The ideas of William Shakespeare and Thomas Jefferson &

wordsmiths from different centuries and continents &

will share the stage Monday night at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Artistic Director Bill Rauch will speak on humanist themes in this season's lineup at the festival in a special presentation by the Jefferson Center, named for Thomas Jefferson.

Humanism, as defined by Rauch, is the idea that what matters most in life is how humans treat each other while they are alive. It is a philosophy promoted by Jefferson in his arguments for religious freedom.

"I am somebody who respects a wide range of beliefs and approaches to living, and I thought the humanist approach was a really important one," Rauch said. "I think theater is a very humanist art form, so it made sense to me."

Humanist themes run through all the plays in the show, he said, citing a scene in Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" as an example. In the scene, characters sit in a graveyard and gradually forget their lives and become less attached to the world.

This year's plays contain themes from several religions, including the Catholic characters in "A View from the Bridge," and Buddhist and Hindu characters in "The Clay Cart," Rauch said.

Every artist and audience member can interpret the same play differently and pick out widely varying themes, which is why Rauch finds theater fascinating, he said.

Some audiences have interpreted Shakespeare's scripts, for example, to determine he is a closet Catholic, while others are convinced the Bard was critical of organized religion.

"I'm excited that I'm part of the dialogue," Rauch said. "I think part of why people love coming to OSF is that they are deeply immersed in the theatergoing experience. They see multiple shows within one visit, and they get to really dig into how the plays talk to one another and how the plays relate to another."

The event is sponsored by the Jefferson Center, founded by Bob Semes in 2004 to promote secular humanism and critical thinking, ideals also promoted by Thomas Jefferson. The center defines humanism as a rational philosophy informed by the sciences and arts, and motivated by compassion.

The Jefferson Center has hosted programs on religion in Shakespeare's plays before, but this will be the first event held in conjunction with OSF, Semes said.

"We really enjoy working with the festival in any way we can, and Bill's willingness to do this for us is a big step," he said. "We're looking for future opportunities to do that."

"The OSF's 2008 Season: A Celebration of the Human" begins at 7:30 p.m. Monday in Carpenter Hall at the corner of Pioneer and Hargadine streets. Suggested donation is $8, and youth are free.

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .