Who tells your story? Who is left behind? What is left behind? These are the types of questions the award-winning play Shakespeare’s Will examines.
Written by Winnipeg-born playwright Vern Thiessen and directed by Eric Blais, this one-woman show is both the unheard story of a unique woman and a cathartic examination of a relationship central to some of the English language’s most vital pieces of literature.
Set after William Shakespeare’s funeral, the play focuses on Anne Hathaway — Shakespeare’s wife — and her version of the story of their marriage and Shakespeare’s life in a series of flashbacks.
Deborah Patterson stars as Hathaway. As a founding member of Winnipeg’s own Shakespearean theatre company Shakespeare in the Ruins, Patterson has been analyzing Shakespeare most of her life — even studying with Neil Freeman, who is a master of Shakespeare’s folio texts.
Patterson was attracted to the part because she feels Hathaway is such an enigma in the story we know of Shakespeare’s life.
“I mean, the little that we know of her — she was older than [William Shakespeare], she had three kids, one set of twins, with him. They lived separate lives for most of their married life, but he returned to live with her at the end of his life. I find all of that really interesting.”
The other reason Patterson was so fascinated by Hathaway is because historians are still piecing together women’s stories throughout history.
“Women’s stories from that time don’t often get told,” she said.
“We decide [as a culture] what is important and we preserve what we think is important, and women’s stories weren’t seen to be important. But obviously [women] were doing things and the things they were doing had importance to them.”
Patterson was fascinated by exploring what Hathaway’s life was like and how it adds value to Shakespeare’s own story as well as women’s stories.
“Who was she?” she said, “What was she doing? What was she like? How did she fill her days? All these questions I think have value, have importance.”
As for the fact that this year’s Master Playwright Festival stars Shakespeare’s works — an immortal playwright who needs no introduction, who lives on in high school and university classrooms with students dissecting the dense prose and iambic pentameter of his plays — Patterson believes the humanity of Shakespeare’s writing is what keeps us coming back.
“I think Shakespeare’s genius is in describing core human experiences that, on some level, are universal,” she said.
“Falling in love, fearing death, offering forgiveness, wanting revenge: all these things are core human experiences and he just illuminates them and describes them so beautifully and elevates them.
“By doing his plays we ennoble those ideas, we ennoble each other through that perfect embodiment of those universal truths of the human condition.”
Shakespeare’s Will runs from Jan. 30 to Feb. 9 at the Rory Runnells Studio.