GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – There is so much to the writings of William Shakespeare that “daunting” quickly rears its head.

An interesting and special avenue to greater understanding – readily available and free – is the Play-by-Play Theatre online series “Investigating Shakespeare” that’s rooted in Green Bay.

Cleverly, rather than having to devour a whole smorgasbord of what happens in a full play, the series focuses on just one dish at a time – a notable monologue.

The monologue is analyzed by a knowledgeable person and then performed.

Presentations are low key… but not. Segments are recorded in rooms wherever, and performances are without costumes or weeks of rehearsal. The meat is in the analytical explorations.

The presentations aren’t so much about performance but the meanings behind the words and situations – and the multiple styles William Shakespeare employs to coax the mind.

And this is from 400-something years ago! How did William Shakespeare know so much about the soul of humanity? Theater is very much a collaborative art, so I doubt whether William Shakespeare soloed but drew from those around him as they responded to his stimulus.

Presented by Play-by-Play Theatre of Green Bay, “Investigating Shakespeare” will have this season’s final new episode at noon Thursday, May 26. All segments are available at playbyplaytheatre.org, click on “shows and events.”

Some of the participants are from the United Kingdom. Some are local, including actors who are in Play-by-Play Theatre’s outdoor production of “Much Ado About Nothing” this summer. More information about that is at the end of this feature.

A look at the 2022 “Inspecting Shakespeare” season so far:

Segment One

“Hamlet,” Act IV, Scene 7, Gertrude.

Gertrude, the mother of Hamlet, describes the death of Ophelia, Hamlet’s love interest.

Performed by Elizabeth Jolly, inspected by Abigail Jackson.

“The monologue is beautifully written,” Abigail Jackson says, apparently from the United Kingdom. “Iambic pentameter shows Shakespeare’s desire for the poetic nature of language to flow and links to a heartbeat in Gertrude to ring true in Gertrude’s emotions.”

Gertrude describes Ophelia trying to hang flowers on a tree when a branch broke and she fell into a brook. The description becomes a simile of a mermaid afloat in her clothes as she sings to herself. Ophelia is soon overcome by her sodden garments and is pulled under to drown.

“The language of the monologue hugely focuses on beauty,” Abigail Jackson says, and possibly inspired other great writers.

But the monologue poses more questions than answers, she says.

Why does Gertrude not break this news bluntly (to Ophelia’s brother) instead of softening the news with visions of beauty?

Was she covering up the possibility of suicide to save Ophelia from damnation in the mind of the society of the time?

Did Gertrude see this happen or is it a second-hand account, and if so, wouldn’t someone had tried to save Ophelia?

Or, was Ophelia purposely left?

“Arguably the most compelling question is, why is it Gertrude who gives this news?” Abigail Jackson says. “She’s the queen of Denmark, a woman recently widowed and recently remarried, a woman with a large number of social responsibilities, a woman whose son has been sent away from his homeland due to his insanity and murderous tendencies. She’s emotionally exhausted. And yet Shakespeare chooses her to share more grief with the characters and the audience. Why?”

“I personally believe there’s some subtle feminism at play here. These two female characters are continually overlooked by men in this play to the point that their emotions and minds are deemed insignificant. I think Shakespeare makes this point to show that only a woman could truly see the damage done to Ophelia by the men around her and only a woman had the right to bring this news of the true damage of the patriarchy.”

“Shakespeare was continually subtle about bringing ideas about women in his plays. Just look at Lady Macbeth. But this is all hearsay. Without speaking to The Bard, we’ll never know.”

The monologue:

There is a willow grows aslant the brook
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream.
Therewith fantastic garlands did she make
Of crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples,
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do “dead men’s fingers” call them.
There on the pendant boughs her coronet weeds
Clamb’ring to hang, an envious sliver broke,
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide,
And mermaid-like awhile they bore her up,
Which time she chanted snatches of old lauds,
As one incapable of her own distress
Or like a creature native and endued
Unto that element. But long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pulled the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.

