This post takes a look back at 2015 when Shakespeare Uncovered was airing:
Shakespeare Uncovered continued on PBS with Anthony and Cleopatra with Kim Cattrall (Sex in the City) and Romeo and Juliet with Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare in Love). Both aired Feb. 13. Cattrall may be best known as the sexy-siren Samantha Jones, but this U.K. born actress has a classical theater background including playing Cleopatra twice on stage. “What I love about Cleopatra are her wildly fluctuating mood swings,” she says. “…Hate me, love me, kiss me… this character changes on a six pence… in the middle of a line, at the end of the line… exhausting, but fun to play.”
In Romeo and Juliet with Joseph Fiennes, our host takes viewers back to the Italian poem that inspired Shakespeare’s version of R&J and examines both modern stage and film versions of the star-crossed lovers as well as dissects the famous line, “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” Juliet isn’t asking where is Romeo. “She’s really, really angry and perplexed that this person that she has fallen in love is of a name that is mud to her family,” says Fiennes. So the real question is why are you a Montague?
Gems such as this are shared throughout the series, which started in 2012. The series’ goal is to analyze each of William Shakespeare’s plays through the eyes of actors, directors, scholars as well as modern interpretations of his work. Each hour-long episode tackles a new play or plays and stars a host who has been intimately involved somehow in the play. Series II started airing on Jan. 30, but all is hardly lost if you missed its opening. All the previously aired episodes, including Series I, are still available online at PBS.
Series II opened with A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Huge Bonneville (Downton Abby‘s Earl of Grantham). This comic play with the mischievous fairies started Bonneville’s career in 1986, when he was the understudy for Ralph Fiennes’ Lysander at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park, London. Once the play went on its European tour, Bonneville took over as Lysander and Fiennes as Oberon. This play is “the defining moment in Shakespeare’s career,” says scholar Jonathan Bates. “It’s his first mature masterpiece.”
Second on the Series II roster is King Lear with Christopher Plummer, who played the emotionally unbalanced king at Ontario’s Stratford Festival in Canada under the direction of Sir Jonathan Miller. “The idea of what it might mean to lose your mind, to lose control runs right through this play,” says Plummer.
The Taming of the Shrew with Morgan Freeman examines this often controversial play in which he played Petruchio at The Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park in New York. “The play itself comes down to a leveling… there is no top dog in a marriage,” says Freeman. “Traditional shrew tales make a mockery of the women,” but Shakespeare’s Kate is different, says Morgan, “there is something heroic about her.”
Othello with David Harewood is next in the series. Harewood, the first black actor to play the role of Othello at London’s famed National Theatre, discusses racial intolerance within the context of Othello. “Every age brings its own racial prejudice. For centuries, Othello was seen as a half-civilized black African, easily pushed into violence and brutality,” says Harewood. “That’s not what Shakespeare wrote.”
The first six in the series are also online at PBS Shakespeare Uncovered: Macbeth with Ethan Hawke, The Comedies with Joely Richardson, Richard II with Derek Jacobi, Henry IV & V with Jeremy Irons, Hamlet with David Tennant, and The Tempest with Trevor Nunn.