tv Charlie Rose PBS October 28, 2011 12:00pm-1:00pm PDT
>> rose: welcome to our program. we begin this evening with the great israeli novelist amos oz. >> i said once that in a shakespearean tragedy, in the end the stage is covered, filled with dead bodies and justice prevails. >> rose: exactly. >> whereas in a tragedy by chekhov, in the end everybody's melancholyly, unhappy, sappointed, sad but alive. anan c cleleues andi i veve been lkiki for a chekhovian not a shakespearean resolution. the this is about small-time people and small time lging. >> rose: and an excerpt from an up coming shakespeare series, harvard professor stephen greelatt talking aut "hamlet.
>> what a cplex act it is to know who you are. to fulfill the expectations of your parents, to make your way in the world, to understand that you are not simply in the world to make it what you want but you're given a set of, in effect commands and you can ask questions about them and question them. but you can't escape them. you have to struggle with them and see where they lead you. hamlet, is, of course, a tragic case of this. "o, cursed spite that ev i was born" he says for himself. but that experience over the centuries has spoken to generations and generations. >> rose: amos oz and stephen greenblatt when we continue.
>> rose: amos oz is here, he's one of israel's most prominent authors, he's also a political commentator and founding a founding member of the peace now movement. "newsweek" magazine wrote "eloquent, humane in the ep "essence". a zionistor well, a complex man with similar pal dee seinesy determined above all to tell the truth regardless of whom it fends." this new book is a collection of short stories called "scenes from a village life." i'm pleased to have amos oz back at this tae. welcome. >> thank you for having me. >> rose: my pleasure, it's really my pleasure. sipt to talk about politics. a collection of short stories. but the release of gilad shalit. what is your sense of th? and was it a good thing? >> i have mixed feelings about this decision. it was a moment of joy for the
entire israeli family when gill lat shalit was released. it was a moment of solidarity. and yet i cannot but think of the heavy price the release of those over 1,000 terrorists who may go back to terrorism and kill even more israelis is very scary. so my feelings are mixed and divided. >> rose: i think it was aaron david miller who... the commentato about middle aged politics said that it was transactional but not transtransformatnal. >> that's a good definition. i will buy it. >> rose: some fear it means more israeli soldiers could become hostages because they know that... it gives them those who want to make a bargain for palestinian prisoners more chips. >> rose: it's not only that a hamas will have a stronger motivation to kidnap israeli
soldiers, it's also they that they still strengthen ham with fatah and abu mazen and this is not a good thing at all. >> rose: what about palestinian statehood? does that make that more likely or less likely? >> palestinian statehood is unavoidable whether if we take another six monthsr another six years it will come i believe strongly in the two-state solution because there's simply no alternative. there are six million jews in israel. there are four and a half million palestinians in palestine. no one is goin to walk away. they cannot share the same country because they are not one happy family. they are not one, happy or even family. they are two unhappy families so the house has to be divided into two smaller apartments. i think it's called an english death house. >> that's exactly right. it is also, you have written, don't think there that there is an issue that israelis and pastinians need to get to know
each other. they know each oth, they just want the same things. >> wl, it's not a misunderstanding. the israeli/palestinian conflict is not about knong each other. they want the same land. they claim the same man. that's why so many well-meaning organizations who invite know spend a nice week wednesday palestinians to talk to each other and know each other and t to like each oth and realize that no one is telling tales, they are wrong. we know each other very well. we that have drunk coffee together cannot extinguish the tragedy of two peoples claiming rightlthe same land as their one and only homeland. >> rose: and you have also said that everybody except the leaders know what the solution is. but the leaders have not bee prepared to do what is recoized by all, a two-state solution with essentially '67
borders, some sense of a... dealing with right of return and jerusalem in which there will be two capitals >> yes i believe in this. if i use a metaphor i will say that patient t patient palestinian and israeli is unhaily ready for the painful surgery. the doctors are cowards. >> rose: cowards? >> yes. >> rose: do you believe netanyahu wants to do this? >> i think he knows it's unavoidable. in his heart of heart he is knows it's unavoidable. he even pays lip service to a palestinian state next door to israel which is something that would have been unthinkable ten years ago. even he accepts the two-state principle. he lacks the courage and the leadership and the vision to carry out the surgery and the same applies to palestinian leaders. >> rose: so what happens? >> we wait until we have coageous leadership on both
