Shakespeare Uncovered on Television: Drawing on historical sources and developing dramatic ideas from politics of the day
In a unique series of six films debuting on PBS, Shakespeare Uncovered will combine history, biography, iconic performances, new analysis, and the passions of its hosts, actors Ethan Hawke, Jeremy Irons, Derek Jacobi, Trevor Nunn, Joely Richardson, and David Tennant, to tell the stories behind the stories of Shakespeare’s greatest plays.
Each episode explores and reveals the extraordinary world and works of William Shakespeare and the still-potent impact they have today. The films combine interviews with actors, directors and scholars, along with visits to key locations, clips from some of the most-celebrated film and television adaptations, and illustrative excerpts from the plays staged specially for the series at Shakespeare’s Globe in London, right.
Behind every Shakespeare play there is a story. One such story is how he and his company dismantled their theatre and rowed it across the river Thames when their landlord cancelled their lease and then staged Henry V for the first time. There are echoes of the playwright’s life: naming his twins Hamnet (a boy, who died at age 11) and Judith in plays like Twelfth Night, where the plot turns on the adventures of separated twins, and Hamlet, where the drama begins with the grief of a son who has lost his father. The series shows Shakespeare defining early the tenets of playwriting; drawing on historical sources, stealing and adapting ideas, bringing back popular characters, writing prequels, and developing dramatic ideas from the politics of the day.
Each program’s host has deep personal experience with Shakespeare’s work and relates not only the stories of the plays themselves, but also the stories of how they came to be written, how they have been performed, and how they have survived over 400 years.
January 25, 2013, Shakespeare Uncovered: Macbeth
Ethan Hawke invites viewers on his quest to play Shakespeare’s murderous Thane of Cawdor by researching the true story and real-life events that served as the play’s inspiration. Historian Justin Champion visits the Scottish sites of the story on Hawke’s behalf, introducing him to Dunsinane, where Macbeth supposedly lived, and to the history books that distorted the true story and consequently led Shakespeare to do the same. Immersing himself in some of the most memorable and innovative productions of “the Scottish Play,” Hawke gleans extraordinary insights into Shakespeare’s understanding of the criminal mind. Lady Macbeth’s relationship to the titular Thane is a critical role in the play and is examined by observing Shakespeare’s Globe actors rehearsing and performing scenes from the play, and by revisiting recent productions starring Patrick Stewart and Antony Sher.
Shakespeare Uncovered: The Comedies
Joely Richardson investigates (with her mother Vanessa Redgrave) the legacy of two brilliant cross-dressing comedies, Twelfth Night and As You Like It, with their missing twins, mistaken identities, and characters in disguise; their connections to Shakespeare’s personal life; and the great romantic heroines created by Shakespeare in these two perennially popular plays. Richardson investigates the comic and dramatic potential of female roles written for male actors to play. At the same time, Richardson demonstrates that Shakespeare revealed an acute understanding and sympathy for women when he wrote these characters. Redgrave’s portrayal of Rosalind in As You Like It made her a star in England and soon after, all over the world, and the show reveals the legacy of strong, sassy, witty women that we inherit from William Shakespeare’s great comedies.
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