Shakespeare Uncovered: Romeo and Juliet with Joseph Fiennes

Shakespeare Uncovered

In the final episode of Shakespeare Uncovered – Series II, Joseph Fiennes takes a look at Shakespeare’s most often performed play, Romeo and Juliet, and the relevance it has in our world today. It is the story of two teenagers whose deep, profound love heals a deeply pathetic hatred between warring families and leaves the audience with a puzzling redemption. Love and death, conflict and pride; this play has it all.

Fiennes played Shakespeare playing Romeo in Tom Stoppard’s Shakespeare in Love in 1998. He loves the play, especially the scene in which Romeo and Juliet first meet, calling it “a dangerous cocktail of religion and sex. She plays a virgin saint; he’s a pilgrim worshipping her.”  More

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Shakespeare Uncovered: Antony and Cleopatra with Kim Cattrall

Shakespeare Uncovered

Next on Shakespeare Uncovered, Kim Cattrall goes back 2000 years to explore the epic love story between a Roman General and an Egyptian Queen, two of the most powerful people in the world. She says theirs was an almost sadistic love affair and although she has played Cleopatra twice, she still has questions about the woman.

Did Cleopatra die for love or politics, and how much of the real Cleopatra lives in Shakespeare’s play, are two of the questions she examines in this episode. Dame Janet Suzman, who received critical acclaim for her earthy, sexual portrayal of Cleopatra in 1974 at the Royal Shakespeare Company, and also in a televised version of the play, says what we’re watching is the destruction of a relationship and that’s much more interesting than the love story.  More

Shakespeare Uncovered: Othello with David Harewood

L-R: David Harewood and Adrian Lester at Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London. Photo credit: Andrea Southam

L-R: David Harewood and Adrian Lester at Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London. Photo credit: Andrea Southam

In the fourth installment of Shakespeare Uncovered, airing at 10:00 pm on Friday February 6th, David Harewood asks a very difficult question. Could you kill a person you love? Shakespeare made his audience confront that question when he created the character of Othello 400 years ago. It holds a key to understanding how such a strong warrior could end up so vulnerable that he would actually consider killing his wife. Harewood says, “Whether you love him or hate him, we have to understand Othello. If you don’t understand Othello, I don’t think you understand yourself.”

Harewood was the first black actor to play the Moor at the National Theatre in London, which only took place in 1997. In preparing for the role, he wanted to pinpoint and show how an honorable and noble man could slowly change to a beastly, angry, jealous killer.

He talks to University of London Professor Jerry Brown about what the Elizabethans would have thought of the Moor, and later, to Adrian Lester about how racial prejudices meant that for centuries a black actor couldn’t even play the role. More

Shakespeare Uncovered: The Taming of the Shrew with Morgan Freeman

Shakespeare Uncovered

Is it sexist or subversive? Morgan Freeman says he’s always seen The Taming of the Shrew as a country tale, one that he feels is Shakespeare’s most compelling comedy. In the next episode of Shakespeare Uncovered, Freeman takes a look at the play and explores that question, as well as what is at the heart of it all.

We hear from some of the women who have played Katherine and their views about the controversial role, among them Fiona Shaw (RSC 1987), Sinead Cusack (RSC 1982), and Tracy Ullman, who was Kate to Freeman’s Petruchio in The Public Theater’s 1990 Shakespeare in the Park production in New York. That version of Shrew was set in the Old West, a location that Freeman says has more in common with Shakespeare than you might think.

Guests also include writer Germaine Greer, Dr. Farah Karim-Cooper, Head of Courses & Research at Shakespeare’s Globe, and Oxford University Professors Jonathan Bate and Laurie Maguire who offer insightful comments about the play. The story is often uncomfortable for audiences in this century because it is viewed through a different social context than it was in Shakespeare’s time. Maguire talks about how polarizing interpretations of the play can be and how pace affects the way the comedy plays. We also learn what Shakespeare might really be saying about women (and marriage), and the significance of Katherine’s final speech, the longest of any of the characters in the entire play.  More

Shakespeare Uncovered: King Lear with Christopher Plummer

Shakespeare Uncovered

In the second episode of Shakespeare Uncovered – Series II, airing at 10:00 pm on January 30th, Christopher Plummer explores Shakespeare’s great tragedy, King Lear. It is a role he knows well, having played the doomed king in a critically acclaimed production that was directed by Sir Jonathan Miller.

Plummer’s guests include Ian McKellen and Simon Russell Beale who share their own unique observations about the play. He also talks with theatre historian Tanya Pollard about how Shakespeare’s Lear disappeared from the stage for nearly 150 years, replaced by a version with a happy ending in which Edgar rescues Cordelia and Lear and they all live happily ever after. That adaptation (written by Nahum Tate) still exists today. He takes us to the Globe Theatre where we see the alternate ending performed and then returns us to Shakespeare’s much more devastating tragedy.

You may be surprised to learn that Lear was a real English king who lived 800 years before Christ and much of the story is thought to be true. More

Shakespeare Uncovered – A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Hugh Bonneville

Get ready Shakespeare lovers. Shakespeare Uncovered returns to PBS this Friday, January 30th. Like the first series, the second celebrity-hosted installment will cover a wealth of information, including a look at some iconic performances, historical and biographical data, and new analysis by noted scholars and guests, all of which will open up six of Shakespeare’s greatest plays.

In the first episode at 9:00 pm, Hugh Bonneville offers a behind the scenes look at his favorite Shakespeare play, and the one that started his career, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Then at 10:00 pm, Christopher Plummer explores the depths of Shakespeare’s great tragedy, King Lear, a role he played under the direction of Sir Jonathan Miller.

Shakespeare Uncovered

Bonneville understudied the role of Lysander in Midsummer in 1986 at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park. It was his first professional role, which he then played when the company took the show on tour. The actor he was understudying was none other than Ralph Fiennes, also in his first role as an actor. More

Shakespeare Uncovered Returns January 30, 2015 on PBS

Shakespeare Uncovered - Christopher Plummer
Christopher Plummer with Shakespeare expert Tanya Pollard
Photo credit: Mark Molesworth

Shakespeare Uncovered returns with its second season on PBS, beginning Friday, January 30 at 9:00 pm (check local listings) and continues the following two successive Fridays. Like the first series, the second installment combines history, biography, iconic performances, new analysis, and the personal passions of its celebrated hosts – Hugh Bonneville, Kim Cattrall, Joseph Fiennes, Morgan Freeman, David Harewood, and Christopher Plummer – to tell the stories behind the stories of Shakespeare’s greatest plays.

The first season explored Macbeth, the comedies Twelfth Night and As You Like It, Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V, Hamlet and The Tempest, and was met with wide acclaim in both the U.K. and U.S. The new season investigates A Midsummer Night’s Dream, King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, and The Taming of the Shrew. 
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