Segment Two

“Macbeth,” Act III, Scene 1, Macbeth.

Macbeth bitterly weighs his “fruitless crown” and Banquo’s lineage leading to a future of reigns.

Performed by Will Knaapen, inspected by Carolyn Silverberg.

Carolyn Silverberg says many people consider Shakespeare an Elizabethan playwright, many of his later plays, including the Scottish play “Macbeth,” were written in the Jacobean era, that of King James.

James, from Scotland, inherited the throne. Shakespeare often performed in front of monarchs, so theatrical flattery was abundant. His “Macbeth” was “a Scottish play for a Scottish king,” Carolyn Silverberg says.

James I was fascinated with witchcraft and wrote a book about it. “That’s right,” Carolyn Silverberg says, “the same guy who commissioned the King James Bible also wrote a book called ‘Demonology’.”

Because of a prophecy – and Lady Macbeth’s meddling – Macbeth has killed Duncan so as to clear his path to the throne. But Macbeth is plagued with inner turmoil, which makes him different than Shakespeare’s other great villains. “Macbeth has a conscience,” Carolyn Silverberg says.

Macbeth’s old pal Banquo grows suspicious of Macbeth and how quickly a witches’ prophecy came to be.

The speech and the whole play are filled with nature imagery in language, Carolyn Silverberg says.

Macbeth is driven by panic and rage. “Gone are his moments of reflection and regret,” Carolyn Silverberg says. “Macbeth has officially replaced Lady Macbeth as the villain of the play… At this point in the play, Macbeth is a mere shell of a man with only one thing in mind, ensuring his place on the throne no matter what.”

Macbeth is “poignantly aware of his evil choices as well as his deteriorating humanity, which he visits in his pivotal soliloquy in Act V, ‘tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’.”

Along the way, “We see Macbeth’s moral decline and how power corrupts.”

Macbeth is a “beautifully complicated tragic figure.”

Banquo’s lineage, Carolyn Silverberg, was believed to be a line to the throne, and “a certain King James was a part of that line.”

The monologue:

To be thus is nothing,
But to be safely thus. Our fears in Banquo
Stick deep, and in his royalty of nature
Reigns that which would be feared. ’Tis much he dares,
And to that dauntless temper of his mind
He hath a wisdom that doth guide his valor
To act in safety. There is none but he
Whose being I do fear; and under him
My genius is rebuked, as it is said
Mark Antony’s was by Caesar. He chid the sisters
When first they put the name of king upon me
And bade them speak to him. Then, prophet-like,
They hailed him father to a line of kings.
Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown
And put a barren scepter in my grip,
Thence to be wrenched with an unlineal hand,
No son of mine succeeding. If ’t be so,
For Banquo’s issue have I filed my mind;
For them the gracious Duncan have I murdered,
Put rancors in the vessel of my peace
Only for them, and mine eternal jewel
Given to the common enemy of man
To make them kings, the seeds of Banquo kings.
Rather than so, come fate into the list,
And champion me to th’ utterance.

Segment Three

“The Tempest,” Act V, Epilogue, Prospero.

At the end of the play, Prospero speaks to the audience and makes an appeal.

Performed by Nicholas Schommer, inspected by Kerry Harrison.

Kerry Harrison, who may be contributing from the United Kingdom, says the scene ends the play on a nice note, with a feeling that nothing “is off or out of place. It’s all completely balanced. It’s quite a cathartic speech for the audience… It’s a satisfying ending.”

The speech breaks the fourth wall as Prospero speaks directly to the audience.

However, “The audience confines him, so he feels trapped by the audience who is keeping him on stage and why he is there looking at them,” Kerry Harrison says. “Now he’s relying on his human skills, not so much magic.”

Kerry Harrison holds up her “old exam” version of “The Tempest” and says she is happy to get it out again.

