Faculty Distinguished Lecture Explores Shakespeare’s Strong Women

Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities and Professor of English Garry Walton explored the strong women found throughout the works of William Shakespeare during Meredith’s 2017 Faculty Distinguished Lecture, appropriately titled “Shakespeare’s Strong Women.”

On March 14, faculty, staff, students, alumnae, and friends gathered in Jones Auditorium for the 55th installment of the lecture series. In his introduction, Provost Matthew Poslusny noted that the first Faculty Distinguished Lecture, presented by Professor of English Norma Rose, also focused on Shakespeare.

Walton opened with a question, “What would someone in Shakespeare’s lifetime have meant by the notion of a ‘strong woman,’ and where would he have looked to find her?”

Walton’s lecture focused primarily on the women’s roles in comedies written by Shakespeare. “The strengths we find in these roles point to life rather than death, to community rather than isolation, to hope rather than fear,” said Walton.

In looking at the comedies of Shakespeare, Walton discussed how the women portrayed in these works were women who “stand with their sisters, stand up to power, and stand firm for forgiveness” – characteristics that set them apart from other women in his works.

To bring the characters to life for the audience, Walton had Sarah Koop, ’17, Elaina Mittleman, ’17, Rebecca Daw Blum, ’95, Kacey Reynolds Schedler, ’96, Seth Blum and Matt Schedler perform different scenes and speeches from Shakespeare’s work.

One of the final parts of the lecture was a video of Sir Ian McKellen reading a speech from Sir Thomas More, a relatively unknown play to which Shakespeare contributed. The manuscript of the speech, which talks about acceptance and tolerance of immigrants, are the only remaining pages that are in Shakespeare’s own handwriting.

Even though the speech was not directly connected to the topic of strong women, Walton felt that it followed the lead established by Isabella in Measure for Measure and Portia in Merchant of Veniceand “it seems to me a speech for our time.”

Walton closed with a dedication to the women of Meredith. “What do we mean, at Meredith College, by the term ‘strong women?’” said Walton. “We can see the answer in the pages of the History of Meredith College, written by alumna and former professor of English Mary Lynch Johnson. We can see the answer on the posters scattered throughout the first floor of Johnson Hall, or on the flags lining the main campus drive.

“Or you can simply look around you – the current Meredith College definition of ‘strong women’ is being lived out by many of the people in this room. How do we know? Because they, like Shakespeare’s strong women, have learned to stand side-by-side with their sisters, to stand up to power, and to stand firm for forgiveness, avoiding any sign of ‘mountainous inhumanity.’”

About Garry Walton
Garry Walton has taught in Meredith’s Department of English for the past 34 years. He has taught courses in composition, British literature, Milton, Shakespeare, literary criticism and research; he has also directed undergraduate research projects on the King James Bible, Faulkner, Milton, and Shakespearean stage productions. At Meredith he has served as director of the Honors program, head of the Department of English, dean of the School of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, and now serves as dean of the School of the Arts and Humanities. He has participated in workshops and seminars sponsored by the Shakespeare Institute of the University of Birmingham in the UK, and the Folger Institute in Washington, D.C. Previously he served as assistant to the provost at the University of Virginia. Walton holds undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral degrees from the University of Virginia.

The Faculty Distinguished Lecture was designed to represent a significant achievement of research by a faculty member. The first lecture was presented in 1964 by Professor of English Norma Rose.

Melyssa Allen

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