In total, Women of Will: The Complete Journey is a triumph of theatre and an expansive, thrilling, wholly engrossing look at the female characters in Shakespeare’s plays. At two hours apiece, each part stands on its own, and together you will understand more about Shakespeare than you ever thought possible. Patrons should feel free to mix and match the parts (see Part One, then skip ahead to Part Three), or all five parts for a unique marathon that will leave you feeling stunned, enlightened, and wonderfully alive.
PART ONE: The Warrior Women, from Violence to Negotiation
Part One examines the early writings of William Shakespeare, his journey to becoming a playwright and actor, and the role of theatre in Elizabethan England. We also examine the first plays that Shakespeare wrote, including his early comedies (The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the Shrew, Two Gentlemen of Verona and Love’s Labour’s Lost) and early histories (Henry VI: Parts 1, 2, 3, and Richard III). The performance ends with the first major change in Shakespeare’s attitude and portrayal of women: Juliet. “How,” Packer asks, “is Shakespeare’s writing impacted when he portrays a young girl as intelligent, poetic and courageous as her Romeo?”
Although it is the foundation of all the subsequent parts, Part One also stands by itself as a performance, and is a terrific place to start if you’re new to Shakespeare.
PART TWO: The Sexual Merges with the Spiritual: New Knowledge
By writing about Juliet, Shakespeare gains a deeper understanding of the relationship between men and women. He perceives that sexuality can be an intensely spiritual journey, just as spirituality can be expressed in sensual terms. Using Romeo and Juliet as a foundation, Part Two looks at the continuation of this sexual/spiritual story, first with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, then The Merchant of Venice, followed by Much Ado About Nothing and Troilus and Cressida. Finally, the journey takes a different turn in Measure for Measure, and finds its supreme illumination in Antony and Cleopatra.
PART THREE: Living Underground or Dying to Tell the Truth
Part Three wrestles with the middle period of Shakespeare’s writing life. Through the women in these plays, Shakespeare gives us a clearer picture of the constraints put upon them. Increasingly, Shakespeare’s female characters articulate the truth about what they are seeing and feeling. If these women stay dressed as women, they go mad or die (either by murder or suicide). If, however, they disguise themselves as men, they’re able to find their voices, organize those around them, and enact a play that ends happily.
We begin with Constance in King John, and then jump between As You Like It and Othello. We then touch on Twelfth Night, refer back to The Merchant of Venice, and end with Hamlet.
PART FOUR: Chaos is Come Again, the Lion eats the Wolf
As Shakespeare enters a period of despair, he asks: what happens when women do not desire a different voice in society? What happens when they want the same power and goals as men? The answer is clearly illuminated in Macbeth, Coriolanus and King Lear, which Gore and Packer examine in Part Four.
Part Four then moves on to Timon of Athens, in which women are represented as whores who bring disease to mankind. Yet, in this dark picture, where the world is dominated by fascism, Shakespeare writes his most sublime verse. At the end, Shakespeare asks: is there no way out of this killing picture?
PART FIVE: The Maiden Phoenix: the Daughter Redeems the Father
In Part Five, Shakespeare changes the story. His plays stop following the exact psychological development of the protagonists, turning instead to myths and fairy tales. In these late plays (Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest, and finally, Henry VIII), Shakespeare finds a way to make tragic events right again. And it’s the daughters who discover the way.
Led by Cordelia in King Lear, these young women find ways to redeem the past and allow the future to unfold without a story of revenge dominating the stage. The last lines written by Shakespeare about a woman is Cranmer’s blessing over the baby Elizabeth at the end of Henry VIII, and his evocation of what the feminine spirit can do for a society that was born out of her reign.
Within this period of learning, music, poetry, and education, Shakespeare asks: what is the role of the artist in society? Gore and Packer investigate this question in Part Five, finishing the series in the same inquisitive spirit in which they began.