In Search of Shakespeare

November 16, 2010 at 8:46 pm (Asides, Film Adaptations, Shakespeare's Life) (, , , , , )

I watched the 4-part 2004 PBS series In Search of Shakespeare with Michael Wood over the past few weeks and found it really enjoyable. It is lively and fun and brought the Bard to life for me. I am not vouching for its scholarship, but the series paints a plausible portrait of the man from Stratford. It’s very entertaining, at least. The series feels sort of like a travel showy-documentary-whodunnit with plenty of drama and excitement. It’s fun!

So, the tale told here is of Shakespeare, son of a Catholic family, and how perhaps his closet Catholicism (in the era of the Reformation) plays out in his life and work. Interesting!

The story is fleshed out with a great deal of documentation. Michael Wood is off to all corners of England, going through the Elizabethan paperwork that still exists in dusty corners of libraries throughout the land. I was kind of fascinated at the thought of scholars poring through all these old papers. It would seem a needle in the veritable haystack to come up with any reference to Shakespeare (with all its many spellings) in 400 year old documents in any random corner of England, but there  you have it. Somebody’s got to do it, I guess.

That sounds like it would be boring to watch, but it’s not. Wood is excitable and he gets ramped up about all this stuff he finds, and he lays the land very convincingly — you get a feel for the context of everything he presents and the possible implications for Shakespeare.

The Royal Shakespeare Company joins in the fun, presenting various Shakespearean plays in various places reminiscent of or actually where Shakespeare’s players played. There are a lot of bits and pieces of plays sprinkled throughout the series.

I recommend the series for some light entertainment. Like I said, I don’t vouch for the scholarship, but Wood presents a life of Shakespeare that seems very reasonable and understandable. He places the plays in the historical context and within a plausible life journey of Shakespeare. I found it convincing!

I enjoyed it and maybe learned quite a lot about what life was like back then, and maybe even what life was like for William Shakespeare. I have a picture in my mind now of a charming rake, with quite a bit of drinking and carousing and living the bachelor’s life in London and suffering a midlife crisis and falling in love with a married woman and dying a bit young after a drunken binge.

As Gavin Wilson, a reviewer on Amazon put it, “It is one of the regrets of so many adults that they wished they liked Shakespeare more … if only it wasn’t so much work to appreciate him, compared to ‘Friends’ etc. Here Michael makes him very digestible.” I agree wholeheartedly!

The PBS website is interesting and has quite a bit of information on it. There are lesson plans and other tools for teachers who want to use this series in the classroom. I think kids (say late elementary and up) would like it. PBS also sells the DVDs or you can watch it on Netflix.

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2 Comments

  1. Tue Sorensen said,

    It’s light entertainment for sure – not a lot in there that I didn’t already know. I have recently bought the 3-hour Shakespeare’s Stratford (I would link to it on amazon.com, but the site seems to be down right now, so here’s the amazon.co.uk link: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Shakespeares-Stratford-DVD-Region-NTSC/dp/B0012Z36BW/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=1289995890&sr=1-5), which however I haven’t watched yet, and I also intend to get Shakespeare’s Way (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Shakespeares-Way-146-mile-London-Stratford-upon-Avon/dp/B002XEVY38/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=1289995890&sr=1-3). I think both of these will prove enlightening, although perhaps not scholarly.

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