The kickass Women of Will
Packer unpacks Shakespeare’s female characters
Okay, guys, I understand. The thought of reading something that includes the descriptor “literary criticism” during summer makes a lot of us cringe.
“We’ve just spent eight months on that subject. Is nothing sacred?”
But, before anyone writes me off completely, Tina Packer has produced a literary criticism of Shakespeare that won’t incur horror flashbacks to English 10, is not contained in an overpriced textbook, and delivers an introspective read for, dare I say, the summer. I don’t know about everyone else at this university, but I believe that understanding and reflecting on some of the most important female characters in literary history is a pretty cool thing.
This book is an excellent resource for just that subject. The title alone makes me nod my head approvingly, since it combines two of my greatest loves in life: strong women and good stories. Revealed in the first pages of the book, Packer herself is a Shakespearean scholar and actor, and founding artistic director of Shakespeare & Company in Lennox, Massachusetts. With those credentials, I was thoroughly intrigued.
She describes her history with playing some of The Bard’s most well known roles, and how she received an education on the job. It’s as entertaining as it is intriguing. With so many interpretations of the women from Shakespeare’s head, can we only wonder which one is the right one? It’s made clear throughout the book that there is no right answer to that. Packer does bring up some interesting points about many beloved Shakespearean characters such as Viola, Juliet, and Ophelia. She also delves into some characters that are well-known historical figures, but a little less recognized as Shakespearean characters. One of which is Joan of Arc, whom Packer says could be “the first female character Shakespeare ever created.” I, for one, probably would never have known that had I not read this book, as the historical plays have never been my forte. But ho, hum! We learn something new everyday.
If a book on kickass women and groundbreaking stories analyzed by an equally accomplished woman isn’t enough to convince skeptics, here is a list of chapters and characters that Packer covers in the chapter, “The Woman Warrior: Violence to Negotiation,” which discusses characters like the aforementioned Joan of Arc, and Queen Elizabeth; “The Sexual Merges with the Spiritual,” where Juliet makes an appearance; and “Chaos is Come Again: The Lion Eats the Wolf,” which was my favourite because characters like Lady Macbeth, the best character in Shakespeare, in my opinion, are analyzed. These are some pretty hefty topics, but you need something to discuss with your friends over good sangria, right?
Long story short, Tina Packer is a pretty amazing woman with some outstanding insights into Shakespeare. Even if his plays aren’t your thing, you have to admit how prevalent they are in today’s society, even though they were written in the 1600’s, no less than 400 years ago! You’ve got to give credit where credit’s due.
Give this book a read; even if you just get a few chapters in, I guarantee you’ll gain an appreciation for one of the greatest playwrights in history and the women who make his stories worth remembering.