What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos


Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more

Why Shakespeare and I Are Not Soul Mates

April 23, 2011, 12:00 AM

When I was a child, I felt a lot closer to Shakespeare than I do as an adult. That I would feel at all close to Shakespeare is clearly absurd, and yet the experience of poring over the texts of plays, understanding very little of what I was reading, and being compelled to go on, was, paradoxically, an activity of great intimacy. I went to a private secondary school; our English curriculum was organized systematically--we read a Shakespeare play every year from seventh through twelfth grade, beginning with “Twelfth Night” and ending with “King Lear.” We discussed the plays for about two weeks, and we read sections of the plays aloud. They seeped in to my brain rather like other barely understood sets of words (think “round John virgin” as opposed to “Round yon virgin”). Since being misunderstood was something adults specialized in, our job as children was to decipher the code.

The effort demanded concentration, and concentration resulted in contemplation--I pondered the bits of “Hamlet,”  “A Midsummer NIght’s Dream,” and the other plays we read over and over. When I finally did see a performance, the summer after twelfth grade (Sam Waterston in “Hamlet” at the Washington Monument), the play seemed to coalesce right before my eyes, to emerge from my inner life and form itself on the stage. It belonged to me, I felt, more than it did to the audience members around me who were yawning, straining to hear, staring at their programs .

In college, of course, we read more Shakespeare, and the play I loved most was “Measure for Measure.” The one I loved least was “King Lear.” I read “King Lear” five times in the course of high school, college, and graduate school, and I never reconciled myself to what my friend William Shakespeare seemed to wish to teach me. Whereas in “Measure for Measure,” fairness won out, and the hypocritical tyrant was revealed and punished, in “King Lear,” tyranny went unexplored. In fact, tyranny seemed to be embraced, and for no reason that I could discern. Was I supposed to pity Lear because he was a father? Because he was the king? Because he was foolish and/or senile? In “Measure for Measure,” the female characters were appealing in their intelligence; I didn’t understand the female characters in “King Lear” at all.

So I set about correcting my friend William Shakespeare--something no sane adult would attempt. I gave the royal family a background and a milieu. I gave the daughters a rationale for their apparently cruel behavior. I gave Goneril a voice and Regan a point of view. I was sure that if I were detailed enough, my friend William Shakespeare would see the daughters as I did. By the time I was finished with A Thousand Acres, I felt that in some ways, Shakespeare and I were closer than ever. I knew that, like me, he had reworked existing material, and found the material to be more intractable than he’d expected it to be. I knew he had wrestled with the logic of the action and the motivation of the characters. I knew that there were places in the play where he had done the best he could to patch it all together. In short, I experienced my friend William Shakespeare as a fellow toiler in the literary muck. But as I pondered those points in “King Lear” where motivation became action and action resulted in reflection, I also learned that William Shakespeare and I were not soul mates, that I was a 20th century female and he was a 16th century male. He expected the world to be a crueler place than I did; he took for granted Lear’s claims as a king and as a man; his poetry voiced feelings and perceptions that were specific to his time and place. I learned that I could not, in fact, think like Shakespeare and that he did not, in fact, foresee our world. In short, when I followed Shakespeare into the Lear material, I discovered that he was human. For a writer, that is the most inspiring lesson of all.



Why Shakespeare and I Are N...

Newsletter: Share: