The Bard goes green

"Pooh! You speak like a green girl." That's what Ophelia's father says to her in "Hamlet," when she tells him Hamlet is in love with her.

Of course, Ophelia is right. Rock on, green girl.

I saw "Hamlet" at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival last month and it made me wonder: Since we're all about sustainability and all about Shakespeare in Ashland, are the two linked?

I studied both English and biology in college, so I love questions like this. I'm a bookworm who also loves earthworms. I'm a Bard nerd and a bird nerd. I even named my dog Ophelia. And for those of you who are wondering: My Ophelia knows how to swim and she's only a little crazy.

As I watched Ophelia, played by Susannah Flood, plant lilacs in the Angus Bowmer Theatre, it struck me: Shakespeare is, arguably, the most sustainable writer.

Some 400 years after they were written, his plays are still being produced and they are still producing change in people.

They can be modernized to include a hip-hop and beat-boxing theater troupe, as in Bill Rauch's version of "Hamlet" this season. But the plays remain meaningful, because they're about what it means to be human. They're about human nature.

My brother, who studied theater in college, said one of his professors was always saying, "It doesn't matter what we do to Shakespeare, because he'll outlive us all."

If that's not sustainability, I don't know what is.

But what does the word sustainability even mean? It's thrown around so nonchalantly these days, I'm about sick of it. It's losing its meaning.

I surveyed my eco-oriented friends: What does sustainability mean to you?

"It doesn't mean anything. I hate that word," the pessimist said.

"It means whatever you want it to mean," the apathetic one said.

"The ability to sustain," the literalist said.

"Why are we trying to just 'sustain'?" the argumentative one said. "Why can't we be trying to grow and persevere?"

Sure, there are a lot of definitions. But to me, sustainability is where human nature and the natural world meet. It's where humans learn to coexist with the natural world, without either party being damaged.

It's a difficult task. Impossible, you say? Nothing is impossible in Shakespeare plays.

Maybe that's why they've survived. What if we could help endangered species — the gray wolf or northern spotted owl — and endangered places — the Amazon rainforest — survive, too? Are the arts and sciences really so different? Can lessons from one arena inform the other? I think so.

Impossible, you say? Nothing is impossible in science — or at least science fiction. We're still working on the time machines and invisibility in real life, but we'll get there.

What I like about the word sustainability is that it implies possibility. Things have the ability to be sustained, but the choice is up to us.

To be, or not to be, that is still the question.

Last week I saw Flood at Noble Coffee on Fourth Street, where everything's organic and about as local as coffee can get. She was sitting at a table with a slew of Shakespeare folks.

I'd like to think she was there because she's eco-minded, not just because it's a hot new hangout.

I'd like to think she's a green woman in real life. I imagine her planting the native flower equivalent of lilacs in a window box in her Ashland apartment, and then running off to the theater to plant flowers on stage.

But, if she's not a gardener in real life, that's OK. Because I know another Ophelia who's crazy about the earth: rolling in it, smelling it, digging in it.

And as for me, I'm combining what I know of the arts with what I know of the sciences. I'm combining Shakespeare and sustainability.

Impossible, you say? Nothing is impossible in a column.

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or with your ideas for this column.

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