By Karen Yekel
HOT SPRINGS -- For centuries, William Shakespeare has been known as “The Bard,” and also “The Bard of Avon,” because he is considered to be the greatest poet that ever lived. Bards are writers of great tribulations, great lives and great passions. These include heroic acts, love stories and stories of war. In this aspect William Shakespeare is very much entitled to be called a Bard. Robert Burns of Scotland was also a famous Bard.
Many of the works of Shakespeare have influenced the modern world because they depict war, love and death. While most people can relate to these themes, the real topic of this story is the Hot Springs Shakespeare Club, chartered in 1893. Carol Field, who provided the venue for a recent meeting, opened with a quote from “Polonius.” Giving advice to his son Laertes, Polonius said, “This above all, to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”
The meeting revealed other aspects of the club’s mission. According to club secretary Joan Howard, the club’s mission statement is, “Associated together for the purpose of improving those mental faculties with which we are endowed. Their motto is, “Light Seeking Light Doth Light of Light Beguile.” The quote is from Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” and means to seek the light of truth.
In the early years of the Bard’s local women-only chapter, members actually studied one Shakespearean play line by line, and many chapters of the worldwide organization continue to perform the plays in their communities.
Perhaps you’ve seen the Shakespeare Club name in conjunction with activities surrounding our annual holiday event, Christmas in the Hills (CITH). In 1991, the club sponsored the first Tour of Homes for CITH, the proceeds from which were shared among local organizations such as United Way, Food Pantry, Pioneer Museum, and the Hot Springs public library, to name a few. The last home tours were in 2016.
Thomasetta Kuhl, a long-time member of the club, said that, back in the day, “Women who were active in the community were asked to join the club, ostensibly formed to build the library.” She believed the Carnegie Library was dedicated in 1913. Kuhl allowed as to how the humble beginnings of a club that immersed itself in the cultural aspects of Shakespeare may have actually been the start of the suffragette movement. “Back then there was a cultural aspect,” said member Myrna Lewis, “Now it’s more of a social aspect.”
“It’s a civic group donating to different causes in town,” said Lewis, as Carol Field and Margaret Bershon agreed. “We used to do the home tours”, said Field. “Now we just host the Christmas tea at Pine Hills,” said Bershon. The ladies lauded Pine Hills Retirement Community for partnering with the club to host the annual fundraising event. Joan Howard said, “The Christmas Tea is the first Sunday in December –same weekend as Christmas in the Hills. This year’s event will take place on Sunday, Dec. 2 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. with the $10 tickets available to be purchased at CITH or at Pine Hills on event day.”
While the Hot Springs club does not totally immerse itself in the Bard’s works, Howard said, “The programs are wildly divergent,” and include such topics as April Fool’s Day, artifacts, immigration, Reba McIntyre, and an annual Shakespeare day celebrating his birthday.
While the ladies agreed the current membership needs a boost, Howard said, “New members must be invited and voted on.” The group meets twice a month except December through February (“We have a lot of snowbirds,” said Field) and during the summer months.
And now, a parting shot from Shakespeare’s King Lear, spoken by The Fool:
“Have more than thou showest,
Speak less than thou knowest,
Lend less than thou owest,
Ride more than thou goest,
Learn more than thou trowest,
Set less than thou throwest.”
William Shakespeare is considered the best-selling fiction author of all time, with more than four billion copies of his famous works sold.
Karen Yekel /Fall River County Herald
For love of the Bard, these ladies gathered for a meeting of the Hot Springs Shakespeare Club. Seated, from left are Carol Field, JoAnn Norton, Georgia Holmes, and Margaret Bershon. Standing, from left, are Adriana Glesmann, Thomasetta Kuhl, Barb Melstad, Myrna Lewis, Joan Howard, and Carol Nelson.