Sunday, February 3, 2013

I'm a big fan of PBS's Shakespeare Uncovered

I never really got Shakespeare when I was in school.  No English teacher I had could make those ancient stories interesting to a teenage mind.   I don't know if the fault lay in the teacher or the student.

The attitude persisted to my adulthood.  I was devastated by the 1968 movie Romeo and Juliet, sobbing uncontrollably when Juliet killed herself.  I loved the 1967 movie The Taming of the Shrew with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, although now I find its female subservience too dated.

But I didn't attribute my love of those films to Shakespeare.  I attributed it to the producers and the actors in the films.  And I cannot recall watching any other Shakespearean movies.  Nor have I read any of Shakespeare's plays that I wasn't forced to read.

I actually became more interested in Shakespeare based on an episode of Doctor Who, where the Tenth Doctor and Martha meet Will.  This predisposed me to watch Shakespeare Uncovered when it first appeared on PBS on Friday, 1/25.  I'm glad I did.

The producers of this program managed to do what all my English teachers could not - they made Shakespeare interesting, and relevant.

The show speaks of the historical context of the plays.  It shows snippets of some of the great actors playing the roles being discussed.  Hearing the words spoken so eloquently made me realize I have been missing some magnificent writing.

The show discusses the psychology of the plays with experts and the risks Shakespeare took when many of these lines were written.  It shows the host standing in the locations mentioned in the plays.  It correlates events in plays from hundreds of years ago with current news stories.

There is even a discussion of the controversy over whether Shakespeare wrote the Shakespeare plays.

The use of history in the plays was intriguing - the parts that Shakespeare kept accurate and the parts he changed for creative effect.  And the psychology.  Shakespeare's female characters are strong and independent people, with sharp tongues.  His heroes are flawed.

Because of this show, I've been motivated to try to read and understand Shakespeare.   I want to look up the history of British Royalty.  I want to understand the role of women in the 1600's.

Sadly, there are only 6 episodes of this series.  Episodes 5 and 6 air in the US on Friday, 2/8.

Happily, the 5th episode, where Hamlet is discussed, is hosted by the Tenth Doctor himself, David Tennant.

Seems fitting.

IMDB links:
Romeo and Juliet
The Taming of the Shrew

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