How Shakespeare understood women.
The founding artistic director of Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts, Packer (Tales from Shakespeare, 2004, etc.) brings 40 years of experience as a director and actor to her invigorating examination of Shakespeare’s women. Her fascination with these roles inspired her to create a one-woman performance piece, followed by a two-actor piece, five plays and, finally, this book. At present, she has relinquished the directorship of Shakespeare & Company to tour in Women of Will with her acting partner, Nigel Gore. Packer sees a clear spiritual growth, reflected in his female characters, as Shakespeare matured, fell in love and experienced loss. His understanding and empathy, she believes, was shaped by his own experience as an actor, which afforded him “a whole knowing of body, mind, spirit, and sound.” The young writer who created the volatile, ultimately submissive Kate in Taming of the Shrew had a far different understanding of women’s desires, sexuality and craving for power than the older playwright who created the complex Desdemona, Cleopatra and Gertrude. From the Dark Lady addressed in his sonnets, writes Packer, he developed an uncommon empathy and was “able to understand the bind that an intelligent, creative, sexually desirous woman was in—and he started to write in her voice.” Women, he realized, “speak the truth at their peril.” Both Desdemona and Emilia die in Othello, a play Packer thinks is more about sexism than race; Ophelia, who speaks uncomfortable truths not only about Hamlet, but the whole royal family, kills herself; Hermione, in The Winter’s Tale, “dies because she is simply what she is—truthful, committed, generous, caring.” Throughout the book, Packer digresses in engaging, articulate interludes: about Shakespeare’s life between 1587 and 1594, a period crucial to his emotional development; about her visceral and intellectual response to inhabiting men’s roles; about the connection of language to the body.
A sparkling, insightful exploration of Shakespeare’s words and world.