sides simultaneously. this may take a short time or a long time, but the good news is that two peoples are ready now for a two-state solution. >> rose: is there a ticking clock? >> there are many ticking clocks in the middle east. there's a ticking clock of the changes in the airplane world. >> rose: the arab spring. >> i don't know if it's a spring or a winter. >> rose: yeah, i know. when i said that word i knew you would we rey act to that. >> there is a ticking clock called iran. there are many ticking clocks. nonetheless, the conflict has been going on for a hundred years 90outf these hundred years the two sides rerey fuse to accept each other's presence. the palestinians claim that israelis are a passing infection. if they stretch themselves hard enough, israel will go away. the israelis refuse to recognize the palestinian people as a people. now the two parties are recognizing each other's existence. this is big step forward. i'm glad to be the bearer of someood news from the middle east because they are all used
to bad news from the middle east. >> rose: people cognize... >> people recognize each other's existence. the israelis know that the palestinians are not going anywhere. and the palestinians know that the israelis are not going anywhere. that's a big step forward. >> rose: what about the settlements? >> some wi have to go. others may be incorporated to israel as part of a swap of terrory between israel and future palestine. >>ose: you said that hamas is an idea and in order to defeat an idea you have to have a better idea. what'she better idea? >> a palestinian state next door to israel. >> rose: do you think hamas could change. >> you know, it's a tricky question because if hamas changes it will no longer be hamas it will be something else.
it's a fundamentalist document, moreover it's an anti-semitic document. >> rose: this is their charter? >> the hamas cove innocent. this is not a basis for negotiation. i am a compromiser. nibble compromise. there is no compromise between existence and extinction. there's no way israel could only exist mondays, wednesdays, and friday. it's either existence or tinction and the hamas people want israel to be wiped off. >> rose: hamas people or hamas leadership? >> hamas leadership. i stand corrected. hamas people i don't know, they don't have a voice. >> rose: and the idea of statehood at the united nations. is it wrong... was it a mistake for israel to oppose it? >> if i were netanyahu i would insist that the minute yansz inform israel 48 hours in vance before they proclaim
independce so as to enable israel to be for historical reasons the first state in the world to recognize palestine. >> rose: i'm sure prime minister knows of your idea. >> we know of each her's ideas yes. >> rose: (laughs) >> when you look at the occupation, hast done anything to your soul to be an occupying power. >> back in 1967 more than40 years ago i wrote an article saying the occupation is going to corrupt the israeli psyche. it is corrupting us. >> rose: that's why i asked the question. what do you mean corrupting your psyche? >> one generation after another of israeli soldiers into the mentality of mters and rulers. this is corruption.
cupg of the soul. >> rose: how deep is it now after 1967? >> it's har to answer this question because some people overgrow corruption and recover. >> rose: 40 years. >> y. some people recover the experience. some youngeople have opened their eyes to see the alternative to occupation. but for some israeli these experience ofomination... israeli domition and palestinian submission is a corrupting experience. >> rose: do you see young leadership capable of forming a new israel? >> in the last summer in the big demonstrations in tel aviv we saw at least a promise of a new kind of leadership. a courageous, bold, explicit outspoken outspoken group of young people. they may bthe future leaders of israel, who knows. >> rose: but they may have th potential and the courage...
>> to be a prophet coming fro the land of the prophet, there's too much competition in the professor zi business in israel. >> rose: (laughs) yes, y. it's sometimes argued that netanyahu is not prepared to make peace until after his father has passed. because it h such a profound impact on him. >> i don't know. i don't know about the relationship. >> rose: but you know about families and care about thedea of families. >> yes, i know a lot about families but i don't know enough about the netanyahu family so i n't know if it is the spell of the fatr over the son or it is as i tend to think the son's own lack of courage to do something which is in heart of hearts he knows he has to do. >> rose: he has to take a risk for peace. >> yes, i believe he knows it. >> rose: can you... do you have a prescription for the idea that there must be a way to guarantee israel's national?
every palestinian has to recognize israel's need for security. >> yeah. >> rose: and you are two people's who have been at each other's throat side by side. >> well, you know, most conflicts in history don't resolve. they die down out of fatigue and exhaustion and there is a syndrome of fatigue and exhaustion. i may add bless fad teague and exhaustion bh in israel and in palestine except for fanatics, they are never tired. they are tiress. fanaticsn bo sides. >> rose: and they will always be with us. >> i think so. fanaticism is the syndrome of the 21st century and it's going to be the main problem of humanity, not just the middle east. the main problem of humanity in this censure i have fanaticism in all its forms and manifestations. >> rose: when you say fanaticism, what do you mean? >> i mean the fanatic is a walking excmation mark. not necessarily a religious fanatic.
