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Tina Packer's Women of Shakespeare

We talk with Tina Packer about her new on-stage gathering of the Bard’s female roles — from Juliet to Lady Macbeth.

Tina Packer in "Women of Will" (Credit: Shakespeare & Company)

William Shakespeare took the English language and a shocking genius and opened up the human condition like no one else.  

He did it with 770 male characters and 177 women.  

In Shakespeare’s women, his female characters, his grasp of the feminine, lie some of the bard’s deepest insights, says my guest today.  

Actor and director Tina Packer calls them “Women of Will.” As in, of Will Shakespeare, and of willpower.  The will to ask:  What does it mean to be alive?  How must we act?  What must I do?  

This Hour, On Point: Tina Packer and the women of Will Shakespeare.



Tina Packer, Shakespearean actor, director and scholar. Her show at Shakespeare & Company, where she is artistic director, in Lenox, MA is “Women of Will.” It opened May 28, and will run through July 24. She will also perform her full five-part series of plays about Shakespeare’s women from August 25 to 27. 


Read the Boston Globe profile of Tina Packer and her new work. 

And here’s another look at Packer in action in “Women of Will”: 

Tina Packer in her play "Women of Will" (Credit: Shakespeare & Company)

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  • Ellen Dibble

    Somehow I don’t think Ophelia is on Tina Packer’s list of women of Will, but rather a characterization of the antithesis. Which might be why her character wasn’t filled out that much — or am I misremembering at several decades since? Except that painters have depicted her as a victim, the fragility of the female — insane, witless. I mis-typed that “witness,” which sometimes is a factor in making women witless, that they are “in” on more than they have the connections to really handle. They are socially isolated…

  • Ellen DIbble

    Make that Ophelia a “caricature” of the weak feminine.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Cordelia, in King Lear, another example of a woman who in filial virtue also became a victim, was disowned. Again, Shakespeare showing that women functioning within the patriarchal system could not be powerful personalities. You could be wicked and strong, but to be faithful and good and loving and intelligent AND a wife — can you think of one?

  • hmma

    I would love to hear a discussion of Portia, from Merchant of Venice. One of the most complex characters in Shakespeare, in my opinion.

  • John

    Maybe men should rule from their head, not their body. George W Bush led from his gut.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Did Tina Packer never encounter the wounds that can be done via the emotions, the relationships? In international relations I see that in “sanctions,” in trying to punish by isolation. But in families the same can happen, with replications and reverberations after centuries.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I mean, did Shakespeare not suffer a hurtful woman in his upbringing.

  • http://www.helenepstein.com helen epstein

    if you’re interested in Tina Packer and her training method, there’s a short article about it that she co=wrote on kindle and there’s a book about how she established her Shakespeare Theater company as well

  • Sarah Barker

    Bravo to On Point and Tom Ashbrook for having this woman’s voice heard. I want to emphasize the need to take our actions “feelingly”, to live more in our bodies and to have a deep and spiritual regard for the “other”. This is what I heard today. People will come to see Women of Will because they want to think deeply and feel deeply. but its also going to be a rolicking good show with Tina and Nigel at the helm!

  • Carol Hilliard

    Dear On Point,
    I LOVED this show. It is deeply and truly refreshing to hear a conversation in which real ideas are discussed. Tina has the courage to tell her thoughts with no sandbagging – putting up some disclaimer beforehand. Her idea of paying attention to the wisdom in our bodies is so wise, and so easily trivialized. Thank you for having her as a guest.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I live close enough to Lenox, MA, and have for decades, that I have a sense of Tina Packer’s history. I pay attention to her. I’ve been to the Wharton estate several summers to see plays. Somehow the S&C website doesn’t entice me back to the non-Wharton theater. I want the old barn, the receiving room in the old mansion, the gardens.
    I just read your website, Helen, and I think now I’ll pay attention to you TOO. Prague in 1968, wow. What a jumpstart for a career. I want your 1979 book. `

  • http://wand.org sayre sheldon

    Tina Packer’s analysis of what our society needs is powerful and accurate. We have only to look around to see the disasters resulting from our dependence on militarism and technology. Women’s belief in nurturing and strengthening what is good in nature and in our nature can and must find different solutions.

