As we watch Egypt rising, questions such as "who has the right to hold power?" come to mind.
Four hundred years ago, Shakespeare addressed this issue in his "Historical Plays." I had the opportunity to interview IU Department of English Professor Linda Charnes on the WFHB Interchange show on Feb. 1, 2011, and we discussed Shakespeare.
In more than two years of interviewing on Interchange, I have had the pleasure of bringing in many IU professors and talking with them for the hour-long interview show. I have found that they rarely express "the answer," preferring to present information with the goal of having the listener be more informed and therefore more capable of forming their own opinions.
If someone only wanted the plot of a Shakespeare play, Charnes said, they could get that by reading the Cliff Notes. It is the way that Shakespeare uses the language that makes his plays compelling. In addition, Charnes noted, the plays can be read time and time again, and each time something new can be gleaned from them.
"When you asked me a question, Dave, it was like I was walking through a 'House of Treasures,' and six or seven answers were possible. Therefore, I hope the listeners realize that I was not trying to provide the 'true analysis,' but one way of looking at the subject."
Watching, or reading, the plays is the best way of experiencing the plays, Charnes added, and she recommended taking a class, or reading the plays in conjunction with a group of people so that discussion can occur.
My first question was: "Is Shakespeare relevant today?" Charnes answered with an emphatic, "Yes."
Shakespeare has wide influence, from the popular movie Ten Things I Hate About You (a riff on The Taming of the Shrew) to the works of art that form the basis of our culture today. "Paradise Lost" influenced the writers of the U.S. Constitution, Charnes explained prior to the Interchange Interview.
Charnes mentioned the influence Shakespeare had on Milton's "Paradise Lost." There are many fascinating things Professor Charnes talked about on this subject, but the one I want to bring to light in this article is the character of Satan in "Paradise Lost."
Charnes noted that Satan was angry at God (for expelling Satan from Heaven) and that it was this anger which caused action after action, culminating in Evil.
"No character in Shakespeare's plays begins as purely evil," Charnes noted. "It is the progression of one act, from which the person is unable, or unwilling, to withdraw from" that snowballs.
As we watch national and international events unfold, all of us must decide, "To Be, or Not to Be," and "whether it is nobler" to act (react) or not act.
Truly, "The world is a stage," and there are no small parts.
David Stewart can be reached at email@example.com.