not necessarily an islamist fanatic. we have fanatics left to right on the fringes, the extremes of all the political parties. >> rose: "scenes from village life." where does this come from? what does the idea of this come from? >> it was not born out of an idea but out of a dream. there are about 20 very old jewish villas in israel. older than the state of israel. more than 100 years. some of them 120 years. in a dream i had six or seven years ago i was walkinglone if such a village and a village was completely empty, deserted. and i was looking for someone and in the middle of the dream it was no longer me looking for someone but someone looking for me. and i don't know how it ended but i know that when i woke up i kn such a village will be in the center of my next book. >> rose: it was... go ahead. >> it's book unlike my other books. this was not born characters first, it was born place first.
>> rose: it's also a series of short stories, which your first book was. >> i will call it a novel in stories, not a series of short stories. >> rose: correct. >> because these stories are interwoven, aracters move freely from one story to the next. the main protagonist in one story may reemergas ainor character in the next story. they all know each other. >> rose: what did you once say? you once said a poem was an affair. (laughs) a short story was something else. >> a relationship rose: a relationship. and a novel was a marriage. >> that's right. yes. >> rose: meaning? >> rose: mining the process of work. you work on the poem like an infatuation. it happens to you, in one night, in two nights thent's don the it's... either alive or dead but finished. >> rose: or just a memory, yes. >> a short sto is a relationship. a novel takes years. >> rose: some look at this having read the reviews and see
chekhov in here. >> well, that's the greatest compliment you could give me. >> rose: beyond any writer chekhov resonates in you and you have more respect for him. >> yes. he's to me perhaps the most single greatest inspiration of my life. >> rose: and the difference between chekhov and shakespeare is... >> i said once that in a shakespearean tragedy in the end the stage is covered with dead bodies and justice prevails. >> rose: exactly. >> whereas in a tragedy by chekhov, i the end everybody's melancholy, unhappy, disappointed, heartbroken, sad but alive. >> rose: but alive, yes. >> and my colleagues and i have been looking for a chekhovian not a shakespearean resolution to the israeli/minuteian conflict. this is chekhovi book because it's about small time people. and small time pain and small me longing and smallime desire. >> rose: and if you understand
that than the nature of small-time longi and small-time affair, is there something to be said for that? because chekhov also wrote a provincial life. >> that's right. and i believe literature the more provincial it is more t more universal it may get. there's something of alchemy in it. the more provincial, the more universal. whereas books which are written with the purpose of becoming international, they are read in international hotels and airports and left on the bench of the hotels and airports. >> rose: whereas books that are written about villages... >> that's the difference between a provincial book which becomes a reversal and an international book which is left on the bench. >> rose: these characters in this book, ey're searching for something. >> each one of them. it's a book about half knowing and half remembering. each one of them half knows/half remembers some loss. something that he orhe hid from themselves.
and they are searching for it. much of the book takes place in attics and basements. those people are looking for something, they don't know what they are looking for. they don't know ere they have st it or why orhen. bu they tirelely look for this loss. >> rose: writing in hebrew for you is joyous. >> it's my musical instrument and i'm a great chauvinist for the language. but when it comes tosy pick a fight with anyone who claim he is knows a better language than hebrew. modern hebrew is in many ways like elizabethan english. it's an erupting volcano. the language is absorbing new idioms and forms and the writer of hebrew or poet of modern hebrew may take daring liberties with the language. legislate into the language. is the word in hebrew for fiction? >> no, no. you will find this book and my
other books in israeli bookstores under "sea poet" which means narrative prose. but flo word for fix and i'm glad about it because don't like my work to be called fiction. >> rose: you like it to be called truth? >> i would like it to be called narrative pros poet, that's exactly what it is. a tale is not fiction. a tale is a combination of imagination and experience and remembrance and dream and fantasy and everything. and wishful thinking. >> rose: you knew you were going to write early. >> ever since they taught me alphabet. >> rose: is that right? >> when you lened the alphabet the magic of words... >> the magic of words. i was perhaps even before they taught me the alphabet i was inventing little stories and teing my friends that was my way to impress the girls because i was not very good at anything else. i was not good at sports, i was not good at the classroom. my way of impressing the girls was to invent stories and tell them stories. >> rose: we all had to find a way, didn't we? so you told them stories.
