Blasphemy for the Day: Playing the Game

A response to the BBC’s Thought for the DayYou don’t have to be a believer to enjoy a day of rest.

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players…

I invented a religion this week, based on the primary tenet of Bokononism, that one should “live by the foma that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.” A foma is a harmless untruth. To this end I have plundered religions of the river, popular culture, and Doctor Who for inspiration.


Every religion needs a founding myth. It is the Ground of Being on which  foma are built.

Once upon a time there was a universe, filling all of space and time. There was nothing outside it, since it had no boundaries, and any point within it was the centre of everything.

The inhabitants of this universe were happy and wise beyond all human measure, attuned to each other’s thoughts from planet to planet, galaxy to galaxy. Everyone could shift from the concentration needed to read a book to merge with the Mind of the Universe and all points in between. They knew themselves, and each other, inside out.

And therein lay the problem. They were bored. It was the one insurmountable problem left, after all the seemingly insurmountable problems of corporeal existence had been solved.

A Grand Colloquium of all the minds in the universe assembled. Unimaginable illions of synapses flashed and thundered through the group mind. The result was inevitable – they could not go on like this, their universe must end, must be reborn in ignorance. In that instant of resolution, every particle in the universe came together in one infinitely dense, cataclysmic clump that occupied no space and time at all.

The singularity exploded in what we now call the Big Bang, creating a new universe with its own space, time, and physical laws. The Great Mind fragmented itself into mindless particles, which would take billions of years to evolve into sentient individuals capable of wondering, “Who am I?”

We are the universe learning to know itself, and the quest is called the Play of Being or the Great Game, depending whether your tastes lie in theatre or sport.


There have been a few. The late, great Carl Sagan was one.


There are no teachings, priests, and no ecclesiastical hierarchy. The Play of Being is a gnosis, or knowledge of oneself and other people, combined with an understanding of how the world works. This follows naturally from the foundation myth – emotional intelligence and scientific understanding are essential tools in the universe coming to know itself. Furthermore, we are allowed to be wrong, as long as we acknowledge a better idea when it comes along. Players or Gamers read the word ignorance as ignore-ance, and see people who stick their heads in the sand as bad actors, those who know their lines by heart and nothing else.

Everything springs from the foundation myth. This is a world of illusion, masks, roles, some of them unwitting, some put on through fear, and some worn knowingly. It follows that for less than significant others, we do not suddenly doff our disguises and come together for a group hug, because that would be insincere and spoil the play. A sly apprehension that others are more than they seem is enough, a glimpse out of the corner of the eye as something flits by, too fast to register.

Even so, humanity trumps everything, and if some people cannot bear to see others enjoy what should be universal rights and privileges, then they are paradoxically both bad and good actors. They are objective enemies, method actors so invested in their roles that they think there is nothing outside them. To these we say, Well played!, followed by, You’re a dangerous idiot and I will try to thwart you.

So what is this, a religion, a philosophy, or just me trying to fill up a word quota as prophesied in Diary of an Art Fiend? You must be the judge. In the meantime, enjoy the play.

The Seven Ages of Man

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. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

– As You Like It

And here’s a truncated version in Polari.

Shakespeare: Original Pronunciation

If I hitched a ride on the Tardis to spend an afternoon watching one of Shakespeare’s plays at the Globe, would I understand it? David Crystal, a professor of linguistics, and his actor son, Ben, bring OP to life in this glimpse of how the plays might have sounded. It’s faster, comes from the body rather than the head as in RP, and reveals new rhymes, puns, and dirty jokes in the text. Makes me grin with pleasure to hear it.

The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke: Richard Dadd

Richard Dadd (1817-1886) painted The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke between 1855 and 1864, as a patient in an asylum, where he had been committed for the murder of his father in 1843.  Dadd wrote a poem in 1865 explaining the painting, Elimination of a picture and its subject – called the feller’s master stroke.

Here and here are links to the Tate Gallery, where it’s exhibited.  I’m endlessly fascinated by the miniature Shakespearean world in this picture – A Midsummer Night’s Dream with nightmare overtones – which was also the world inside Dadd’s head.  Look at the dwarf with the white beard – he’s clearly terrified.