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I regularly teach my college's Introduction to Shakespeare class, and have found this to be a very good overview of the Bard's life and times. Micheal Wood's film on Shakespeare is also excellent, but that one is much too long to show in class. This A&E Bio, however, is the perfect length; coming in at about 50 minutes, it's ideal for showing towards the start of the semester. It includes good visuals and images, and includes short clips from several well-respected Shakespeare scholars.

I would also like to address the issue of Shakespeare's sexuality and his relationship with the Earl of Southampton, since several reviewers mention this in a dismissive way. I think that not introducing this aspect of Shakespeare's life to our students does them a great disservice. Literary scholars like Stephen Greenblatt (of Harvard University) and Stephen Orgel (of Stanford University) have done much research into the sexual norms of Shakespeare's life and period, and most gender and Renaissance studies scholars concur that Shakespeare was most likely bisexual, and that sexuality was understood differently during the Renaissance -- as more of a continuum. When we study sonnets like Sonnet 20 ("A woman's face with Nature's own hand painted / Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion"), I think that there is ample enough evidence that Shakespeare had a relationship with another male. To dismiss this or not address it in class reflects ignorance of the current state of literary scholarship, as well as homophobia.
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VINE VOICEon February 19, 2001
After whetting our appetites with the observation that little is known about the man behind the plays, the A&E team provides a bland, surprisingly unengaging "5-act" biography of William Shakespeare. As the story proceeds, the producers rely more and more on quotations from the plays rather than on any "extrinsic" evidence. The result is a program that confirms what we already knew, or should have known, all along--the life of William Shakespeare is at best a mere footnote to the life of the plays themselves. Credit the producers for not indulging in this series' customary approach and sensationalizing the records (by claiming Shakepeare was really Queen Elizabeth, etc.). On the other hand, teachers and students of Shakespeare, as well as fans of the Bard, may find it difficult to justify an investment of money in a video this slight when, say, Olivier's "Henry V" or Branagh's "Much Ado About Nothing" are available at a comparable price.
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on August 6, 2008
I'm a High school drama teacher and while doing a lesson on Shakespeare I bought this video to teach the kids about Shakespeare's life. It has a lot of great information and it doesn't dumb it down (if you get what I mean). Its not just a biography of the events in Shakespeare's life, it looks at him as a man and explores how events in his life triggered his creative process. There is a lot of great commentary from well respected scholars and classical actors and directors. Great teaching tool for anyone trying to make Shakespeare cool.
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on December 9, 2014
In the A&E Biography, “Shakespeare: Life of Drama”, opens with Peter Graves narrating the overall story and importance of Shakespeare which goes into detail further in the video. Throughout the play, small clips are played like Macbeth Act V Scene 5, King Lear, Coriolanus, Sonnets 18,2,130, King John, Twelfth Nights, and clips of Hamlet. In this video is explained why Shakespeare was considered the greatest playwright English language has ever known and how his diction along with his syntax helped him to create poetry and sonnets that became the “essence of our culture”. This video also talks about how important and unique were Shakespeare’s writings since they show and extraordinary level of insight into the human experience and human psychology when writing tragedy. It is also mentioned some details about Shakespeare’s personal life. It was mentioned the year he was born (1564), his 2 sisters, the local school he was able to attend since his father was a business man which allowed Shakespeare to speak Latin and English. This video also talks about Shakespeare’s wife (Anne Hathaway) and his 3 children. His life as an actor and playwright in London is also explained. It is explained how he made his fortune by owning 10% of a theater in the Red Light District since theater was considered ungodly and immoral. Towards the end of the video, Shakespeare’s shift to tragedy during 1604-1607 and how he became the actor of the court and the king. This biography is told by respected people like Stanley Wells (Director of Shakespeare Institute), Professor Andrew Gurr, Professor Park Honan, and Ronnie Mulryne. I recommend this video to high school students that already know or have read some of Shakespeare’s plays since this video explain how he started and how Shakespeare came to write his plays and the factors that influenced such plays. The sequence of this video makes it easier to understand since it talks about Shakespeare’s family and background when he was born to his growth as a actor and a writer which allows the viewer of this video understand Shakespeare better. This video also provides the viewer a better understanding about how his surroundings and family issues were reflected in his plays. This video has a sophisticated feel and diction is quiet formal as well because it is an informational video which might not be the best video to show to little kids since it might be hard for them to understand and stay entertained with this video. This video makes it is very entertaining to watch if you are interested in Shakespeare since this video all about him and what were the factors in his life that inspired his plays.
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on December 9, 2014
The video contains a 50 minute biography about the life and work of Shakespeare.The video portrays not only the good of shakespeare but also the conflict that presented themselves during his time. The throw in things that people hadn't really questioned before. For example they thrown in the possibility that Shakespeare was bisexual and the idea that Shakespeare didn't actually write his pieces.
The biography divides the life of shakespeare into 5 scenes. The film talks about Shakespeare and what was going on in his life and how that reflected in his work. It gives us a background on his wife and their children. Then it talks about the tragic death of Shakespeare son and how he wrote Hamlet based on his son's death. After his son's death he is depressed and grieving which shows in his play Hamlet and a few others that have “bad endings.”
The film overall is recommendable it was pretty interesting and easy to follow. The scenes made it easy to follow and easy to take notes. Its a great video to watch if you need a background on Shakespeare's life and it will help you better understand his plays. The film also raises interesting questions and it provides a good overview of his life. This is a good film to watch it you need a better understanding of shakespeare. Although it did get a bit boring it is recommendable to watch becuase its easy to learn from.
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on December 6, 2014
A 50 minute long Shakespeare life video put out by the credible and reputable A and E. The film divides Shakespeare's most life changing moments and work productions in 5 pieces which the video calls "scenes". The video is a little boring because there is nothing very intriguing for someone who is not interested in Shakespearean works, like myself. I watched this film as an assignment.