and then when you left home to go to the kibbutz they would give you in the beginning one day off to write? >> one day a week for writing provided i worked twice as hard on the remaining five days of the week. >> rose: (laughs) but as you began to find some success you got more. >> yes, that was a creeping annexation for free time. >> rose: your mother committed suicide. >> yes, she killed herself. >> rose: yes, she was 38 and i was 12. >> rose: did your father ever talk to you about it? >> no, never. weever talked about it. we never. not him, not me, never until his dying day, not a word. >> rose: not a word? >> not a word about it. not only about her death, we nevetalked about her life. we never talked about her. he and i erased her from our lives. i don't know about him, but i was very angry with her for killing herself. as if she ran off with a lover
witht leaving us a note. she who always insisted that anyone who leaves the home leaves a note under the flower vase telling where he is going and where when he or she is coming back. she left us without a note. so i was angry at her. >> rose:or a long time? >> i was angry with my father for losing her and i was angry with myself because i was sure it was my fault. if i would have been a good little boy she would have state stayed. for mr. years there was anger and silence, silence and anger. >> rose: how did you come to grips with it all? >> well, with age i began to look at my parents as if they were my children. as if i was my parents' parents. and i could think about them with a smile. with sympathy, with humor, with compassion and curiosity. in fact, when irote "a tal of love and darkness" i invited my dead parents back home. i sa to the dead, sit down, have a cup of coffee and let's talk about things we never
talked about when i was alive. let me introduce my wife and children because i never met them. and after you have your coffee, go away, i don't want you to reside in my home. but come again from time to time just for a chat and coffee. that's the right way to treat the dead. that's what we do in our dreams. >> rose: i think you have said that in a novel you go into somebody's bedroom. >> if you buy a ticket and go as a tourist let's say too colombia you will see the monuments and the museums and the landscapes and the squares and boulevards. but if you read a garcia marquez novel, you're invited into the bedrooms of the colombians. that's the best try know the soul of a country to read its it will it are a which you are. >> rose: know the soul of another country by reading its literature? >> yes. >> rose: so novelists are our best hope of understanding who we are and where we ce from. >> i'm a great believer in curiosity. i think a curious perso is a
better person than a person wh is not curious. i think curiosity is a moral virtue chew. i even think a curious person is a better lover than a person not curious but it's too early eve in the evening to discuss this. >> rose: (laughs) i suspect you're right. i suspect lots of people could tell you how right that is. you write with two pens, though. >> when i have something to say the government or to my fellow israelis i use one pen when i want to tell a story i use another. >> rose: have you been happy with any israeli government? >> happy is too big a word. >>ose: give me a wd that's more acceptable of... >> there are some better governments and worse governments. i think rabin government was the best we had in many years. >> rose: because he had the courage. >> he had the courage. the vision and the courage. >> rose: and he was killed by a jew. >> he was killed by a fanatic. for me, the emphasis is not on
the fact that t killer was a jew. >> rose: but he was a fanatic. a religious fanatic. >> a religious fanatic and a chauvinist fanatic. >> rose: how do you square that? assassinations have changed history. did it change israel's hisly. >> yes, it only shows that leadership comes and that leaders are important and that theories about the unavoidability of events are shallow. >> rose: were rabin and peres better together? do you just give most of the credit to rabin? >> there was not too much love spent between those two. >> rose: i understand that. but near the end they began to compliment each other. >> they complemented each other in many ways. peres had some quality which is rabin loved and rabin had some quality which is peres loved and the two of them in unison contributed to the step forward.
a big step forward in the '90s. >> do you get up in the morning and write before breakfast? >> i'm an early riser i beginy day by taking a brisk walk in the desert. i love in a small town in southern israel. >> rose: that's where you moved because your son wass a mat snick >> that's right. so i take a morning walk in the desert and it helps me knock everything into propulsion. >> rose: how does it do that? >> what's important and not important. when i come back to the desert and turn on the radio and hear a politician saying "forever" or "never" or for eternity, i know storms in the desert are laughing at him. >> rose: (laughs) yes, they are. saying "we've been here a long time." >> yes, so then i drink a cup of coffee and i say to myself... i start asking myself what if i were him, what if i were her that's what i do for a living. >> rose: "what if i were him.
