Cordelia in Syria

I watch CNN Student News every morning with my daughter Sally, who’s being homeschooled this year. On this morning’s edition there’s a question about which play the “All the world’s a stage” speech comes from, followed by footage of a group of children staging King Lear at a refugee camp in Syria.

Here’s the transcript, from the CNN Student News site:

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Time for “The Shoutout.” In which Shakespearean play would you find the famous quote “All the world is stage, and all the men and women merely players.” If though knowst it, shout it out! Is it, “As You Like It,” “Much Ado about Nothing?”, “Twelfth Night” or “All`s Well That Ends Well.” You`ve got three seconds, go.

This is a tough one, but the quote is from Shakespeare`s comedy As You Like It. That`s your answer and that`s your “Shoutout.”
ANCHORMAN CARL AZUZ: Quick look at William Shakespeare by the numbers. We just named four of his 37 plays. He wrote more than a million words and made up more than 1000 of them. He was born 450 years ago this month, and his work has been translated into more than 80 languages. It`s been performed in places and in front of audiences far beyond the globe theater in London.


FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: This month marks William Shakespeare`s 450th birthday and people around the world are celebrating from Stratfordians to Syrians. Yes, Syrians. 100 Syrian children have just performed an adaptation of King Lear in one of the world`s largest refugee camps located in Jordan. The Zaatari Camp is home to over 100,000 Syrian refugees over half of whom are under the age of 18. Many of the children are not educated and have never read or seen any of Shakespeare`s work, but they are no strangers, of course, to the tragedy of the human condition. And this particular play, a story of exile, a land divided by rival groups, a tale of human cruelty seems especially relevant. While the refugee camp may seem like the unlikeliest of places to discover Shakespeare, the playwright himself might not have thought so. After all, mentioning faraway places was common in his place. In both Macbeth and Otello, in fact, Shakespeare mentions the Syrian city of Aleppo. Another reminder that Syria is one of the oldest centers of human civilization, which makes the current violence there seem even more tragic.

There’s a fuller version of the story on the non-student CNN, here, which also references Bosnian productions of Waiting for Godot (directed by Susan Sontag) and Hair. The piece, reported by Christiane Amanpour, ends: “Nothing will come of nothing,” Shakespeare said. But from the nothingness of war, the theater offers more than an escape. It offers a glimpse of a better world.”

Footage from the actual kiddie King Lear production, distributed by the AFP News Agency, is above. This show got tons of attention, including stories in The New York Times, The Economist, the Tribune papers. All those elderly Lears must be quite jealous.