STERLING — For the last 400 years, the name William Shakespeare has been known, revered, and respected world-wide. Yet, without the names John Heminges, Henry Condell, and William Jaggard, William Shakespeare’s name would have meant little to nothing. These are the characters at the heart of the play “The Book of Will,” by Lauren Gunderson which will be staged by Sterling College Theatre at 7:30 p.m. this Friday and Saturday, Nov. 19 and 20, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 21.
Many people assume Shakespeare published his own plays, but that’s not true. People also assume that plays were then like they are today, a form of literature. In Shakespeare’s day plays were much more a form of pop culture, more like television is today. His plays were written and distributed to actors in pieces – only their lines. The plays themselves were never printed in whole during his lifetime.
“The Book of Will” shows the journey Shakespeare’s friends, colleagues, and rivals went through to save his work and create what would become the First Folio, the first printed text of Shakespeare’s plays. The play has been called “a funny, charming play about the battle to save a legacy.”
Although we can’t know what their true motivations were, playwright Gunderson brings Heminges and Condell to vivid life, along with their families and everyone involved in gathering and creating the First Folio.
“Of course, we know what that work turns into – one of the most iconic books in all of Western literature – but they didn’t,” Sterling College Artistic Director Sasha Hildebrand explained. “That’s part of what I love in telling this story. We have such reverence for Shakespeare, as we should. But to them, he was their best friend. He was, of course, a great talent and a great voice of that era, but he was also Will, the guy that they saw flirt with the wrong people and get too drunk and, you know, mess up his lines, because, of course, he was human. This story is not just for the Shakespeare nerds among us or the historians but for everybody,” Hildebrand said.
Playwright Gunderson has explained her play, saying, “I think Shakespeare doesn’t need that much help in being revered. He needs help in being human. That’s the real heart of this story. And frankly what’s playable, because in this world, it can’t be a history lesson and it can’t be a literature class. It really has to be the emotional reason that these people did this almost impossible thing. It comes down to their loves and their friendships that really provide the engine for this effort.”
“This is one of the most unique plays in recent years,” said Hildebrand. “Shakespeare means so much to so many and to so many over the centuries but to think that all of that could have been lost had it not been for the efforts of these assorted people, that’s mind boggling. ... Of course, we all know how it turns out but the journey there is fraught with tension, drama, and some laughs.”
Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students and are available at www.sterling.edu/arts or at the door before each performance.