what if i were her?" what would i think, do? >> love. what would i feel what would be my body language. what would i eat >> is it eier for you to say "what if i was him" than "what if i was her?" >> not necessarily. not necessarily. many years ago iy an entire novel from a woman's point of view. >> rose: i think we talked about that. was it easier for you to do that? >>it's never easy. >>. >> rose: writing is never easy or... >> it's never easy. putting myself under other people's skin is never easy because you have to look yourself out in a sense. you have to ignore your own responses, your own instincts, your own desires, your own aspirations and imagine you are someone else. >> rose: crawl insi that person. >> crawl inside this person. under hiss or her skin. >> rose: get inside the skin and understand everything they would think. every response, every reaction.
how they would respond to whatever force it that might come. >> and how they would feel. and even what would they dream about. >> rose: dreams are important? >> dreams are important, yes. >> rose: have you ever had writer's block? >> for a very short time. i don't know if it was writers block. i get stuck from time to time. >> rose:hat do you do? >> i sit and wait. >> rose: you wait for it to come? >> i sit by my desk and wait. when ias in thekibbutz i felt very guilty. on my free day, on my yiing day i felt very guilty because i would work for the whole morning for six sentences and then i'd share the table for lunch in the common dining hall with people who milked 500 cows or plowed 500 acres and i'd say "look at me, i've only produced six sentences." but then i taught myself to thin of self as a job keeper. i open the joint and sit and wait for customers. if i have stomers it's a good
day. if i don't have customers i'm still doing my job by just sitting there and waiting. so i'm used to sitting by my desk and waiting. >> rose: you're a shopkeeper. >> i'm a shopkeeper. >> rose: as you wait. what about all the modern tools of writing? computers and... >> i have a central addiction to the contact between myingers, the pen, and the paper. it's a central addiction and i don't think i'm going to change that. >> rose: a sensuality to have that connection? >> although i am being preached and educated by everybody as you can imagine, everybody tries to convert me. >> rose: some have compared you not only to chekhovian comparison but also to will william faulkner. do you like that? >> yes. he's a wonderful writer. >> rose: but you see it? >> i don't see it. i don't see it no. no. i'm... >> rose: it doesn't offend you in any way? >> certainly not. he's a wonderful wrir. but in american literature i
feel closer to the book "winesberg, ohio." it's chekhovian book. >> rose: beyond it's a chekhovian book" why did it influence you? what was it about it? >> i was 16 and aspiring to become a writer and i thought i was stuck in a catch-22 kind of a trap because i thought i'll never become a writer unless i live at least for a few years in a big city like new york or london or paris. and then i couldn't afford to go to those cities unless iecome a famous writer. that was catch-22 and then came "winesberg ohi that i read at the age of 16 or 17 and told me that for a writer the center of the universe is the place where you are. you are you and your milieu is the center of the universe. so he liberated my writing for me. >> rose: but oxford was the center of the universe for william faulkner. >> yes, indeed. >> rose: and russia... >> he was, like all great writers, he was a provincial writer.
faulkner was a provincial writer. anderson was, chekhov was a provincial writer. garcia marquez is a provincial writer. >> rose: dostoyevsky? >> dostoyevsky less so, but also a provincial writer. he writes about a partilar section, a particular suburb of st. petersburg. >> rose: t greatest novelists have taken great care in a sense to get distance right. >> yes. >> rose: to get those things right. even though they're writing fiction. >> james joyce in "ulysses" takes great trouble to count how many steps from t pub to the stre corner and this is called fiction whereas when a journalists say the skies over the middle east are covered wi clou this is called non-fiction. why? >> rose: it doesn't make sense, does it? you have some sensef what it is that you believe has... you
touched your ultimate power? >> i wrote the hybrid book that didn't do well in america but i think it's my best. it's erasing the lines between prose and poetry, between fiction and fact between confession and story telling. between the living and the dead. i think this is my best book but i seem to be in the minority about this. >> rose: your best book because of the things you were able to do. >> because i've crossed all the lines. because ef-elevated beyond the usual partitions. >> rose: is there sewhere in your mind some idea, some great work that's percolating and you have not yet been ableo fully grasp it? >> it's the one i'm working on now. >> rose: always now. (laughs) >> always the one i'm working on right now. >> rose: you also, it's always said, that my work the end is about family.
