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Catharsis; Let's not play at it!

By Græme Gordon, Executive Director, Praxity

"There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures."

So says Brutus in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Despite Brutus being the 'fallen-hero' and Cassius being a prot-villain in the play, like so many of Shakespeare's less savoury characters, he gives them both great lines.

This is amongst the top three speeches, in my estimation, in Shakespeare. A second is one recited by the melancholy Jaques:

"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,
His acts being seven ages...."

He then goes on to catalogue these seven stages.

Then, I think my most favourite, the speech of Henry V before Agincourt, not the "once more.." quote most know, which Henry says before the final push at Harfleur, but the Saint Crispin speech. And especially the final few lines...

"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day."

Now, dear reader, you may be wondering why on earth I bothered to tell you my favourite quotes from Shakespeare's plays, and maybe even more, why I quoted extracts of them. 

Well, I have been thinking about their meanings and their significance, not only in the plays but in "Life". So, with your indulgence, I will over the next few weeks or so, take each in turn as the theme for my Blog, and discuss it's relevance to today and today's working professional.

However, with this blog I want to discuss a perhaps more prosaic aspect of Shakespeare plays for me. Catharsis!

Let me explain. Each year, I have been involved, for nineteen years now, with the Chiltern Shakespeare Company (CSC). The CSC perform one of Shakespeare's plays in ten performances over a two week period in the open air at Hall Barn. Hall Barn is a stately home about 45 miles outside of London. The performances normally start on the second Wednesday of June each year, but auditions start in February and rehearsals start in March. I also serve on the 'Panel' or Board of CSC, who start each year by selecting that year's director and with them, the play. 

CSC was formed with two main intentions and one implied intention. These were; firstly to raise awareness and appreciation of the Shakespeare cannon amongst the local populace, especially the young. Secondly, to raise money for one local and one national charity. Along with these two, we hope to have fun and give an outlet to some serious local talent.

Thus, each year, there is a definite beginning of each performance, with specific well defined milestones, (auditions, rehearsals etc), a targeted and distinct delivery time and a clear goal.

These are things which, in our normal working lives, rarely if ever exist. When was the last time, that an audit or some tax work had such defined beginning & end. Oh yes I know we have plans and processes and each year we sign of an audit or a piece of work, but the following year the same audit comes back with much the same process. With CSC, no one year is the same. Even when we repeat a play, with very different actors & a new director, the performance is very different.

I also get involved with set build etc, and this year I am running the Bar for our patrons. All-in-all it is cathartic for me as I do get a true sense of achievement at least once a year when we close the play.

All three rationales for the continuation of CSC have, to date, been successful too. With an average of £5,000 being raised each year, over 4,000 patrons most years, and the company (cast & crew) enjoying the end results.

So, for me this annual process is cathartic.

And this brings me finally, to the point I wish to emphasis to you, my reader. In your life, you too need to ensure that at least once a year you do something which is both different and satisfying. That has a real purpose as well as a defined beginning and end. This should be cathartic for you too, and the 'cleansing' effect will thus lead not only to a much happier overall demeanour, but a more productive working life.​