The film chooses to first talk about what is going on in Shakespeare's life then showing how his life reflected his works before moving on to the next scene. The best and most notable example of this would be Hamlet, Shakespeare's only son's death. After the death Shakespeare is in a state of depression and is grieving. This he shoes in his play Hamlet and other plays after that have "bad endings". The film is easy to follow because of the "scenes". The scenes would allow for someone trying to study to take notes and remember his life in these 5 scenes.

I would recommend this film to anyone who needs to learn about Shakespeare for a class assignment or before someone begins to read Shakespearean plays. The film will provide an understanding of the play and will allow you to think deeper than the play because you will try to link the plays to his actual life.

The play does state some information that can be up for debate like his homosexuality and his non original works. This I feel makes the film more interesting as it leaves the audience with a bit of work to do when reading the plays. One can look for hints of homosexuality as the video briefly does. As for the lack of originality that can be something someone independently looks into by finding similarities between his plays as well as others of previous times.
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VINE VOICEon June 17, 2005
This video by A and E contains a 50 minute biography about the life and works of Shakespeare. What is gratifying is that this is not a video that tries to portray only the good of Shakespeare, but also the conflicts and controversies that presented themselves during his time. Some controversial topics are thrown in (whether you can choose to believe or not believe), such as the possibility that Shakespeare was bisexual and the idea that Shakespeare "borrowed" material from other written fiction. Still, this is a great film that can be used as an introduction to Shakespearean works (I am an English teacher, and use this before a drama unit with Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, or Julius Caesar).

The biography divides the life and times of Shakespeare into 5 "scenes" (although if they were totally accurate, they might have chosen the "seven" stages of his life). We learn a little bit of the background with his wife, Anne Hathaway, and their children, with a section on the devastating loss of one of Shakespeare's sons, Hamnet. We also learn about Shakespeare's upbringing, as well as some of the aspects of his life in Stretford. While some of the "gossip" included in the documentary might not be that appealing, I thought it was an exceptional video for its Elizabethan information background. For instance, we get some information on Shakespeare's rivals and how plays were viewed in London's society during that era, as well as the devastating aspects of such things as the Plague and sickness. There are plenty of tidbits from some of Shakespeare's plays and poems, such as brief clips from popular movies and plays (Hamlet, King Lear, The Tempest for example), as well as information about these dramas and their impact on his overall success.

Overall, a very informative look at not only Shakespeare, but the times he lived in. If you need a little background information on Shakespeare, this is a great video to take a look at.
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on January 3, 2000
At the outset let me correct a typo in your own review -- Shakespeare's only son was named Hamnet (after a friend of the family) and not Hamlet, the title character of one of his more famous plays.
I am currently reading the three-volume set of sixty essays entitled "William Shakespeare -- His World, His Work, His Influence". The perspective this gives is that it is impossible to fully appreciate the individual and his efforts without a good feel for the environment in which he worked. That said, this video biography is, in my view, about as good a job as can be done in 50 minutes.
There is really more than enough material for a documentary series. Ken Burns, are you out there?
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on March 24, 1999
With the recent renewed interest in the great Bard of Avon, this video could be a good place to start. It ignores the entire controversy about the possibility that Shakespeare was really ghost written by someone else, which is an outgrowth of the idea that only the aristocracy could have been so creative, and that was a relief. Shakespeare comes through in this video as a real, living person who faced the same difficulties in life as most of us do, and yet managed to create the best known drama in human history.
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on October 17, 2000
As a high school teacher, I found the visuals appealing and representative of the period in which Shakespeare lived. However, I ultimately decided against showing the video in class as it states without substantiation that Shakespeare was involved in a homosexual affair with his patron, the earl of Southampton. I suppose someone has taken the style of writing Shakespeare used in his encomiums to his patron as expressions of sexual ardor rather than the sycophantic flattery which was typical in an age when artistic types were looking for deep pockets to support their career. The Bard may have been "kissing up," as we would say nowadays, but it's doubtful it was in the sense the commentator used. I personally didn't feel it was worth opening that can of worms in our introductory lessons, but depending on one's purpose, others might choose otherwise.
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