>> yes. if i had to say in one word what all my books are about i will say families. if you give me two wor unhappy families. if you give me the words you have to read my works. >> rose: (laughs) you've also said that the kitchen table is a magical place because that's where... that >> that's where the family converges, yes. and families are the most myerious institution in the universe. and the most paradoxical and the most impossible institution in the world and the most lasting institution in the universe. if i had the choicebetween two options, join the first manned mission to the planet mars or spend 24 hours as a fly on the wall in the heart of any family at all, i prefer to be the fly and not the astronaut. not only because it's more safe but it because it's more exciting. >> rose: and do you say that
because and you can see and undetand and put in context th dynamic of what's going on? >> it's because of my curiosity, charlie. it's my curiosity. i'm curious about families. i'm curious about family life, about family relationship. i'm curious about how parents get along together, parents and children get along together, siblings get along together or don't. it's my curiosity. >> rose: the impact parents can have. we even talked in this conversation abo auicide and what it did to you what is its about family? >> ifou read this new book you will find it's full of families and the mystery of families. you will find that people of parents shape their offspring and when the parents die you pick up your dead parents and you put it inside you and you
walk around pregnant wh your dead parents for the rest of your life. >> rose: is it your mother or father that had the most influence on you becoming what you are? can you distinguish the two? >> they taught me to different things. my father taught me to always look for the truth. my mother taught know always look for what is underneath the truth. >> rose: that's a powerful combination, isn't it? there is a thing that you did that is interesting to me because i'm interested in. obviously i have enormous curiosity and i'm interested also in characters. and why did you send someone your book? >> because i knew him before he was arrested and i knew he was pragmatic. he was no friend of israel or lover of israel but he was pragmatic and realtic and i thought "a tale of love and darkness" is a book that may
give him so of the israeli narrative and israeli story. i thought he should read the book. >> re: at the same time you id to me that israel... that there's... israels understand palestinians, palestinians understand israelis. not that they understand each other but they want the same thing. >> they want the same thing but i wanted him to know about the families, to know about the private life of the israelis. >> rose: do you believe if you and barghouti could sit in the room with the power to make it... because you come from different places you could make this two state... >> very possibly. very possibly .
>> rose: so you two have the same solution? >> yes. we may bargain ruthlessly about the details. the demay break over details but the principle barghouti and i see eye to eye the necessity of a two-state solution. >> rose: it is also part of the history of the great conflict between israelis and palestinians that at camp david and then taba there was essentially that... certainly camp davi although there's all kinds of rewriting of that and people have taken liberty and understand it different ways that arafat walked away from an essential solution that everybody thinks is where it ought to be. there's also the argument that is made that mahmoud abbas walked away from a solution that had been offered by prime minister olmert. >> rose: by olmert yes. well, i said to you earlier the
leaders lack the courage to do what they know in their heart of hearts they have to do. the doctors are cowards. >> rose: where do leaders get courage? do people have to give them the courage or you have to find leaders who have courage or leaders who have courage will l find... >> leaders who have courage have stood a chance of swaping the majority behind them and recruiting the majority behind them. doesn't always work but it di work a few times in history. it can be done. when anwar sadat camed to israel grabbed israel by the neck and said "let's make peace." when menachem begin contrary to his convictions gave back sinai, that was courage. when charles de gaulle gave back algeria, that was courage. when gorbachev dismantled the
soviet union, that was courage. israel's full of examples of... history is full of example. >> rose: how old are you? >> 72. but being the israeli of my age is equivalent to being an american of 360 years because i saw the boston teaarty of israel with my own eyes. i shook hands with george washington and abraham lincoln. how many americans can claim the same? treat me with respect, please, you are talking to a saint. >> rose: (laughs) that's exactly what i understood you have seen it all in terms of the development of a nation and known all that have fought for it a all who struggle with it. i interfere fromime to time, i raise my voice and shout like a smoke detector orike a fire brigade. but i am the storyteller.
