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Episode Three

Premiering Wednesday, February 18, 2004 (Check local listings)

"The Duty of Poets"

Episode 3, The Duty of Poets
Episode 3, The Duty of Poets
In Episode Three of his historical detective story Michael Wood uncovers Shakespeare's rise to fame and fortune in Elizabethan London, and the disasters in life and love which marked his path to greatness. 1590s England was still split by religious conflict.

In secluded country house in Warwickshire, Michael conjures up a dramatic dawn police raid looking for Elizabeth's public enemy number one: the missionary and poet Robert Southwell, who had challenged poets to face up to their times and return to God. We follow his cousin Shakespeare to Beaulieu, where he writes a long erotic poem to the young Earl of Southampton, looking for patronage and money. Rejecting the plea to write religious poetry, Shakespeare pens "Romeo and Juliet" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream," cementing his place as England's greatest popular playwright.

At this moment, Will's only son, Hamnet, dies aged 11. Plunged into a mid-life crisis, William falls in love with beautiful teenage nobleman, and has a passionate sexual affair with a mysterious married woman. We follow Shakespeare to the Royal College of Heralds and find his application to become a gentleman. Through his tax records we track him to Southwark the red light district of Elizabethan London - where he is summonsed for threatening to cause grievous bodily harm! Here he writes one of his greatest characters, Falstaff, whom the English immediately took to their hearts.

Forced out by their landlord, Shakespeare's company rebuilds its theatre south of the river as the Globe, and the greatest phase of his career begins. We see the company involved in high politics, interrogated after the failed rebellion of the Earl of Essex; we meet Shakespeare's unlikely opponents in the war of the Theatres - companies of teenage boys! Finally we meet black Elizabethans, at a time the government was discussing their repatriation. And in Leicester Guildhall (where Shakespeare's company actually played) we see him stage a play where the hero is a black man: "Othello."

In his late thirties, pursuing his own path between the extremes, Shakespeare had hit on the true duty of poets: "to speak what we feel, not what we ought to say."

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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