All the World on Stage

July 14, 2018

Cobbe portrait of William Shakespeare

Henceforth, apparently, the major theaters of Dublin are, as a matter of principle, to commission at least half their new plays from women. At least half of the characters in the plays, and the directors too, will be women. One can only applaud this commitment to equality and social inclusion.

However, without wanting to carp, it seems to me that the gesture does not go nearly far enough. What about the fat, for example? As we know, a high proportion of the population is now fat, and quite a number are grossly obese. Yet how often do you see plays written by the fat, acted by the fat, directed by the fat, and of interest to the fat? The theatrical professions as a whole are pervaded by slim-ism, but there is no intrinsic connection between being slim and literary or acting ability. There is abundant evidence of widespread prejudice against the fat, and it is surely time that this was overcome. My own view is that at least 10 percent of playwrights, actors, and directors ought to suffer from type 2 diabetes.

And then, of course, there is the matter of intelligence. The average IQ of the population is 100, and such is the normal distribution of intelligence that there are as many people of below-average intelligence as above it. Yet how often do you see a play written or directed by those with an IQ of, say, 80? It is true that a play may appear to have been written or directed by someone with an IQ of 80 or below, but in this case appearances are deceptive. A high IQ is perfectly compatible with all kinds of foolishness or worse, after all; but this does not affect the basic argument from social justice. It is about time that people of low IQ be given their chance in the theater.

“I am a 68-year-old doctor who is 5 feet 10 inches tall. Who represents me in the theater?”

There is the matter of height. It has long been known that the tall, merely because they are tall, have an easier path through life. There is no conceivable rational justification for this. The theatrical world can play its part in eliminating this injustice. It should discriminate positively in favor of the short.

The ideal cast so far, then, would be composed of short, dumpy, and dim diabetic females; ideal, that is, from the point of view of social justice, which is the only point of view that there is, or ought to be.

But of course further refinement is necessary. If you take any characteristic you like—blood group, say—you are almost certain to find that some types are overrepresented and others underrepresented on the stage. The anomalies should be righted. It is obvious that, in a just world, the stage would be exactly representative demographically of the entire population.

I admit that there is a slight problem here. I am a 68-year-old doctor who is 5 feet 10 inches tall. Who represents me in the theater? How many plays are there in which there is a 68-year-old doctor who is 5 feet 10 inches tall as a character? Who speaks from the stage for me?

The problem is actually much more complicated than I have indicated, because I have a very large, perhaps infinitely large, number of characteristics—as, of course, does everyone else. That is what makes every human being unique. I am bald (I like to say balding); I have gray eyes; I have long had a ruptured cruciate ligament in my right knee that gives to my gait a slight but probably perceptible irregularity. I type with two fingers and drink two cups of coffee in the morning, but none thereafter; I am extremely partial to anchovies and always have been, since early childhood; I love reading arcane books about the history of Haiti and I suffered from hypothyroidism at the age of 27; I have met many murderers and once went with smugglers across the Gran Chaco from Paraguay to Bolivia. These are but a very few of my characteristics, but they are probably sufficient to render me unique in the history of the world. I do not claim that I am uniquely unique, as it were; everyone is unique.

Therefore no one can represent me on the stage except me; just as, for the same reason, no one else can be represented except by himself.

In Lewis Carroll’s Sylvie and Bruno Concluded there is the following passage:

“That’s another thing we’ve learned from your Nation,” said Mein Herr, “map-making. But we’ve carried it much further than you. What do you consider the largest map that would be really useful?”

“About six inches to the mile.”

“Only six inches!” exclaimed Mein Herr. “We very soon got to six yards to the mile. Then we tried a hundred yards to the mile. And then came the grandest idea of all! We actually made a map of the country, on the scale of a mile to the mile!”

“Have you used it much?” I enquired.

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