Spring Arts Preview 2015
Sigh No More, Ladies
Tina Packer follows the Bard’s women from stage to page.
Tina packer first got the idea for Women of Will, her new book about Shakespeare’s women, while watching her own production of The Tempest at the Mount, Edith Wharton’s historical home, in Lenox.
“Here I am, in nature, pulling up the grass from either side of me, as I tend to do that. I’ve got Edith Wharton’s house, which she built, behind me. I’ve got these huge wide pines and I’m watching these women onstage,” she told me recently. “I suddenly realized that there was a lot that Shakespeare wrote that he didn’t actually write down: It’s in the drama…. He’s writing as an actor, so he’s always imagining the scenes.”
Packer should know. Since founding Shakespeare & Company in Lenox in 1978, she has directed or acted in the majority of the Bard’s 37 dramatic works—a familiarity that hasn’t stopped her from having revelations about them. What gripped her that verdant afternoon was the idea that Shakespeare’s female characters, as well as his conception of women, evolved over the span of his career.
“At the beginning, women were either whores or viragos or shrews that bring pain, or they were vacuous little things that all the men wanted to marry, but never said boo to a goose,” she said. “In his late plays, the women are actually speaking for him. It seemed there was this progression, but nobody pointed it out before.”
So over the course of a few years, Packer dedicated herself to doing just that. She packed her observations into a series of plays that she performed, to great acclaim, around the world. In the meantime—on planes, in hotel rooms, in apartments in foreign cities—she worked on her book. Women of Will, she says, “is the last iteration.”
Packer cites Romeo and Juliet as a turning point for Shakespeare, the work where he begins to empathize with the fairer sex.
“Juliet is written just as deeply as Romeo is,” she said. “I love playing Juliet the best. I love being that 14-year-old girl being so overwhelmed by her sexual passion and her desire for this man and the fantastic things she says to express that.” —Eugenia Williamson
Out 4/7, $28, Random House.
Eight Boston-Related Books to Add to Your Spring Reading List
Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter
By Nina MacLaughlin
March 16, W. W. Norton
This former Boston Phoenix staffer—and Boston contributor—writes about leaving journalism to become a carpenter.
The Lunatic: Poems and The Life of Images: Selected Prose
By Charles Simic
April 7, Ecco
The former poet laureate has a banner month, with the release of two new books.
The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy
By Masha Gessen
April 7, Riverhead Books
The acclaimed Russian journalist and Putin chronicler explores the socio-cultural factors behind the Tsarnaev brothers’ terrorism.
The Last Bookaneer
By Matthew Pearl
April 28, Penguin Press
The Dante Club scribe returns with a historical thriller about literary pirates.
The Wright Brothers
By David McCullough
May 5, Simon and Schuster
The Pulitzer Prize-winning historian turns his attention to the fathers of human flight.
The Daylight Marriage
By Heidi Pitlor
May 5, Algonquin Books
The series editor of Best American Short Stories returns with her second novel.
The Book of Aron
By Jim Shepard
May 12, Knopf
An author beloved for his funny, distressing short fiction has written a seriocomic novel about the Holocaust.
The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783–1789
By Joseph J. Ellis
May 12, Knopf
The Pulitzer Prize–winning historian examines the way Washington et al. got down to business after they won the war.