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Episode One

Premiering Wednesday, February 4, 2004 (Check local listings)

"A Time of Revolution"

Episode 1, A Time Of Revolution
Episode 1, A Time Of Revolution
The first episode sets Shakespeare's life in the early years of Elizabeth's reign, at the beginning of Elizabeth's Cultural Revolution. We set the scene with the seesaw politics of England in the twenty years since Henry VIII's split with Rome. The age is marked by the battle of conscience and power, which will lead to religious and class struggle, and eventually to Civil War. Through local documents - and with the help of the modern-day town councilors - we follow William's father's career in a small town, rising to become Alderman and Mayor. Contrary to the myth, Shakespeare came from an upwardly mobile family. Dad makes money, not only as a glover, but by money lending and illegally dealing in wool, as we learn from recently discovered court cases. His eldest son William is one of the privileged few, brought up in a nice house, with money, servants, and a good education. We follow his school days in the old schoolroom where he was taught; we see a Tudor school play performed by the boys today. We also see the medieval mystery plays that were seen by William until they were banned as "childish superstition" when he was 15.

Suddenly, William's world turns upside down. His father is hounded by informers, loses his fortune and sells off his lands. Now we learn the family's dark secret: In the new Protestant state of Elizabeth, Shakespeare's family is loyal to the old faith. So from the start he has a foot in both worlds - he knows what it is like to be an outsider, a part of the persecuted minority. Between the ages of 12 and 15 his family is ruined as the government turns up the heat in its' persecution of the old religion. At 14, the boy has to leave school early to start work, ruining his chances of going to university. Then when he is sixteen his father runs up against the full power of the state. In the Public Record Office we discover a list of people held on surety by the government - a black list of people thought to be a threat to national security. Among them, William's father John. This takes us into the terrifying world of the Catholic underground - and Shakespeare's father's stand for conscience, which climaxes in the sensational discovery made in the roof of the Shakespeare's family house two hundred years ago.

Two years later, the 18-year-old William finally ruins his dwindling job prospects by getting a local farmer's 26-year-old daughter pregnant. But in Worcester Cathedral we discover him apparently betrothed to two different women on the same day; with the archivist and the two original documents we explore the tantalizing mystery of the two Annes and Shakespeare's shotgun marriage. Our hero is now an 18-year-old father with no prospects; but his marriage also gives us his first known work, a love poem to his pregnant wife on their wedding day. Together, his wife, and his talent for verse, will save him - and make him rich beyond his wildest dreams.

But first, when he is 19, the family is plunged deeper into trouble. Now the film turns to the famous myth that Will was beaten and thrown out of town for poaching, by the big local landowner Sir Thomas Lucy, Elizabeth's fixer. The Lucys are still there in their beautiful mansion, shaped in a letter E in devotion to the queen. But the present-day head of the family can cast no more light on the tale. The clues to their enmity, though, come in the most savage plot of the time, which hit Warwickshire the year after Shakespeare's marriage. Using secret government papers, spies' reports, torture interrogations, and a coded diary written by a prisoner in the Tower, Michael Wood uncovers the real reason for the feud. Framed by a sting, the head of Shakespeare's mother's family is tried and executed for treason; the houses of friends and family in Stratford are turned upside down - and the man in charge is none other than Will's legendary foe, Thomas Lucy. Episode One ends with the savagery of the Somerville Plot and leaves the 19-year-old Will with career prospects that are dim, to say the least!

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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