It’s been four hundred years since Shakespeare wrote his final play, but we’re still finding endless new things to discover in them. This is the message driven home in Season Three of Shakespeare Uncovered, which debuts on PBS October 12th.
Each episode of the series pairs a famous actor or scholar with a play, which is then examined in close detail. We dive into the history around the play, and the influences which may have prompted Shakespeare to write it. In the first episode of Season Three, Helen Hunt examines Much Ado About Nothing, taking us back in time to find a story Shakespeare would have known about, the story of soldier Claudio and Heiress Hero, which Shakespeare probably used as the foundation for his own take. But the rocky love story of Beatrice and Benedick, that was all Shakespeare.
We get a plot summary of each play examined, as well as footage from several different productions. The Much Ado About Nothing episode pulls as far back as Maggie Smith’s turn as Beatrice in a 1967 BBC television production, to Kenneth Branagh’s famous 1993 film, to the Royal Shakespeare’s 2015 revival. Actors and directors are interviewed, supplying insight from their own experience. The episodes are lively and accessible. You don’t need to be a Shakespeare scholar to enjoy them.
Each episode also wrestles with issues in Shakespeare’s plays that have become problematic over time. How could Hero have taken Claudio back after his violent humiliation of her at what was supposed to be their wedding? F. Murray Abraham’s look at The Merchant of Venice examines in detail the character of Shylocke, and the blatant anti-Semitism that follows him. What we find is that Shakespeare is a much more nuanced writer than many others, and there are many things about Shylocke that are sympathetic compared to other Jewish portrayals, particularly that of the murderous Barrabas in Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta. Not only does Abraham put this in perspective, but details ways modern productions have dealt with this issue, often in contradictory ways.
Shakespeare Uncovered shows us the life that is still in these plays four hundred years later. It can be recommended even for people who say they don’t like Shakespeare. It gives a fresh look at old stories, showing how relevant they still are today.
Season Three of Shakespeare Uncovered debuts Friday, October 12th at 9:00 p.m. on KIXE Channel 9.