If one of Shakespeare's great strengths is the enduring resonance of his history plays, what does "Richard III" have to say in this immediate post-bin Laden moment? In an interview today from London, British director Edward Hall -- whose Propeller Theatre Company performs that blood-soaked drama in repertory with "The Comedy of Errors" May 18-June 19 at the Huntington Theatre Company -- weighed in on "Richard III" and contemporary moral questions:
"[In] that play and the 'Henry VI' plays before it, there is a political atmosphere where you're either for something or against something. It's very extreme. And the last decade, that's the atmosphere that we've grown up in. It became -- you will remember this as well as I do -- 10 years ago, it became extremely difficult to discuss in any complex terms the issues of the day vis-à-vis Al Qaeda, Islam, [the] Western world. It got very hard to discuss it in the wake of the most atrocious act on the twin towers. And what grew up was an environment where it was hard to have a reasoned debate without apparently supporting the very thing that everyone abhors. And in that kind of atmosphere, people like Richard, they thrive -- because you get an extreme kind of politics.
"And, you know, we're all glad Osama bin Laden is dead. We're all glad he's dead. But somehow, nagging in the back of our heads is gonna be that, 'Well, we did just go out and shoot him.' And the moral maze then asks the question, 'Why don't we shoot Mugabe? Why don't we shoot Khadafy? Why don't we shoot' -- there's a whole list of them, actually, as long as your arm, that are appalling, violent criminals against humanity.
"And it's not that we shouldn't have gone after bin Laden. It's just, it raises very interesting moral questions, and inside that complicated vortex of emotion and moral analysis, when somebody like Richard brings himself to bear, he can kind of capitalize on that, turn people against each other, create faction. And in England in the Wars of the Roses, that's exactly what went on. There was a very violent civil war where there was no such thing as the liberal middle way. There was no such thing as a discussion. If you weren't supporting somebody, you were by definition against them.
"And in that atmosphere, people could win or lose very rapidly: their lives, their lands, everything. And Richard grew up in that, both in real life and also as a character in Shakespeare's plays. By the time he gets to 'Richard III,' he is now ready to capitalize on everything he's learned and take what he's always longed for."
A full story on Edward Hall and Propeller will follow later this month in The Boston Globe.