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3.5 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Shakespeare's life and work are sometimes romanticized as a product of the golden age of Elizabeth I. But the bard produced some of his finest plays after the Virgin Queen's death. In this illuminating BBC series, American scholar James Shapiro examines the plays Shakespeare wrote during the turbulent reign of Elizabeth's successor, King James I. One of the new king's first official acts was to name Shakespeare a king's man. Overnight, the dramatist attained security, prestige, and an up-close view of the Jacobean court. Shapiro convincingly argues that the dark, complex plays of Shakespeare's last decade-King Lear, Macbeth, and The Tempest, among othersmirrored both royal life and the era's profound social changes. Visiting sites that Shakespeare would have known, scouring archives, and consulting leading historians, literary experts, and directors, Shapiro reveals a Shakespeare we've never seen. As accomplished a storyteller as he is a scholar (Radio Times, U.K.), James Shapiro has been a professor of English at Columbia University since 1985. He is the author of the

Product Details

  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Athena
  • DVD Release Date: April 16, 2013
  • Run Time: 177 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00B5DWF18
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #46,957 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Harold Wolf TOP 50 REVIEWER on March 16, 2013
A general audience enlightenment of Shakespeare in the Jacobean era. This is the time that produced the King James Bible translation (1611). Primarily narration; the documentary incorporates interviews, paintings, documents, play excerpts, and architecture offering more than an introduction to Shakespeare--but also beginner relevant.

SDH SUBTITLES optional for all episodes.
Episode 1- Incertainties: Monarch changes, religious fervor, period incertainties [Shakespearean word no longer in use] drive the arts to new heights including Shakespeare and his theatre, popular media of the age. 1603 brought a dying Queen and theatre closings... Then the unpredictable King of Scots reigns. King James I. He banned Sunday theatre but also named Shakespeare's Company as his own "The King's Players." Shakespeare became "The King's Man." Plague followed. Theatre called Jacobean sin.
"Oh Lear, Lear, Lear!" -WS (William Shakespeare)

2- Equivocation: Shakespeare authors art of double meanings. The episode's title was a new word exposing lying, deceit--a new dark age (1606) exploited by Shakespeare. It produced Nov 5- Guy Fawkes Day. "Macbeth" tragedy sums up the times, "who committed treason enough for God's sake but could not equivocate to heaven. O! come in, equivocator." -WS
It was a time of high spectacle. A new flag (Union Jack), symbol of a united "Great" Britain. Alas, King James was not loved. "Anthony & Cleopatra"-- "Be a child of the time." -WS. Octavius represented King James.
Shakespeare's economic investment trap leads to his last tragedy,"Coriolanus."
"That's a brave fellow; But he's vengeance proud, and loves not the common people." -WS

3- Legacy: 1610 "A Winter's Tale" "A sad tale's best for winter..." -WS.
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If you're at all interested in Shakespeare's relation to his times, particularly the ways he may have drawn inspiration from the social and political currents that swirled about him, you will likely find this an insightful and valuable documentary series. As Shapiro says in the first episode, his earlier book, "1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare", was very much about the Elizabethan Shakespeare, which caused him to want to put the focus in these three one-hour programs on the Shakespeare of the following Jacobean era to round out the picture. Covering pretty much the entirety of James I's reign, the series looks principally at "Measure for Measure", "King Lear", "Timon of Athens", "Macbeth", "Antony and Cleopatra", "The Winter's Tale", "The Tempest", and "Henry VIII". Each play is examined in terms of how it may be related to events, personages, tensions, and dynamics in the realm(s) of James I - and it's fascinating stuff. One measure by which an enterprise of this nature might be judged is not so much whether some new piece of evidence has been discovered, but how well the programs draw into focus a myriad of considerations - textual, performative, biographical, political, sociological, and so on - in giving the viewer an accessible but integrated understanding of a wide range of material. It takes a master to do all that and Shapiro delivers.

Of course it's a challenge what the camera will actually photograph in telling a story like this one, 400 years after the events under consideration.
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Professor James Shapiro has done the seemingly impossible and found a new light to shed on the life of William Shakespeare and his later plays. Although he makes a few assumptions here and there, (as when he says, most convincingly, that Shakespeare did such and such a thing at such and such a place), his opinion is nonetheless well-informed and his theories, for the most part, are impressively believable. We must remember though that Shakespeare’s actual life and career is very poorly documented, and while it is tempting to place the world’s greatest playwright in any number of circumstances, there is nothing to actually prove these imaginings.

I’m willing to concede many of Shapiro’s major surmises, however, such as how events of the day may have impacted Shakespeare’s writings, for they mostly make perfect sense; but one must view this program with just a pinch of salt, at least when it comes to Shakespeare’s biography.

But the play’s the thing, is it not? And Shapiro’s knowledge of the time and key events in the reign of King James I is the real meat of the story, drawing us in with a fresh perspective on Shakespeare’s works that has rarely, if ever, (to my knowledge) been considered before.

And that consideration is Shakespeare as Jacobean playwright (meaning he wrote during the reign of King James) as opposed to being solely a product of the Elizabethan era, which many people assume. As Shapiro delves deep into the events and changes of the time, the significance of this “discovery” becomes fascinatingly apparent.

This is the ultimate value of this outstanding three episode series: how it provides new insight into some of the most important plays in world literature. Not an easy task.
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