Ask Philippa: Grove Talk

the cast of The Winter's Tale; photo by Jay Yamada

Ask Philippa: Grove Talk

Whether you’re preparing to see The Winter’s Tale or thinking back on the performance you just saw, Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly has you covered. Her famous pre-show Grove Talk is now available online so that you can listen from the comfort of your home.

Listen and feel free to leave thoughts and questions in the comment section below for Philippa to answer. 

Dr. Philippa Kelly, Cal Shakes Dramaturg

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10 thoughts on “Ask Philippa: Grove Talk”

  1. After watching “A Winter’s Tale”, I thought about it being written during the reign of James I (after Elizabeth, the last Tudor, was dead. Could this play be a commentary on Elizabeth I’s dad Henry VIII and his accusations of treasonous adultery by Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, as well as his declaring his daughters Mary and Elizabeth illegitimate?

    This may have been the first opportunity to express (obliquely) a view of Henry VIII commln among some of his subjects.

    Still probably dangerous ground under James I, given his insecurity (new dynasty) and propensity towards absolutism (e.g. Star Chamber judicial proceedings).


      1. I am recalled to Paulina’s line, “Tis a heretic who lights the fire, not she who burns in it.” The whole idea of heresy was such an interesting one – meaning someone who chooses a belief OTHER than the orthodox one. Henry VIII certainly did that – although he created another orthodoxy! I think Shakespeare was quite fascinated by the idea of heresy, authority, “Divine Right” as a human construction meant specifically to serve the interests of a regent who was addicted to power. So yes, I do agree that the history of England had suggested the human frailty behind every system of so-called orthodoxy.

  2. Hi Philippa,

    Here’s a question that I didn’t get to ask in your Grove talk on Friday. It was inspired by a 6th grade student from Oakland who was at the Student Matinee on Weds. who asked. ” Is the Winter’s Tale ” a feminist play. It’s so inspiring to attend a student matinee. The kids are so engaged and asked tons of question during the talk back with the actors.

    1. Hi Tish,

      It may not have notified you, but Philippa responded to your question above in the thread! Thanks for your questions!


  3. Thank you for the Grove Talk Sat Oct 2, introducing A Winter’s Tale. That evening was the second time I ‘d seen the production. Because my imagination has already begun modifying your ideas into my imperatives, I have some follow-on questions:

    1.) Which of Shakespeare’s plays enact imagination as a force of regeneration, rather than decay (I can’t help but feel the relevance of A Winter’s Tale as a report from King Chronos, killer of his children during the season of death, so I’m betting that your answer will lead us to a springtime theme…)?
    2.) Is the role of imagination a constant theme across Shakespeare’s work; illustrating a scale of human situations?
    3.) Is the Shakespearian ‘play within a play’ device, which CalShakes brilliantly appropriated in this production, the primary instrument for showing imagination’s power over reason? Does Shakespeare employ a ‘toolkit’ of other theatrical instruments/situations for showing the relationships between imagination and reason?
    4.) Which plays yield most apparently to Shakespeare’s quest for articulating ‘what it is that we cannot yet perceive’?
    5.) Your analysis of Romance is epiphany! Where have you explored this idea in greater detail?

    I’ve only begun discovering your online presence. I’m so thankful for CalShakes presenting such an evening of Reason and Imagination.

    1. Philippa M Kelly

      Hello Phillip,

      1) And 2) I think all of the plays enact the imagination as both a force of regeneration and decay – in Winter’s Tale the imagination is responsible for both. We might think of what Hamlet says: “What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?” The imagination can take us anywhere and everywhere, to the angels or to the devil, since both extremes are conjured by our own minds.
      The play within a play is one device – and then also the idea of Cupid’s wings (“Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind,/And therefore is winged cupid painted blind”). The idea of the imagination as a transformative tool is everywhere in Shakespeare – e.g. RII John of Gaunt tells his son Henry Bolingbroke (who’s been slapped down by RII): “suppose/Devouring pestilence hangs in our air/And thou art flying to a fresher clime./Look what thy soul holds dear, imagine it/To lie that way thou goest, not whence thou com’st.” i.e. since you’ve been put down, imaginien lifting yourself up – via your thoughts (your imagination.) Also Duke Senior in As You Like It II.i: “Sweet are the uses of adversity,/Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,/Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;/And this our life exempt from public haunt/Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,/Sermons in stones and good in every thing./I would not change it.