>> rose: ts bo is called "scenes from village life." thank you for coming. >> thank you for having me. >>ose: stephen grnblatt is a professor of the humanities at harvard. he's a collar and teacher of shakespeare. he's written numerous subjects on that including "shakespeare freedom" "will and the world "and "hamlet in purgatory." i'm pleased to have him to talk about this endlessly fascinating subject and the play everybody looks to as one that begins a lot of things. what's the historical con next >> there had been a hamlet play that was a success. shakespeare often uses other people's materials, sensitive to what is working in the theater, it had been alay, possibly even two of them before that.
based on a story that had been told multiple times that goes back to a 12th century danish chronicle. and shakespeare takes this sry which is a revenge story, a bloody mystery and turns it into arguably the greatest single tragedy ever written and a life anging work for him. his career really pivots around... >> rose: what happened to his career? >> well, his career was also already magnificent before then. >> he's unleashed a whole series of... >> it initiates an unbelievable outporing of work including plays like "at they will low" and "macbeth" and "king leer" and shakespeare uses moreords in "hamlet" according more words that... including more words that had never been in print before or they must have been in at least to some extent in the culture than anyone has ever
released in a single work. so it's written in a whole new language for him. an absolutely extraordinary outpouring of relationship to his own language, to what it is to... what you address an audience with and it changed everything. >> rose: are there parts of this that might have unleashed this in him? was it any part of his subject matter that might have had some catharsis for him? >> speculatively we say it can't be entirely an accident that his son's name was hamnet, which is a... not only very close to hamlet, obviously, but actually interchangeable in the records with the name hamlet. the it's sometimes spelled either way. his son had died in 1596 at 11 years old and his father was also-- depending on when the play was first acted-- dead or
dying. so there probly are in his own immediate life things that are disserving him that he wants to come to terms with. >> rose: where do you pit hit in the context of elizabethan world? >> what happens, at least one of the pieces that's fascinating for me about... as shakespeare tells it, act a ghost. a ghost coming to his son and demanding revenge. the peculiar thing about that act is that from about 50 years before shakespeare wrote this play, his culture had changed the rules governing the relationship between the living and the dead. protestantism said "there are no ghosts, there are only demons that come from the other world. ghosts are a remnant of the superstitions of purgatory, the idea of purgatory. catholic soup station is forbiden. and they said nouk longer pray to the dead or for the dead, you
can't pray for... the remission of pain. in fact, it was a very simple change in the burial service in the years before he writeshe play. they change the words from "we committee to the earth, ashs to ashes, dust to dust" to "we commit him or her" to the earth. in other words, you're not longer speaking to a thee, to an i/thou relationship. because the persono longer exists, he's dd and it's just someone who has now... in t earth. that should make it in effect imssible for a ghost to come back. to demand revenge unless the ghost is not a ghost at all but a demon. what's amazing about shakespeare's play, of course, is that's precisely the question hamlet asks himself. what is this? am i encountering a demon who's trying to lead me astray? can i test this ghost? can i find out whether it is a
ghost? that is to say that is somehow a return from the other world, the other world which could only be this forbiten world of a middle state between heaven and hell. >> rose: who do you think the ghost reprents? >> the ghost is... what the ghosts is. he says your father's spirit, haet. but what it means to be the father's spirit is tied up with centrally in the play with what the ghost tells himhat he wants hamlet to do. "remember me." >> rose: revenge." >> the ghost says revenge but repeats again and again "remember me." soens n answer to your question i would say the ghost is fir and foremost about remembrance of the dead. what it is... what kind of life the dead have not simply... that's why these religious issues are fascinating as part of the surround of the play.
you don't need to know this to encount th are play d to feel it in your bones. all you need to know is something about what it is to remember. what it is to remember especially here people who are gone. and what kind of negotiations we have with the beam who are gone. what claims do they have to make on us. >> rose: we're going to see a scene now. this is from richard burton's hamlet a confid to fast in fires till the foul crimes done in my days of nature are burned and purged away. but i am forbid to tell the secrets of my prison-house, i could tale unfold whose lightest word would harw up they soul, freeze they young blood, mike thy two eyes like stars start from their spears, y noted and
combined locks to part and each particular hair to stand on end like quills upon the fretful rpen tyne. but there eternal playson must not be to ears of flesh and blood list, list, oh list! if thou didst ever thy dear father love... >> oh, god! if >> revenge his foul and most unnatural murder. >> murder! >> murder most foul as in the best it is. but this most foul, strang and unnatural. >> haste me to know it that i with wings as swift as meditation or the thoughts of love my sweep to my revenge! >> rose: sweep to my revenge! >> rose: and, of course, he doesn't sweep to his revenge. instead there's five ts between that moment in which he thinks he's going to act instantly and what actually we see which is a brooding meditating tortured
