Houdini’s Sense of Playing and Reality

face of a prisoner

About three months after his mother’s death, Houdini, writing in German to a cousin, lamented, “die Ganze Welt fast ein Drama ist” {the whole world is just a play}.^ Shakespeare, in As You Like It, act 2, scene 7, wrote, “All the world’s a stage / And all the men and women merely players.” Houdini, who made a career as an vaudeville entertainer, transformed these lines to obscure the players and to connect the drama more directly to the world. One Houdini biographer, in considering why Houdini didn’t commit suicide in his grief after his mother’s death, declared, “He could not kill himself because he was too used to saving himself.”^ That analysis doesn’t recognize the loss of being and agency in Houdini’s rephrasing of Shakespeare: “the whole world is just a play.”

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