The Comedy of Reality

Last Sunday evening, still fretting over an apparent relapse in my ostensibly healing ear, I watched the HBO/BBC production of As You Like It. It was a wonderful choice for that moment, offering a convincing portrayal of a reality where all may be right and all difficulties may be overcome. And the center of this enchantment, its conductor, is Rosalind, who was well played by Bryce Dallas Howard, and about whom Harold Bloom offers this insight:

We cannot imagine Rosalind… in tragedy, because, as I have noted, she seems not to be subject to dramatic irony, her mastery of perspective being so absolute.

And by “dramatic irony,” Bloom means:

Shakespeare makes even Falstaff and Hamlet victims, to some degree, of dramatic irony; we are afforded a few perspectives that are not available either to the greatest of comic protagonists or to the most troubled of tragic heroes. Rosalind is unique in Shakespeare, perhaps indeed in Western drama, because it is so difficult to achieve a perspective that she herself does not anticipate and share.

This suggests a convergence of knowledge and bliss to which I aspire. For so much of my life, my intelligence, though often useful, has seemed to lead me away from happiness. I was first attracted to Buddhism as a practice in part because it suggests that with sufficient diligence and wisdom, we can reason our way to happiness. I can’t yet claim to have experienced this in any significant way, but I’m beginning to believe that it’s possible, and this reading of Rosalind offers further support to this view. Our lives are tragic because we haven’t attained the perspective necessary to experience the ultimate reality of life as comic. I suffer not because I know too much, but because I know too little, and the path to enlightenment runs not through the comfort of distraction or denial, but through the exertion of unflinching witness.

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