Prospero’s speech works with rhyming couplets. “It’s pleasing to the ear, and it’s nice to listen to… The story is tied up in a nice bow,” Kerry Harrison says.

Prospero says “he fails unless he gets applause… He’s almost Shakespeare talking now. He wants to please the audience. If he doesn’t please them with his plays, then what was the point of them? He’s failed with them… He’s asking the audience to applaud him or else the whole play was a failure. It’s not entirely Prospero talking now… It’s kind of cheeky; he can’t end it without applause… This is almost saying he can’t be freed without that applause…”

The play may be Shakespeare’s final hurrah.

The morals and ethics of this is forgiveness that goes back 2,000 years, Kerry Harrison says. People still can listen to that now and understand “that feeling of not wanting move on until you have forgiveness from someone or the permission to move on.”

Religion, deep set in society, is a factor, and Prospero wants forgiveness and salvation, Kerry Harrison says.

The monologue:

Now my charms are all o’erthrown,
And what strength I have ’s mine own,
Which is most faint. Now ’tis true
I must be here confined by you,
Or sent to Naples. Let me not,
Since I have my dukedom got
And pardoned the deceiver, dwell
In this bare island by your spell,
But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands.
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself, and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardoned be,
Let your indulgence set me free.

Segment Four

“Julius Caesar,” Act II, Scene 2, Marc Antony.

The eulogy for Caesar, in which Marc Antony walks a verbal tightrope.

Performed by Aaron Reynolds, inspected by Carolyn Silverberg.

During a celebration on Feb. 15, a soothsayer delivers to Julius Caesar “an infamous and ominous” message: “Beware the Ides of March.”

Carolyn Silverberg offers a quick plot synopsis…. Cassius is plotting… Brutus, who is friends with Caesar, is hesitant… On the Ides, Caesar ignores the soothsayer and the premonitions of his wife Calpurnia… and says his famous dying words, “Et tu Brute.”

Because the monologue is so famous “we tend to forget Brutus’s speech that happens right before, and, frankly, so do the Roman people to which these two characters are speaking,” Carolyn Silverberg says.

What Brutus and Marc Antony say are compared.

“Brutus’s speech is very short and to the point. He chooses to play to the people’s logical mind. While Marc Antony, instead, speaks to the people’s emotions.”

Brutus speaks in prose, and “Marc Antony speaks in verse, where the poetry and iambic pentameter, literally called, the heartbeat rhythm, perfectly plays to human emotion.”

Repeated by Marc Antony is a variation of “and Brutus is an honorable man… And in doing so, he seems to dispute Brutus’s claim about Caesar being ambitious and thus needing to be stopped, without ever directly saying so.”

Carolyn Silverberg speaks of “the power of speech and the delicacy of mob mentality” and tells of the mob killing the innocent Cinna. “The people are so frequently swayed by the words of their politicians and in doing so they follow them blindly. That sounds a bit relevant.”

The monologue:

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interrèd with their bones.
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious.
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answered it.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest
(For Brutus is an honorable man;
So are they all, all honorable men),
Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me,
But Brutus says he was ambitious,
And Brutus is an honorable man.
He hath brought many captives home to Rome,
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill.
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept;
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious,
And Brutus is an honorable man.
You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse. Was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious,
And sure he is an honorable man.
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause.
What cause withholds you, then, to mourn for him?–
O judgment, thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason!—Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.

Segment Five

“Twelfth Night,” Act II, Scene 2, Viola.

Viola’s dilemma of a woman falling in love with her fabricated, male, alter ego.

Performed by Sanibel Harper, inspected by Dan Jones.

Dan Jones, perhaps speaking from the United Kingdom, says “Twelfth Night” is one of Shakespeare’s greatest comedies. It was written just after “Hamlet,” in the middle of Shakespeare’s career and was a revival of the “chaos and belly laughter comedy” of his early works.

