Women of Will, The Complete Journey (2012)

By Tina Packer
June 1 2012

Tina Packer's ground-breaking work explores the creative evolution of William Shakespeare’s consciousness through his depiction of women. Each part stands on its own as a unique work, but the Colorado Shakespeare Festival is proud to present, for the first time outside of Massachusetts, the full cycle of five plays.

Date Time
Friday June 1 12:00 am
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A note from the creator

By studying the female characters in Shakespeare’s plays in the order in which the playwright wrote them, I have been tracing their development and maturation over the span of the canon.

Through his relationship with the women he creates, Shakespeare reveals much about his own character and spirit as an artist. Because the women generally survive outside the power structure of society, they look at, maneuver and reflect upon the workings of that society, not unlike an artist. The feminine sensibilities of intuition, feeling and relationship parallel those of the artist.

So, if you want to know what Shakespeare thinks, listen to the women. Because there are fewer women than men in the plays, the women often have a clear definition of being the “other.” And often they manifest the very souls or spirit of the stories.

The women have a specific progression from the fighting warrior women and virgins-on-the-pedestal of the early plays to the heroines who struggle to find themselves in the middle plays, to the daughters who, through their own wholeness, are able to guide their fathers back to life in the late plays. I believe the women reflect the development of Shakespeare’s own psyche. Shakespeare, being one of the greatest artists who ever lived, is able to reveal­— over a 25-year span— his mind to us, and this in turn actually exposes on an archetypal level the development of a universal human psyche.

I have come to understand myself through this study. I, too, have been immersed in the plays for 35 years, both as a director and as an actress, and have an intimate relationship with most of Shakespeare’s writing. In many ways, my own development as an artist is reflected in the development of his women. First there is the battle, then the negotiation. In order to survive, I personally went underground and now I am coming back from the underground to a new birth — the maiden phoenix, if you will. And whole, in a way I never was before.


            — Tina Packer

Part One: The Warrior Women, from Violence to Negotiation


Part One examines the early writings of William Shakespeare, his journey to becoming a playwright and actor, and the role of theatre in Elizabethan England. We also examine the first plays Shakespeare wrote, including his early comedies (Comedy of ErrorsThe Taming of the Shrew,Two Gentlemen of Verona and Love’s Labor’s Lost) and early histories (Henry VI: Parts 123, andRichard III). The performance ends with the first major change in Shakespeare’s attitude and portrayal of women: Juliet. “How,” Packer asks, “is Shakespeare’s writing impacted when he portrays a young girl as intelligent, poetic and courageous as her Romeo?”

Part Two: The Sexual Merges with the Spiritual: New Knowledge

By writing about Juliet, Shakespeare gains a deeper understanding of the relationship between men and women. He perceives that sexuality can be an intensely spiritual journey, just as spirituality can be expressed in sensual terms. Using Romeo and Juliet as a foundation, Part Two looks at the continuation of this sexual/spiritual story, first with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, then The Merchant of Venice, followed by Much Ado About Nothing and Troilus and Cressida. Finally, the journey finds its supreme illumination in Antony and Cleopatra.

Part Three: Living Underground or Dying to Tell the Truth

Part Three wrestles with the middle period of Shakespeare’s writing life. Through the women in these plays, Shakespeare gives us a clearer picture of the constraints put upon them. Increasingly, Shakespeare’s female characters articulate the truth about what they are seeing and feeling. If these women stay dressed as women, they go mad or die (either by murder or suicide). If, however, they disguise themselves as men, they’re able to find their voices, organize those around them, and enact a play that ends happily.

We begin with Isabella in Measure for Measure, go to Twelfth Night, look at Hamlet, and finally switch backwards and forwards between As You Like It and Othello.

Part Four: Chaos is Come Again, the Lion eats the Wolf

As Shakespeare enters a period of despair, he asks: what happens when women do not desire a different voice in society? What happens when they want the same power and goals as men? The answer is illuminated inMacbethCoriolanus and King Lear, which Gore and Packer examine in Part Four.

Part Four then touches on Timon of Athens, in which women are represented as whores who bring disease to mankind. Yet, in this dark picture, a world dominated by fascism, Shakespeare writes his most sublime verse. At the end, Shakespeare asks: is there no way out of this killing picture?

