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In Search of Shakespeare

09 Jan

Last August I borrowed on DVD In Search of Shakespeare, made two years ago by PBS and BBC. The PBS site linked there has summaries of each episode, but much more: ideas for teachers, relevant links, documents… Each play discussed in the DVD is illustrated by performances of extracts by members of the Royal Shakespeare Company, often in authentic settings. This is a great way to get to understand the conditions Shakespeare wrote for. Another great strength of the series is its very careful contextualising of Shakespeare’s work. Macbeth and King Lear, for example, are seen in the light of the early years of James I, particularly the Gunpowder Plot, a “17th century 9/11”. About Othello, with scrupulous documentation, “we meet black Elizabethans, at a time the government was discussing their repatriation. And in Leicester Guildhall (where Shakespeare’s company actually played) we see him stage a play where the hero is a black man: Othello.” This is a fascinating series, especially valuable for historicist reading of the plays. A few of the findings are controversial, such as that Shakespeare was a secret Catholic, very similar in that time to being a secret admirer of Osama Bin Laden today! However, the conclusions are always presented with due care, and none of them is negligible. I’d say it is a MUST SEE!

I am a sceptic when it comes to theories that Shakespeare did not write Shakespeare. So is In Search of Shakespeare. However, there is a fascinating new book in this rather old genre: The Truth Will Out: Unmasking the Real Shakespeare (2005) by Brenda James and William D Rubinstein. According to this latest theory, Sir Henry Neville (c. 1562 – July 10, 1615) wrote the plays. Great if you like history and/or detective stories… It MAY be true, but in a way doesn’t really matter. Or does it? After all, the plays remain pretty much as they were.

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Posted by on January 9, 2007 in English studies, HSC, Shakespeare, student help, works/authors

 

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