1. Although there are no interpretations of Lincoln that say that he was a bad person, or a person who at one point loved slavery and changed his mind — [interpretations] that make any sense to me and that I think are in any way credible — there are certainly various versions of Lincoln and aspects of Lincoln. Like for instance his melancholy (which I don’t think he was) that are legitimate readings of him, and everybody has to pick their own. … Many people who knew him, including most of his closest friends, talk about how isolated and lonely and strange he was.

    And I would imagine Shakespeare and Mozart and Albert Einstein were also very strange. I think it must be very hard to have a cognitive process that really only in some ways resembles the cognitive processes of most of your fellow human beings. And the ability to see things that no one else can see, on one level, is a blessing — it’s certainly a blessing for the rest of us when something is made of it — but it also must be a kind of curse, because it seals you up in a world that only you can see.

    I mean, he was famously a joker, and a person who told stories, and a person who laughed and talked about how he had to laugh. He loved Shakespeare, and he loved Robert Burns, who were both writers who combine real heartbreak and tragedy with incredible humor and wit. And Lincoln said, ‘I couldn’t survive what I’m going through if I couldn’t laugh.’

    I don’t think he was a depressed person. I think he was a man with an enormous capacity for grief that didn’t deprive him of the ability to act. And he felt no need to hide the fact that he was grieving — and in fact saw, as the president of the United States, a duty to talk to the country about its grief during a time when we now think as many as 800,000 men in a country of 30 million died in combat in a four-year period.

    — Tony Kushner on the many interpretations of Abraham Lincoln

  2. Tony Kushner

    Lincoln

    Fresh Air