Our 35th Anniversary Summer and Fall seasons will continue the themes of resilience in the face of adversity, and the plays of Much Ado About Nothing, Taming of the Shrew, Measure for Measure, Hamlet, and Coriolanus, all penned by William Shakespeare, will offer us a wealth of insight and inspiration.
In these plays, we witness the characters grappling with various trials and tribulations, from betrayal, deceit, and injustice to love, loss, and personal transformation. And yet, through it all, they emerge stronger, wiser, and more resilient than before.
Take, for instance, Hamlet, the tortured prince who grapples with his father’s murder, his mother’s remarriage, his tumultuous relationship with Ophelia, and the weight of his own indecision. Despite the overwhelming odds stacked against him, Hamlet rises to the occasion, confronting his inner demons and finding the courage to take action in the face of adversity.
In Much Ado About Nothing, we witness the characters grappling with the complexities of love and relationships, navigating misunderstandings, jealousies, and heartbreak. And yet, in the end, they emerge with a newfound sense of resilience and understanding, ready to face whatever challenges the future may hold.
In Taming of the Shrew, we see the fiery and independent-minded Katherina transformed by the power of love, overcoming her own stubbornness and resilience to find true happiness with her partner. Or do we? Taming of the Shrew has been criticized for its portrayal of gender roles and its depiction of violence against women. The play features a storyline in which the male protagonist, Petruchio, ‘tames’ the shrewish Katherina through abusive and manipulative behavior, ultimately forcing her to submit to his will. This has been viewed by some as promoting patriarchal attitudes and condoning domestic violence.
Similarly, in Measure for Measure, we see the protagonist, Isabella, fighting against the corrupt and unjust laws of her society, risking everything to defend her honor and protect her brother’s life. Despite the injustices she faces, Isabella stands firm in her convictions, ultimately triumphing over the forces of oppression and adversity. Measure for Measure, for example, has been criticized for its portrayal of women and its treatment of sexual assault. The male protagonist, Angelo, attempts to coerce a nun, Isabella, into having sex with him in exchange for her brother’s release from prison. This has been viewed by some as a troubling portrayal of sexual assault and as perpetuating harmful stereotypes about women as objects to be manipulated and controlled by men.
And in Coriolanus, we witness the eponymous character, grappling with his own pride and arrogance, ultimately humbled by the harsh realities of war and politics. Following the thread here, Coriolanus has been criticized for its portrayal of class and its glorification of war and violence. The play features a storyline in which the titular character, a Roman general, is portrayed as a hero for his military conquests and his contempt for the lower classes. This portrayal has been viewed by some as promoting elitism and nationalism and perpetuating harmful attitudes about the role of violence and war in society
Why even produce these plays? Now?
The American Shakespeare Center is a repertory company dedicated to producing Shakespeare, his contemporaries, and Early Modern/Classical adjacent works. It is imperative that we lean into these works critically and fearlessly–with artistic risk, innovation, and in their historical context while also recognizing the limitations of their perspectives and the need to address problematic aspects in contemporary times. With this effort and rigor, we will continue to be a leader in the production of Shakespeare’s canon in its fullest expression.
In the context of the current events of 2023, these themes of resilience and strength are perhaps more relevant than ever before. From the ongoing struggles for racial justice and human rights, to the challenges of rebuilding a post-pandemic world, to the urgent need to address the existential threats of global warming and environmental degradation, we are facing challenges that demand our most resilient and courageous selves.
Furthermore, the current state of the world also highlights the importance of art and culture in our lives. As non-profits struggle to survive and schools face budget cuts, it is more important than ever to recognize the value of artistic expression and cultural heritage. Shakespeare’s works, including this year’s 400th anniversary of the First Folio, remind us of the power of language and storytelling to inspire, entertain, and educate.
So, let us honor the legacy of the great Bard, on this 400th anniversary of the First Folio, and let us celebrate the power of art to inspire us, to challenge us, and to transform us in the face of adversity. For in these troubled times, we need the wisdom and insight of the great works of literature to guide us on our journey towards a more just, creative, compassionate, and resilient world.
On behalf of the American Shakespeare Center, Happy 35th Anniversary! And, as we say here affectionately—GO BEARS!
Kindest Regards and much love,
ASC is ready for a summer of fun to celebrate our 35th Anniversary! First up, in honor of the First Folio’s 400th Anniversary, join us for a limited engagement of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [revised] (again) NOW playing through June 4. Then, make your plans to join us this summer for our repertory of Taming of the Shrew, playing June 16 to August 12, Measure for Measure, playing June 23 to August 12, and Much Ado About Nothing, playing July 21 to November 19. Keep an eye out for Fall Season tickets, which will go on sale in July! Visit our website for a full calendar of events.
Brandon Carter. Photo by Alaina Smith.