Part Five: The Maiden Phoenix: the Daughter Redeems the Father


In Part Five, Shakespeare changes the story. His plays cease to follow the exact psychological development of the protagonists, but turn instead to myths and fairy tales. In these late plays (PericlesCymbelineThe Winter’s TaleThe Tempest, and finally, Henry VIII) Shakespeare finds a way to make tragic events right again. It’s the daughters who discover the way, with a few good men.

By examining first Pericles and then Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare introduces the ingredients needed for redemption and forgiveness.  The women find ways to heal the past and allow the future to unfold without the story of revenge. The last lines written by Shakespeare about a woman are Cranmer’s blessing over the baby Elizabeth at the end of Henry VIII, and his evocation of what the feminine spirit can do for a society was borne out by her reign.

The Elizabethan period itself revered learning, music, poetry, dancing, painting, education and Shakespeare asks: what is the role of the artist in society? Gore and Packer investigate this question in Part Five, finishing the series in the same inquisitive spirit in which they began.

Join Tina Packer and her acting partner Nigel Gore as they explore the creative evolution of William Shakespeare’s consciousness through his depiction of women. Deeply inhabiting and interpreting characters from the Bard’s rich cast of female alter egos, from poisonous Lady Macbeth to winsome Juliet, Packer takes us on a journey from the narrow confines of the shrew to an expansive new world of hope and strength for women. Performed in its entirety for the first time outside of Massachusetts, each play in this epic, five-part cycle stands on its own, and the plays can be seen in any order. 



Woman               Tina Packer

Man                    Nigel Gore



Director Eric Tucker
Assistant Director Greg Thorson
Voice and Speech Coach Margaret Jansen
Scenic Designer Bruce Bergner
Lighting Designer Les Dickert^
Sound Designer Daniel Kluger^
Sound Engineer Steven McDonald
Dramaturg Hadley Kamminga-Peck
Stage Manager Matt Compton*

Dramaturg's Note

William Shakespeare is notorious for writing very few female characters, yet these women, as demonstrated in Women of Will, are strong, and often give voice to Shakespeare’s most subversive ideas. Given that these women were often based on historical figures (Joan of Arc, Margaret Beaufort, Lady Elizabeth York) or mythological figures (Hippolyta and the goddesses), understanding the daily perils of life for a woman helps us understand just how remarkable Shakespeare’s women really are.

A 15th-century Englishwoman’s life depended almost exclusively on the men around her. Her father’s household determined her status in society. If she were born to an aristocratic family, she would likely be weaned by a wet nurse, taught by a governess, and “placed out”, or raised in a household with even higher status so that she could make an advantageous marriage. In any case, she would be expected to learn to spin, weave, sew, and embroider, and would possibly also be taught to read and write, speak Latin, play music, and dance. The education of women was a recent idea, and not everyone agreed with it.

If she were born to a country family, the land dictated her life. She would rise early to tend the cows and hens (from which she could gather milk and eggs, make butter and cheese, and trade the excess in the market). She would be expected to cook, clean, spin wool, weave, sew, do laundry, and raise children.

In both cases, a woman’s marriage was most often a business arrangement between families. She would be expected to marry with her hair down, a symbol of her virtue. She rarely had much say in the selection of a husband; she hoped he was not a cruel man. Divorce was possible, but very difficult to obtain after the shenanigans of Henry VIII. It was relatively common for a wife to aid her husband in his business, sometimes even managing the accounts as she managed the household. A widow could even take over the business upon her husband’s death and keep it running. Titles, lands, and properties could be inherited through the female line, a relatively new concept but one that had proved crucial during the Wars of the Roses.

A woman’s primary job was to produce children. She could be married as young as 12 years old, and expect to be pregnant once a year after that. On average, women carried 15 children full term, and about half of those lived through their infancy. Raising the children and running the household was her job until death, usually in her mid-forties. She was expected to be obedient to her husband, quiet and yielding, throughout their marriage; a man’s worst curse was having a shrew for a wife, since a husband should always be able to control her.

Women of Will has five parts: strong women, aware women, women with secrets, women rejecting their roles, and women redeeming men. Each of these categories has a source, a place in 16th century society, though it is typically the exception to the rule. Because Shakespeare’s women are the exception, he is able to give them powerful voices, allowing their wills to win out over their socially assigned natures.


— Hadley Kamminga-Peck, Dramaturg