The play starts with a familiar Shakespeare scenario – a ship caught in a roaring tempest. Viola and Sebastian are siblings tossed into the sea, neither knowing the other’s fate.

In a story of especially complex plotting, this is a gross simplification by me: Viola is pretending to be a man.

Viola’s predicament becomes being part of a love triangle. Dan Jones says Viola explains what’s up to the audience and lays “the foundation for the comic entanglement for the rest of the play.”

Viola is expressing her own thoughts to the audience in her “fluidity in gender.”

“Importantly, Viola’s soliloquy is spoken in verse, and therefore the iambic pentameter controls the vocal performance of this soliloquy,” Dan Jones says. “With the gender shift in the play, there should not be a pause between the lines, ‘I left no ring with her’ and ‘What means this lady?’ in order to successfully capture the iambic rhythm. Shakespeare has purposely constructed this to add to the sheer chaos of events that Viola is having to process at his moment in time.”

The audience is entrusted with Viola’s secrets, Dan Jones says. Olivia has fallen in love with Viola’s fabricated alter ego. Viola is in the position to understand the male and female perspective. The comedy “is at the expense of Viola and her entangled situation.”

Dan Jones’ explanations are windows on how intricate the humor is, thus: “Despite the clear comedy of the situation, there still is an intrinsic fragility which once again is at the expense of Viola. The speech is peppered with rhetorical questions, displaying Viola’s perplexity at her situation. She muses, ‘How will this fadge?’ or turn out. And, ‘What will become of this?’ Clever Viola is fully aware that her situation could have explosive consequences, and, indeed, it does’… but knows “time will untie the knot she’s found herself in.”

The monologue:

I left no ring with her. What means this lady?
Fortune forbid my outside have not charmed her!
She made good view of me, indeed so much
That methought her eyes had lost her tongue,
For she did speak in starts distractedly.
She loves me, sure! The cunning of her passion
Invites me in this churlish messenger.
None of my lord’s ring? Why, he sent her none!
I am the man. If it be so, as ’tis,
Poor lady, she were better love a dream.
Disguise, I see thou art a wickedness
Wherein the pregnant enemy does much.
How easy is it for the proper false
In women’s waxen hearts to set their forms!
Alas, our frailty is the cause, not we,
For such as we are made of, such we be.
How will this fadge? My master loves her dearly,
And I, poor monster, fond as much on him,
And she, mistaken, seems to dote on me.
What will become of this? As I am man,
My state is desperate for my master’s love.
As I am woman (now, alas the day!),
What thriftless sighs shall poor Olivia breathe!
O Time, thou must untangle this, not I.
It is too hard a knot for me t’ untie.

***

AHEAD

Play-by-Play Theatre will present the comedy “Much Ado About Nothing” as its 2022 Shakespeare in the Park in Whitney Park, 800 Main St., in downtown Green Bay at 2:30 and 6 p.m. Sunday, July 10. The rain date is 6 p.m. July 11.

Artistic director is Mary Ehlinger. Directing is her daughter, Carolyn Silverberg.

The cast:

The People of Messina:

Beatrice – Júlia Garcia

Hero – Sanibel Harper

Leonato – Steve Westergan

Margaret – Grace Sergott

Ursula – Lydia Skarivoda

Antonia – Sallie Meyer

The Military:

Benedick – Will Knappen

Claudio – Alex Sabin

Don Pedro – Chris Mayse

Don John – Eric D. Westphal

Borachio – Martin Prevost

Conrade – Ali Weaver

The Body Politic:

Dogberry – Mike Eserkaln

Verges – Maggie Monte

George Seacol/Messenger – Jerah Doxtator

Hugh Oatcake – Mary Spencer

Sexton/Watchman – Ashlee DeGrave

Friar Francis – Alex Gruber

Musicians

Vocals – Kasey Schumacher

Drums – Matt Silverberg

Guitar – Dustin Skenandore

Bass – Tony Pesavento