There are great differences in style, in methodology, in aesthetics, in intention. Ask 10 theatremakers what their art is for and you’ll likely get 10 different answers. But this one seems to unite them all. And a mirror is a useful metaphor. There can be much variety in a mirror.
Some seem to distort an image – make it longer or wider. Some make what it is seem absurd. Some make reality more beautiful. Some mirrors make everything terrifying or menacing. Some seem to be reflecting truth, nature just as it is (but of course that is an illusion – at the very least it is nature reversed.)

But all of it is a reflection of some nugget of life, all of it reveals as much as it distorts, and sometimes reveals more through distortion.
I’ve never met a theatre person who wasn’t somehow moved by this line. We can forget sometimes that our work has value and that there IS a purpose and that it is one full of meaning, rich in importance. That playing has a purpose is something we can forget and we are moved when we are reminded.

Especially with a line so connected to the past, so interested in the future. The way the line lives in a long line of forever “both at the first and now, was and is” the line is like a line leading from the very first player until this moment now, allowing us to remember that there were players at the first and that they lead straight to now, to the very age and body of our time.


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