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If All The Year Were Playing Holidays, To Sport Would Be As Tedious As Work

22nd April 2021

‘If all the year were playing holidays, to sport would be as tedious as to work).  (Shakespeare)

The quotation this week comes from Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part I, in which Prince Hal (the future Henry V) spends his time carousing in taverns with drunkards and dissolute knights (a bit like freshers week at university before everyone starts to ‘knuckle down’ to some serious study!) For Prince Hal the serious work involves living up to the expectations of his father the King and proving himself worthy of future kingship.

In fact Prince Hal says that he doesn’t intend to spend all his time at leisure because then that itself, would become as tiring as work. Too much of anything it seems may indeed become tedious, as many of us may agree having lived through months of lockdown. Both work and leisure need to be balanced for us to thrive, although I wonder if for many the danger is that the balance is tipped too far on the side of excessive work.

In March of this year the press and media reported how some young Goldman Sacks bankers were working an average of ninety-five hours a week and sleeping for only five hours a night. Their personal relationships (if they had any) suffered as did their physical and mental health. The analysts who carried out the survey warned the employers that their employees would be likely to leave in six months. In addition a recent TUC analysis reported that full-time employees in Britain worked an average of forty two hours a week, nearly two hours more than the European average, equivalent to an extra two and a half weeks a year. And interestingly the Japanese have a specific word for death from overwork, and that is karoshi.

Keeping a balance between leisure and work is essential but of course there are times when the balance may shift one way or the other. For many who are currently facing mocks and assessments to contribute towards teacher assessed grades, that time is now. Yet within that time we need also to set aside time to rest and relax. In the great biblical Creation story in the book of Genesis, rest is integral to creation -it is the seventh day. That’s not a day of doing nothing but a reset day, to enable creative activity on the other days.

Living well involves work and play but neither in excess. Otherwise they may indeed become tedious, threaten to undermine important relationships or distort our personal identity.


Christine Crossley.