Former Malaysian deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim is grateful that the guards who watched over him in jail knew little of Shakespeare.
Six months into his six-year internment on trumped-up charges, Mr Anwar was allowed a copy of Shakespeare's collected works on the grounds they were not political.
"Of course, Shakespeare is not political," he said with a knowing smile in Brisbane yesterday.
"Stalin knew what was going on - that's why he banned Hamlet."
Mr Anwar was speaking at the 2006 World Shakespeare Congress, where 600 delegates pondered various trade shows - featuring such offerings as the great works of the Bard on CD - between sessions such as "Shakespeare as a motivational tool for business and sport".
But Mr Anwar, who was jailed between 1998 and 2004 on charges of abuse of power and sodomy, was the star turn, outlining how reading Shakespeare's works, as well as the Koran, had sustained him in prison.
He said both contained similar themes, and for him the human conditions of which Shakespeare wrote were universal.
They revealed timeless truths about such characteristics as anger, revenge, compassion and forgiveness.
"But there's a clear and strong moral message there about goodness as compared to evil," he said.
"So I find it difficult to agree with contentions that Shakespeare is considered Western."
As well as recounting his experiences in jail, he also had an opinion on how Shakespeare should be taught.
For Mr Anwar, appreciating the text is enough, and postmodern interpretations should not be made until after the great works are understood.
"If you talk about a Marxist or a feminist perspective, you are free to do that, but I think to be true to the understanding of Shakespeare you have to get students to first understand the text," he said.
"Then they can interpret it any way they like.
"To read Shakespeare from your own ideological viewpoint, I think, is not a truthful or honest understanding of Shakespeare."
When in jail, Mr Anwar said, he escaped to the world created by Shakespeare. He told yesterday's congress he had heard himself telling Brutus why he had made a fatal error in allowing Marc Anthony to address those fickle-minded Romans.
(1) So “Anwar Ibrahim is grateful that the guards who watched over him in jail knew little of Shakespeare.”
Anwar had put it so to an admiring western audience how smart he had been in outfoxing the unwitting guards, when the truth was no one at his prison cared whether he was reading William Shakespeare, John Milton, Thomas Hobbes or Niccolò Machiavelli.
But then that’s Anwar’s skill in convincing the English-speaking western world of his cosmopolitan nature, his intellectual relishing of, and covert but clever discovery of political paradigm in the writings of the English-speaking world’s most political writer – just as he had confessed how he, as a young man, wanted to marry America’s sweetheart, Natalie Wood – I blogged on this in Anwar Ibrahim - actress & songs he like. I am sure Americans would be endeared to such a man.
Natalie Wood, once America's sweetheart
(2) “But Mr Anwar, who was jailed between 1998 and 2004 on charges of abuse of power and sodomy, was the star turn, outlining how reading Shakespeare's works, as well as the Koran, had sustained him in prison.”
I wonder whether he would have stated in the Malaysian press what he told the Australian media, that he was sustained in prison not only by the Quran but by Shakespeare as well?
(3) ”… Anwar said, he escaped to the world created by Shakespeare. He told yesterday's congress he had heard himself telling Brutus why he had made a fatal error in allowing Marc Anthony to address those fickle-minded Romans.”
How touching! Did he see himself as Caesar, Brutus or Marc Anthony? Maybe he was all, an almost-Caesar but foiled and frustrated, a foolish and failed Brutus to his once mentor and benefactor, and now a wannabe Marc Anthony to inspire those fickle-minded Malaysians who once disliked him, then loved him and now ...
Friends, Malaysians, countrymen,
I come to bury Caesars previous and present,
The evil that men do are never mine
The good should oft be ascribed to me