      2) My ideas about Romance – well, they were formed in analyzing this play prior to rehearsal. When I write them up, I’ll send them to you! But you might want to write Cal Shakes to get a copy of an interview I did last July with the brilliant scholar Stephen Greenblatt, who thinks about the Romance genre as bringing second chances.Thank you for this beautiful email, Phillip.

  4. Philippa M Kelly

    Hi Tish, this is a curly question!! Is Shakespeare a feminist in, for example, giving great power to Paulina, who says so tellingly, “Tis a heretic that lights the fire, not she who burns in it”? So revolutionary, to state this in front of a monarch who was an avid witch-hunter!

    And then there is the idea that Hermione is buried for 16 years in order for her husband to undergo his spiritual renovation – if Shakespeare were not feminist, one would say he was steeped in the misogyny that constantly uplifted men’s value over that of women – so if the cost of Leontes’ spiritual renovation is that Hermione also hibernates as his literal “lady-in-waiitng,” then this is all par for the course. BUT if we read him as feminist, then we’d see him looking ironically at his society through this exact template – i.e. WHY must Hermione’s journey simply underscore her husband’s? I think this potential irony (and interpretive challenge) is highlighted by Leontes’ brutal treatment of his wife – Shakespeare is already distancing himself, from the very start of the play, from Leontes’ extreme attack of male entitlement: so that anything Leontes “gets back” can be wondrously looked at through the prism of a challenge to implicit entitlement.

    And there’s the fact that Leontes tries to get it on with his daughter (not knowing she is his daughter)

    And that when Hermione DOES return, Leontes notices that she is wrinkled and that somehow the artist hasn’t “got it right.”

    As I mentioned above, I think that because feminism involves not so much a theory as new ways of reading/interpreting that center on women’s agency, or lack of it, our own views of gender will inform the degree to which we see (or don’t see) Shakespeare as feminist. Eric really wanted to challenge Leontes’ return to supremacy, and I think that this choice beautifully complicates the gender dynamic, making us ask the question of how far, for example, we think Leontes should be given grace in return for his execrable behavior. What is Hermione? Chopped liver? She deserved only loyalty and love, and she was sent by her husband to give birth in prison, and then strung up and called a slut. And then she has had to bury herself for sixteen years. What does she do for all these years? Nobody asks her.

    And then there is Paulina – she and Antigonus have children, and yet no one grieves that somehow their children have disappeared. I feel that Shakespeare is making a class comment here as well.

    We have come a long way since the days when a woman was introduced as “Mrs Paul Dresher” or “Mrs Steve Harwood.” And since the days when women felt fortunate to be “chosen” in marriage; when to be single was to be “left on the shelf;” shamed by being not-chosen; all of that psychology, as well as the scarcity-mentality that often makes people who should be allies not feeling able to afford generosity. To create an underclass that is somehow invested in keeping each other down, is a brilliant but dreadful tactic. And I think women are seeing that and acknowledging it – that we don’t want more of power in the way men have privileged it, but we want different kinds of agency. The fact that Shakespeare creates a Paulina, a Beatrice, a Helena (actually, 2 Helenas), who does not accept her fate as her due, suggests that he had lots of feminist belief in him.

    1. Philippa M Kelly

      Good morning Phillip, it’s lovely to communicate with you again! And I meant to say that I thoroughly enjoyed our chat after the grove talk last Saturday. I think you bring up a really lovely point here in point 4) above. I often think that music, theatre, visual art, reach in a platonic sense toward truths that can’t be articulated in literal terms. The fact that we see these things as “truths” is part of the magic of art – and the fact that we reach toward them (through a glass darkly) speaks to the capacity of art to represent metaphor, paradox, those parts of our “humanness” that resist or defy literal explanation. Yet surely these parts are also the most cherished parts of our humanness – the very aspects that drive us (love, passion, compassion, thirst for revenge) and yet which we often can’t explain fully with our reasoned selves.

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