consciousness that only ends in the chaos and mayhem of accidental crazy activity and murder and may them the danish court. >> rose: do you read any proudian interpretations of this? >> certainlthere is a deep problem of memory, not simply mepl of the father but the disturbance of the memory of the mother. the living mother in her relationship with the dead father and now in her relationship with the uncle. you don't need freud to tell you that that is a disturbance because hamlet tells you it's a disturnce. "don't let him put his reachy fingers on you, don't plant the reachy kisses on your lips" he says about his... says to his mother about the uncle. he's obsessed with the mother's sexual life and as they say in the play itself this is not an impositionn the play. >> rose: polonius, why who is he
and why does he get the great line? >> rose: the great line being... >> rose: this to above all to thine own self be true. >> it's not clear. you would gol two ways with this and you can play this in at least two ways, one is polonius is a mattering old fool and if you play it that way, polonius is a mattering old fool you emphasize the fact that most of these chestnuts, to thine own self be true maybe fore most among them don't correspond to living experience, let alone the living experience of hamle who doesn't know who his true self is. can't figure out what his relationship isto himself. that whole play is about the fact that it's impossible to put these things together. i tend to be on that side of things. but you could also play it and i think maybe shaspeare's contemporaries found interting a set of good advice, though it may not be advice you can all live by. >> rose: when you ach
shakespeare at harvard what do you want your students to come away with? >> i want them firstnd foremost to experience the play as fully and plesh rabbly as they can. not something that is a not guil get that they can carry away but to open themselves to the play and let it work on them. let it speak to them in the deep and powerful way it can. first and foremost for me is not a lesson about inferiority or the oedipus complex or anything of the kind. it's about what it is first of all to be a human being in the world. to suffer. to wonder who you are when new the case of my students and hamlet, when you're at the early stage of your life when you're trying to sort out who you are and what your destiny will be, what your vocation is. this is a play that famously speaks to people of exactly sage
of many of my students. >> it speaks to them in terms of how the pathway to finding it snout >> and the difficulty. what a struggle it is. what a complex act it is to know who you are. to fulfill the expectations of your parents, to make your way in the wld, to understand you are not simply in the world to make it what you want but you're given a set of, in effect, commands and you can ask questions about them. and question them, but you can't escape them, you have to struggle with them and see where they lead you. andamless, of course, is a tragic case. oh cursed spite that i have e i was ever born. me says that. but that experience over the centuries has spoken to generations and generations of not just student bus to readers and audiences. >> rose: it really is the... i think the big question is to be
able to find that thing that you... that is a perfect marriage or your dreams and competence and passion. >> rose: >> what a piece of work is a man he says. but for him it has fallen apart and the play, of course, is about someone who... of immense gifts who precisely cannot do what you've just describednd find the core of himself and find a way through but who wis dead. >> rose: is part of the genius that shakespeare has allowed so many different equally brilliant interpretations? >> certainly this play it's not only that we havthe theatrical evidence that the play is done in a wild variety of ways with an extraordinary range of gifted and not-so-gifted actors but we sohave the peculiar fact that
the play is way t long. so except for kenneth branagh who thought you could do the whole dam thin, most people and most performances on the screen d stage-- particularly on the stage-- have to finish. it gets dark in london. you have to figure out how to get through play and it's very long. and that suggests shakespeare wrote more than his company could possibly have used and that means he expected his compy to decide what it wanted. to emphasize certain things. we know from the early editions that they were experimenting, cutting soliloquies, deciding to reduce the amount of inwardness, for example, of hamlet or playing with that full panoply of deep inwardness. so i think, in fact, this was part of his deep creative genius
and his business plan, shall we say. >> rose: he was a good businessman. >> he was an extremely good businessman and he saw this the play... this was a huge success, hamlet. this is one of those wonderful cases in which ts isn't a thing that was originally greet with howls of execration or indifference. it was greated with rapture from the beginning and as has a huge theatrical life in shakespeare's own time and after that. so it was a play that immediately gripped people. >> rose: have you changed in terms of which plays you loved the most or in with all the knowledge you have and investigation you have made. >> the plays are in many ways as elusive and wondeul and difficult for me now as they
were when i was young sore it's not that it's somehow i've broken throw a kind of clear field in which everything is now defined and my sense of things have changed. probably in relation sfo i guess i'm much more sensitive to claudius and gertrude, to those parents now for all of their failings-- which are deep and disturbing than i was when i was 20 when i was entirely focused on the prince and that's, i suppose, a predictable change that comes with age. >> rose: thank you for coming. >> thank you very much. captioning sponsored by rose communications