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Tom: I enjoyed this show and as one who never enjoyed reading Shakespeare (how many dyslexics do?) Tina made it come alive. I do think more people who listen to your first hour and whine about the second hour being too “artsy” when oil is leaking and people are dying might listen in if you, Tom, made a bridge now and then and today’s two shows provided you with an opportunity for that.

    Kuttner’s last words were about Obama needing to connect more with average americans or he’ll be eaten alive by his detractors. No doubt Obama’s challenge (doing what he thinks is right vs doing what’s popular to average people) was not only Shakespeare’s challenge but also a theme in many of his plays. Bill Clinton is crying out to be talked about in Shakespearian terms.

    I like both hours of onPoint but I do feel that it’s odd that they generally have nothing to do with one another and you Tom, seem to do a complete brain reset between them. I can’t think of a better person to make the connections between hard news and the arts and I do hope you’ll give it a try. If not you, then maybe another role for Jack Beatty.

  • Liza & John

    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, for this program!

    As feminists and Shakespeare nerds (i.e. grad students), we really, really enjoyed this discussion. The links between spiritually and sexuality, women and writing within, and the political/cultural structures were wonderful!

    We met working with a Shakespeare Company – he was playing Benedick in “Much Ado About Nothing” and she was a sewing assistant for “Troilus and Cressida”. After four years of working on various shows, including “Hamlet,” “Macbeth,” “Merchant of Venice” “King Lear,” “Comedy of Errors,” “All’s Well that Ends Well,” and “Midsummer Night’s Dream” together, we’ve worked through, explored, unpacked and found faith and love in these themes together!

    Thanks again for this program – one of the best we’ve ever heard on NPR!!! :-)

  • Linda Monchik

    What a brilliant interview. Tina unearths sex, power and the spirits of the gods in Shakespeare and opens his work to the masses. Both men and women as equal players on the playing field, regardless of age, or better yet, getting better with age. What more could anyone ask? She is one of the great Witches of our age, calling down the oppressive stereotypes which crush our souls. Let’s burn us all at the stakes and light up the world!

  • http://www.maryheebner.com Mary

    I truly enjoyed Tina Packard’s interview. I listened to it and then again as a podcast. Her observatons astute,vivid and timely.

    I think she might enjoy the artists book, HAMLET: an artist’s interpretation in relation to the characters Gertrude and Ophelia.

    The series of prints that form the body of this project began as collage paintings on paper. My images are an attempt to conjure an emotional response to Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet.

    Although this is a play about a son and his father, I was drawn to the characters of Gertrude and Ophelia through whom much of the play’s conflicts and emotional energy are reflected.

    I made paintings — palimpsests of sorts — by covering over previously printed text, and then scraping back into the surface, leaving one to puzzle out meaning from fragments. In Hamlet, as fragments of vital information are lost, manipulated, or misinterpreted, the dark heart of tragedy is revealed.

  • sharon challenger

    Thank you so much for presenting this wonderful interview. Tina has the greatest gift of being able to dig deep into the characters of Shakespeare and pull out every morsel of their inner workings. I have studied and worked with Shakespeare & Company in the past and can say that they have had a very powerful impact on my life. I cannot wait to get back up to Lenox to hear the plays and especially Women of Will! Thank you for this heart opening “listening” experience.

  • Miriam

    Great topic, although it felt too harried. The music kept cutting the guest short just like it happens in awards show. Let her finish her sentences please.

  • http://www.ourpastloves.com Kate Harper and Leon Marasco

    Thank you, thank you, Tina and Tom. This powerful conversation came closer to reflecting the understanding we have come to, though other means, over the years: that when the true female and male essences come together in union, a third energy, a wholeness, emerges–that wholeness becomes a gift which is not available to either male or female alone. And only through that wholeness can we even begin to address the massive challenges we face, personally and globally.

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