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Episode Guide

Premiering February 4-25, 2004 (Check local listings)


Michael Wood in Public Records Office archive
Michael Wood in Public Records
Office archive
"In Search of Shakespeare" is a four-part series exploring the life of the world's greatest and most famous writer. Surprisingly, it is the first time that a full-scale life of William Shakespeare has been attempted on TV. Presenter-led, mixing travel, adventure, interviews and specially shot documentary and live action sequences with the RSC on the road, this is an innovative TV history series from the award-winning team which made "In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great" and "Conquistadors."

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.

crew at sunset, Warwickshire
Crew at sunset, Warwickshire
"We set out to film England as if we were working in a foreign country," says producer Rebecca Dobbs: "Journeying to forgotten corners of the landscape, interviewing real life witnesses - for example royal robe makers and heralds, the last surviving master glover, living descendants of Shakespeare's patrons who still treasure stories and documents from his time... What we have done in other shows in Peru or India, we have set out to do in England."

"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.

The Royal Shakespeare Company perform in Leicester Guildhall
The Royal Shakespeare Company
perform in Leicester Guildhall
The Shakespeare Team are led by the director Greg Doran - who has just won this year's Olivier Award for Achievement in the Theatre. Shot documentary style, on and off stage, the successors of Shakespeare's company give us a magical glimpse into how it was done: playing scenes from all Shakespeare's great shows in Tudor Guildhalls, Royal Palaces like Hampton Court, and even in broad daylight, in a surviving intact inn yard in Gloucester, to see what it was like to play in the conditions they did."

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."

Available on ShopPBS:


Episode 1 - A Time Of RevolutionEpisode 1

Episode 2 - The Lost YearsEpisode 2

Episode 3 - The Duty Of PoetsEpisode 3

Episode 4 - For All TimeEpisode 4

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