Anyone who’s ever had a clueless professor give you two nights to read and understand, say, King Lear as you also try to manage two other classes, a part time job, friends, family, and probably a head cold knows how sucky it is to then find that the only readily available film adaptation seems to come from 1932 and is in such grainy black and white that it’s even harder to decipher than the words on the page. (Not that this ever happened to me.) PBS Series 2 of Shakespeare Uncovered is the perfect antidote to this predicament as well as an enjoyable foray into the works of The Bard for the casual viewer.
I’m the first person to admit that Shakespeare is awesome, but far less so when read by oneself without context. Shakespeare Uncovered does his works a great service by approaching them from a variety of perspectives – social, historical, dramatic, and personal. Each episode is hosted by a renowned actor and focuses on one play. Morgan Freeman looks at The Taming of the Shrew, Joseph Fiennes takes on Romeo and Juliet, David Harewood covers Othello, Kim Cattrall tackles Antony and Cleopatra, Hugh Bonneville does A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Christopher Plummer delves (delightfully) into King Lear.
Over the course of each episode, we move through the plot of the play, examining why things unfold as they do and learning how changing attitudes have influenced audience interpretation over time. One of the more fascinating discussions centers on The Taming of the Shrew, wherein an outspoken, strong-willed woman is beaten (metaphorically speaking) in to submission by a man. Is this a sexist slap down of a sassy lady, or was Shakespeare actually rooting for his mouthy heroine? Was he perhaps a tiny bit of a feminist in his own 1590’s kind of way? Is Katherine forced into deference by marriage, or does true love reveal a genuine respect for her husband’s leadership? Better yet, is it possible that all of these things are true?
Through performance clips, scholarly interviews, and location visits, Shakespeare Uncovered moves along at a lively, modern pace that makes the subject matter feel current and accessible. Whether you need supplemental material for school or simply enjoy learning about literature, the series is as entertaining as it is educational.