Sitting around a table, remembering a departed friend, we realised that each of us had known a very different person. He would have laughed that we had taken so long to become aware, he would have been amused that he had gone home before we could question him about which of him was the real one.
Our late friend would have chided us for our ignorance. “Person” comes from the Latin “persona”, meaning no more than a mask. None of the persons we knew could have been the real him for a person by its very nature is a concealment of the true self underneath.
Shakespeare understood the difficulty of discerning what is real, what is of the essence of someone. In As You Like It, he writes:
“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.”
A friend in the North might well have quoted the words in our conversation this evening. He sent me a photograph from an evangelical gathering at which I had spoken, laughingly suggesting that I had played the part well. The “person” had been very convincing.
Pondering the photograph, I wondered which of the persons I play is nearest the real one. There are times when the North seems a different and alien world and other times when I miss the edge and the banter and the warmth of Belfast. Persons in the North are perhaps closer to the real man or woman underneath than persons in Dublin.
Perhaps even what we think is our real selves is no more than a dream. In The Tempest, Shakespeare writes:
“Our revels now are ended.
These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.”
Such stuff as dreams are made on, indeed.