Submerged in Shakespeare

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Shakespeare’s Garden

Nestled in the embrace of Northwestern University campus is a little known piece of Shakespearean history. It’s a lovely Elizabethan garden!

Almost one hundred years ago in 1915, The Garden Club of Evanston members decided it would be a fitting way to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. They also used the garden to symbolically connect with our allies in England during World War I.

The 70 by 100 foot "knot style" garden was designed by the well-known landscape architect Jens Jensen. He is best known for his work on Chicago’s lakefront parks and the Cook County forest preserve system.

The garden is hidden behind a double border of hawthorn hedges from France. Scattered throughout the garden labyrinth are several benches that provide the perfect place to sit and contemplate your favorite Shakespearean passages. Your senses will be delighted by the fragrant collection of flowering trees and shrubs mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays such as lavender, hyssop, lemon balm, old roses, daffodils, and oxeye daisies.

In 1929 an Elizabethan-style stone bench and fountain was added to the garden. It was designed and donated by Hubert Burnham in memory of his mother, Margaret Sherman Burnham, an early Shakespeare Garden chairman. The impressive fountain contains a bronze relief of Shakespeare’s head and quotations from a three of his plays.

The next time you find yourself in need of a soul transfusion, take a stroll with a Shakespearean sonnet in Shakespeare’s Garden.

Information may be obtained by calling Northwestern University at 847-491-5001.



The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to see the complete works of William Shakespeare in two hours or less? The Reduced Shakespeare Company, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield is your answer! Now on DVD, this sidesplitting performance is one that can’t be missed.

After falling in love with the show on DVD, it was our good fortune to attend a live performance of the play by the Crew of Patches at the Mercury Theatre, a 300 seat venue in Chicago.

Directed by David Blixt, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is witty, humorous, 90 minute romp through 39 comedies, histories and tragedies originally written by William Shakespeare.

Cast members included David Blixt, Benjamin Montague, and Scott Leon Smith. A newly added character, "Girl", was played by Justine C. Turner.

It may be difficult to believe 37 plays by Shakespeare could be compressed into 90 minutes, but it has been done and you will find yourself gasping for air as you partake in the outrageous antics of the players.

The scenery for the play was quite simplistic. Three arched doorways draped in deep red velvet curtains with Roman columns on either side allowed the actors to easily exit the stage for quick costume changes. I found it very clever that the walls of the set were painted with the titles of the original Shakespearean plays.

Lighting for the play was fairly good during most of the performance. However, I do believe it could have been more effective during the sword fighting sequences and also during Benjamin Montague’s moving recitation of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy.

The sound design was excellent given the small theatre setting. All of the actors did a fine job of projecting their voices without microphones. I especially liked the music chosen for the play by Josh Landau, the Sound Designer.

Costumes for the play consisted of a variety of funny wigs, hats, dresses, and props which succeeded in transforming men into women! One thing I was not particularly fond of was the costume of the character "Girl". She wore a black sweat suit and even though her roller skates were humorous, I felt it was incongruous to the vintage costumes worn by the other actors.

Benjamin Montague and David Blixt did a fabulous job in their many roles and consistently played to the audience. I did not feel the same way about Scott Leon Smith. Even though the actors played well together, I had a sense that Smith was not fully engaged in the performance. Justine C. Turner was as cute as they come in her role and although she had only a few lines between acts, she did a very good job of miming the rest of her part as she skated across the stage!

Considering the many roles and the quick tempo of the play, I think all of the actors did a stellar job throughout numerous, rapid costume changes. Their body language was convincing whether male or female in nature. In my opinion, Benjamin Montague out-shined the other performers and gave the show 100% of its energy. He was very quick witted and interacted with the audience throughout the performance.

Overall, the play is very clever especially the short version of Romeo and Juliet. The balcony scene really made me laugh when two of the actors came out with one seated atop the other’s shoulders to symbolize Juliet on the balcony. Local references to Chicago were generously interspersed and provided many good laughs in addition to the rap version of Othello and a life-size sock puppet as the ghost in Hamlet.

To me, the best part of the show was the ending. But I won’t give that away, you’ll just have to see it for yourself!

In Search of Shakespeare

This four part 2004 PBS documentary is one of the finest I have seen. Written and narrated by Michael Wood, the presentation chronicles the life of William Shakespeare.

This is not your ordinary documentary, it is a compelling story about life. Even though the story centers on William Shakespeare’s life, it is a history of the time in which he lived, England in the late 16th century.

Step-by-step, Michael Wood takes his viewers along the same musty, forest paths Shakespeare walked. He visits his ancestors homes, his schools, the church where he was baptized, unearths the record of his marriage to Anne Hathaway and the venues where his plays were performed.

Throughout the DVD, we are given insight into the Elizabethan era by way of actual documents from the time in which Shakespeare lived.

Woods visits many government offices where these records are preserved and shares with viewers eye witness accounts of informers to Queen Elizabeth. He tells us the history of Shakespeare’s family and much of what is told centers around the Tudor monarchy and the battle of faith between the Protestants and the Catholics.

The Royal Shakespeare Company performs scenes from Shakespeare’s plays throughout the DVD much as they would have been performed when they were first written.

In addition, we have the opportunity to visit rolling green hillsides mentioned in the plays and sonnets Shakespeare wrote hundreds of years ago. We are able to stand before graves bearing the names of his characters. We experience firsthand the world in which he lived.

As Wood narrates the story of Shakespeare’s life, he frequently quotes lines from Shakespeare’s body of work and clearly illustrates how they reflect the language of a country boy who grew up in Elizabethan England. His words convey the great love William had for his homeland.

After watching this PBS special presentation, I came away with an increased knowledge not only of Shakespeare, but the history of the time in which he lived as well. It is fascinating and profound.