The following was originally printed in the 2018/2019 Hand of Time Tour program.
With its flawed characters, a 16-year “gap of time,” a miraculous statue, and one of the most famous stage directions of all time (“Exit, pursued by a bear”), William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale has captivated audiences for centuries. Among those affected was Mary Elizabeth Hamilton, author of 16 Winters, or The Bear’s Tale. When Hamilton saw the title among the Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries call for plays, she remembered her early experience, re-read the play, and was immediately inspired. “The idea of these two women hiding away for 16 years was so fascinating to me.”
After that initial impulse, and as she began to dig more deeply into Shakespeare’s play, “I started to think more about who the characters were and what themes were resonating. One that stuck out was this idea of guilt, and what we do with that. That’s where the play expanded out into the character of Leo, and his dead son.”
Hamilton’s exploration of guilt continued as she turned to the younger generation who populate the latter half of Shakespeare’s play. “The young people and that world felt both nebulous and really potentially fun. Questions I asked were “what do you do when you or your parents or somebody down the line of history that you don’t even know has done something massively f***ed up? How do you live with that? Where do you go next?”
In Hamilton’s play, we meet characters who feel familiar to us from our knowledge of Shakespeare’s play. But from their selfies and their pot, to their questions and their guilt, it is clear that these are distinct characters on unique journeys. Producing this play alongside Shakespeare’s encourages audiences to draw parallels between the works and consider where, how, and why they diverge.
Hamilton reflects on the similarities and differences she sees between the plays:
Much of The Winter’s Tale is about the King spiralling out of control because of an intangible emotion, which – judge him how you will, and he is certainly a flawed character – is so relatable to me. That feels like there’s a truth there, that there’s something to explore. Two, what is really special about [Shakespeare’s] play is the magic of the world; I’m definitely interested in that and hoping that 16 Winters can speak to [it] in some way.
I would hope that my play would differ in terms of looking at women, choices, and action through a new lens and perhaps [offer] a different paradigm of what is qualified as good or bad and what we mean by those words.
Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries seeks plays that are “inspired by or in conversation with” Shakespeare’s works. Hamilton shared her own hopes for continued conversations: “My goal is to open up and complicate the questions of these characters and their actions in a way that is not condemning or coming down on any one side in particular. My intention in writing is to explore questions that I don’t have the answers to – to expand the conversation. I hope that an audience would see it with that spirit.”
Welcome to 16 Winters, or The Bear’s Tale and welcome to the conversation. Enjoy productions of both The Winter’s Tale and 16 Winters, or The Bear’s Tale during the Spring: Tour Homecoming Season.