The Victoria Shakespeare Society is back with its eighth annual “Shakespeare in the Summer” festival. They present two shows this year: “Richard the Third” and “The Taming of the Shrew”. You may be wondering, is it possible to take a double dose of Shakespeare without experiencing any side effects? Well, no... it isn’t. That’s the point really. But rest assured that these two plays couldn’t be any more different. Richard the Third is one of the greatest tragedies ever written. It’s a story of politics, power struggles, deceit, and murder. The Taming of the Shrew is pure comedy. I laughed loud and often at this play despite disagreeing strongly with the “taming” itself. The cast of RIII is diverse, representing all ages and experience levels: children, novice actors, seasoned professionals (like Ian Case, who does an outstanding job as King Richard), and one gentleman who I’m pretty sure is there working off his community service hours. The Taming of the Shrew’s cast is much more homogeneous and quite polished across the board. Yet, as different as they are, together these two productions make up a complete “Shakespeare experience”, in the same way that rice and beans form a complete protein. Consuming one alone is good for you, but both is better. That rings true for most people I think. Experiencing Shakespeare is good for you. But why is that? Why do we still keep Shakespeare around at all? What is it about these plays that we find so valuable? Well, here’s what I think... The first show I saw was Richard the Third. It had been a very busy week and when I arrived my head was still spinning from work. The performance is en plein air on the grounds of the Landsdowne Campus of Camosun College, a short drive from downtown. I found a seat, breathed deeply and found myself slowly unwinding as I took in the relaxed atmosphere of the outdoor venue. The play began, and like all Shakespeare works I had to listen closely to keep up with the vocabulary. I didn’t mind. I was just happy that no one was trying to do an English accent. I listened, and watched, and soon got lost in the story. I slipped into a kind of trance where all I thought about was what was unfolding in front of me. By the time the play was over I was a changed man. I felt calm and more importantly my mind was completely clear. I found that fascinating. Imagine dozens of people standing in a tight circle around you yelling nonsense and swearing at the top of their lungs. Attending these performances is the exact opposite of that. That’s why we love Shakespeare’s plays. That’s why we preserve them. They stand as mental protection against the ever increasing anti-cerebral movement in this world.  In school I learned that dropping an ice cube into a pot of boiling water will cause it to stop boiling immediately. This is because the heat from the element flows directly to the ice as the coldest body in the system in an effort to achieve equilibrium. It follows that water will never boil as long as there is any ice present in the pot. Shakespeare (and I’m really using that as a metonym for all great classical works) is the ice in our societal water. It keeps our minds from boiling over. Long live Shakespearean theatre I say... and long may it keep us all cool. Shakespeare in the Summer runs now through August 21st. For more information visit www.vicshakespeare.com