The Theater and The Shakespearean Actor

During his stay in London, Jinnah frequently visited the theatre. He was mesmerized by the acting, especially those of the Shakespearean actors. His dream was to ‘play the role of Romeo at the Old Vic.’ It is unclear when his passion for theatre was unfurlled, perhaps it occurred while watching the performances of barristers, ‘the greatest of whom were often spell-binding thespians’. This was no passing phase in life, but an obsession which continued even in his later years. Fatima reminiscences, ” Even in the days of his most active political life, when he returned home tired and late, he would read Shakespeare, his voice…resonant.”

With a theatrical prop, his monocle, always in place in court, he performed like an actor on stage in front of the judge and jury. With dramatic interrogations and imperious asides, he was regarded as a born actor.

After being enrolled to the Bar he went with his friends to the Manager of a theatrical company who asked him to read out pieces of Shakespeare. On doing so, he was immediately offered a job. He was exultant and wrote to his parents about his newfound passion.

He said, ‘I wrote to them that law was a lingering profession where success was uncertain; a stage career was much better, and it gave me a good start, and that I would now be independent and not bother them with grants of money at all. My father wrote a long letter to me strongly disapproving of my project; but there was one sentence in his letter that touched me most and which influenced a change in my decision: “Do not be a traitor to the family.” I went to my employers and conveyed to them that I no longer looked forward to a stage career. They were surprised, and they tried to persuade me, but my mind was made up. According to the terms of the contract I had signed with them, I was to have given them three months notice before I quitting. But you know, they were Englishmen, and so they said: “Well when you have no interest in the stage, why should we keep you, against your wishes?”‘

The signed contract is proof that how important the stage career was for Jinnah at that time, it was possibly his first love. His father’s letter had dissuaded him for the time being, disheartened and dejected, he had consented to his wish. But it was probably the last time he changed his mind after seriously devoting it to something.

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