Ecologies, Bears, and Statues at the 24th McElroy Celebration!


Professors, students, and drama enthusiasts all gathered in Loyola’s Newhart Theatre on April 14 for the 24th McElroy Memorial Shakespeare Celebration. The annual event, which combines lecture and performance to explore Shakespearean drama, was jointly sponsored and run by Loyola University Chicago’s Departments of English and Theatre. Dr. Verna Foster of the English Department introduced the speaker Dr. Steve Mentz of St. John’s University, citing his significant work and publications in the field of Early Modern ecocriticism. Dr. Mentz lectured on the topic “Green Creating Nature: Dynamic Ecologies in The Winter’s Tale,” pausing at intervals to observe scenes from The Winter’s Tale performed by actors from the Chicago area and Loyola students from the Department of Theatre directed by Dr. Ann Shanahan.

Dr. Mentz emphasized the juxtaposition of “green” and “blue” ecologies, separate systems of soil and water, land and ocean, which occasionally collide within The Winter’s Tale. He located an obvious use of this device in Act 3 Scene 3 where the Clown (Alex Nolan) tells the Old Shepherd (Patrick Clear) about the violent shipwreck he has just witnessed off the coast. During this first scene, Antigonus (Gary Alexander) entered clutching the baby princess Perdita, and agonized over having to abandon her by King Leontes’ order. To the great delight of the audience, Antigonus then exited to his brutal death, pursued by the famous Bear! This scene was enacted twice, so that audiences could clearly perceive characters’ references to nature and ecological order.

After commenting on the strange contrast between the Clown’s description of the tragedy on the water and the comforting pastoral scene in which he tells the tale, Dr. Mentz resumed focus on the green ecology metaphor in the play. Though the young girl Perdita has been “transplanted” out of her noble sphere into the country, she flourishes in her new environment and interacts freely with its ecological produce. In Act 4, Scene 4, Perdita (Meghan Maddigan), her lover Florizel (David Towne), and the shepherds gather to celebrate sheep-shearing with an outdoor feast, where she welcomes their two masked guests with gifts of flowers. The guests, King Polixenes (Gary Alexander) and Camillo (Seamus McMahon) resist her categorization of them through the identity and purpose of each plant and blossom. As Dr. Mentz explained after the scene was twice performed, Polixenes believes in “grafting” or shaping nature, while Perdita prefers to experience untouched and wild nature, reflecting their differing opinions on human breeding and the preservation of social class.

Finally, Dr. Mentz  brought the lecture to a close by focusing on the play’s unusual conclusion, in which what appears to be a tragedy reaches an unexpectedly positive conclusion representing reconciliation and new beginnings. In Act 5, Scene 3, with a little help from wise Paulina (Maggie Cramer), the statue of Queen Hermione (Hope Uggen) gradually comes back to life, and embraces her overjoyed husband King Leontes (Patrick Clear) and daughter Perdita. Spring has officially arrived to put an end to winter and the absence of fruitful ecological growth.

After acknowledging the audience’s enthusiastic applause, Dr. Mentz, and Dr. Shanahan sat on the stage with the cast and answered questions concerning the lecture, Shakespeare’s play, and the staging of the scenes for the McElroy Celebration. Several audience members expressed their appreciation for Dr. Mentz’s ecological perspective on the play, noting that visualizing separate environments operating within the play exposed usually obscure meanings about hereditary, barrenness, and banishment. The Department of Theatre’s production received praise for its innovative depiction of the ghost of Hermione within Antigonus’s speech, and subtle stressing of nature and ecology within the scenes. After the event, audience, cast, and crew all adjourned to the Palm Court and enjoyed refreshments, conversation, and further discussion of The Winter’s Tale. Photos of the event can be viewed here on the McElroy Memorial Shakespeare Celebration’s website.

(Note – For more photographs and further information, visit Dr. Mentz’s blog post about the event.)

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