Contributor: Sarah Bernstein
I won't deny that I am more than willing to get caught up in the insider trading of literary-historical trivia -- and that the back-stories of the plays of William Shakespeare DO make for engaging dialogue. But what I find even more interesting than understanding his plays in the personal, cultural and historical contexts in which they were first written is how fresh and pertinent their content is in today's context.
Like Shakespeare's London, Milwaukee is a port city, a city of immigrants, a city with deep class divides, and a city with a rich industrial, mercantile and artistic history. And, here in Milwaukee, in this year alone, the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth, we are lucky to have many diverse points of entry into Shakespeare's work: Fly Steffens' collaboration with Pius XI High School on The Tempest /#LATEMPESTAD; a therapeutic program, dubbed the Feast of Crispian allows local veterans prompted by Shakespeare's words, to tell their stories; Off the Wall Theatre's sexagenarian Romeo and Juliet; and of course, Optimist Theatre's (always free) Shakespeare in the Park is presenting The Winter's Tale.
There is a "ripped from the headlines" quality permeating The Winter's Tale with its sex scandal in the highest level of government; political cover-ups and double identities; broken family; social inequality; and even its fatal wild animal attack. The plotlines possess currency and universality that resonate with the issues of our time as they did with those of Renaissance England. But it is the rhythm, rhyme and repetition of Shakespeare's poetry, ably assisted by the power and grace of the acting and production, which pulls us again and again into this "realm of relevance."
"Is this nothing?
Why then the world and all that's in't is nothing;
The covering sky is nothing; Bohemia nothing;
My wife is nothing; nor nothing have these nothings, if this be nothing."
(I, ii, 292-96)
Sarah Bernstein is a longtime Shakespeare in the Park supporter, President of the Wisconsin Chapter of the Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement, and blogs about fundraising, research and whatever else strikes her.