Premiering February 4-25, 2004 (Check local listings)
The film is set the life of the poet in the turbulent times in which he lived. In Episode One, we are introduced to the dark side of Queen Elizabeth's police state in a time of surveillance, militarism and foreign wars. Shakespeare lived through the Spanish Armada, the Gunpowder Plot, the colonization of the New World and the beginnings of British power in America. But most important, he also saw at first hand England's Cultural Revolution; an enforced split with the old medieval English spirit world which was to lead the English people into a brave new Protestant future. A split that Michael Wood argues defined Shakespeare's life.
The series takes the form of a detective story, a documentary search, and a journey.
"We are not following the current style of historical TV shows that use re-enactments and tableaux. There is no one dressed up as Will Shakespeare - or Queen Elizabeth! Instead we asked the Royal Shakespeare Company to give us a group of Britain's best young actors and actresses, to go on the road and play in the places where his company played.
But the core of the series is a biography. The story of one Elizabethan, his life, family and friendships, his triumphs and disasters, his loves and his losses.
The four shows follow Shakespeare's life from cradle to grave in a way never hitherto thought possible. In them we see how his life and work were shaped by his times; how he created some of the greatest literature in the world, and why we still love him: For in these films we see how Shakespeare in his life and work sums up English (and British) history - and the English character too - more than any other person. Decent, humane, open minded, tolerant, witty, bawdy, sexy, diffident, guarded, sceptical, wary of any political system, identifying himself with the "Other" - in his great portrayals of black people, women, the poor, Jews, - and even evil people - Shakespeare is an artist born out of turbulent times. But also, as his old friend Ben Jonson said:
"He was not of an age, but for all time."
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