GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – In a niche on the net is an attraction for Shakespeare nuts.
William Shakespeare never heard of Green Bay, but the imaginative “Inspecting Shakespeare” series originates there by way of Play-by-Play Theatre.
The series posts weekly at noon Thursday. You can find the link by clicking here. Last week’s opener of the second season is available. All 10 of last season’s episodes also are available.
There is nothing around quite like “Inspecting Shakespeare” because of its ties to Green Bay that loop all the way to the United Kingdom.
Offered in each episode is an exploration of a telling monologue from one of William Shakespeare’s plays.
First, someone in the know through study, a diploma, and experience lays out the background for the moment in the play. Then, someone experienced in Shakespeare’s performance performs the scene.
The scene may not necessarily be famous but important for its intricacies and questions it may raise about the character and why William Shakespeare may have written what he wrote. Details abound, if only in eight minutes and 41 seconds – the length of the Season Two opener: Act IV, Scene 7 of “Hamlet.” Gertrude, the mother of Hamlet, describes the death of Ophelia, Hamlet’s love interest.
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.
Prior to that scene being performed by Elizabeth Jolly – no costume, no theatrical backdrop, simply a focus on character – Abigail Jackson provides the “inspecting” part in a room of her own elsewhere.
“The monologue is beautifully written,” Abigail Jackson says. “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 play is from 1600 or so, and it still is in play for wondering. Whew.
From Abigail Jackson’s condensed thoughts on Gertrude, there is plenty of grist for then watching the no-frills performance of Elizabeth Jolly as she paints word pictures. She is a graduate of St. Norbert College in De Pere and the American Academy of Dramatic Art in New York City.
Elizabeth Jolly has been involved in creative capacities in Shakespeare productions by Play-by-Play Theatre of “Romeo and Juliet” (2021), “The Taming of the Shrew” (2020), and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (2019) directed by another St. Norbert College graduate, Carolyn Silverberg.
Carolyn Silverberg, overseer, etc. of “Inspecting Shakespeare,” has connections that reach abroad by way of her master’s degree in Shakespeare from Royal Holloway, University of London.
Abigail Jackson also studied at Royal Holloway, University of London.
See how things work?
Like minds team for close inspection of exploration of details, details, details.
Ahead, Play-by-Play Theatre will present William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” outdoors on July 10 with, as usual, a Green Bay area cast. Auditions are on May 9 and 10.
And there are five more segments of “Inspecting Shakespeare” posted at noon on Thursdays.