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Sex, Lies and Iambic Pentameter: Season Three of 'Shakespeare Uncovered' Premieres on PBS
October 12, 2018  | By TVWW Guest Contributor  | 1 comment

by Matt Glaser

[Editors Note: TVWW fan Matt Glaser is a well-known fiddler (he’s featured on the soundtrack of a dozen Ken Burns films including
The Civil War) and Director of the American Roots Music Program at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. He’s also an ardent student of Shakespeare and runs down the upcoming third season of PBS’s Shakespeare Uncovered, which premieres Fridays, October 12-26 on PBS. Check local listings for upcoming episodes.]
Perhaps, like many people, you haven’t tried to grapple with Shakespeare since you dozed off in high school, slogging through Romeo and Juliet.

Well, wake up, dear reader! The third season of the wonderful PBS series Shakespeare Uncovered is here to help you recover from your case of Shakesfear!

This year’s season of Uncovered, like the preceding two, is a brilliant deep dive into The Bard, and likewise, each episode has a well-known actor guiding us through a play they have starred in and know well. Interviews with scholars, directors, and other actors help to round out the engrossing and captivating series.

Also on board are feature clips from some of the most celebrated television and film performances of each play, as are scenes staged at the famous Globe Theatre in London, filmed exclusively for the PBS series.

The six new episodes of Season 3 feature Much Ado About Nothing hosted by Helen Hunt (right), The Merchant of Venice hosted by F. Murray Abraham, (both premiere Friday, October 12 at 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. ET) Measure for Measure with Romola Garai and Julius Caesar with Brian Cox, (Friday, October 19, 9:00 p.m. ET); and The Winter’s Tale with Simon Russell Beale and Richard III with Sir Antony Sher. (Friday, October 26 at 9 p.m. ET). Remember to check local listings for the dates and times in your area. 

Each host has a personal connection with the play presented: Hunt received rave reviews for her portrayal of Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. Abraham starred as Shylock in a touring production of The Merchant of Venice.

London’s Young Vic production of Measure for Measure saw Garai (top) portray a  21st-century version of Isabella, and Cox’s 1977 role as Brutus in the London National Theatre production of Julius Caesar remains a gold standard.

Beale’s played King Leontes in The Winter’s Tale at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and Sir Antony Sher gave a breakthrough performance in Richard III for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1984.

Whether you are rediscovering The Works of Will or coming to them for the first time, it’s clear that after more than 400 years, the plays continue to excavate and reprise every kind of human psychology and interaction. In fact, his grip on our motivations goes so deep you often wonder whether he is describing humanity or creating it.

That’s not just my take. Critic Harold Bloom wrote a book entitled Shakespeare and the Invention of the Human, and Emerson famously said that the world is “Shakespearized.” The depth, intensity, and beauty of the plays have been a source of shock and solace for people since they were written. (Abraham, right, at the Globe  Theater)

Maybe no time needs them more than the present.

Especially timely (naturally) are the three most political episodes:  Measure for Measure, Julius Caesar, and Richard III.

Measure for Measure is an astonishingly prescient look at political power, sexual morality, hypocrisy, and harassment. Garai explains why there is no light-hearted happy ending in this play but something much darker and more complex — truly a relevant tale for our time.

Hosted by Cox, Julius Caesar is a play that upholds liberty against tyranny. But what is tyranny? And who decides?

Of course, Shakespeare doesn’t make it simple. In order to preserve the freedom of the Roman Republic, Caesar, a “mighty colossus,” is assassinated by Roman Senators led by his friend Brutus.

Caesar wanted to become an emperor, not just the general that he was. In opposing him, is Brutus a traitor or a great defender of liberty?

Cox (right) explores how Julius Caesar, for many years, was seen to represent the American experience: the birth of a Republic. The play explores how easy it is for a free republic to fall into corruption.

Richard III presents one of the most infamous villains of all time — and one of the most relished. Sher explains how Shakespeare created both a loathsome and brilliant manipulator, as well as a real man.

While historians still debate the merits and vices of the real King Richard (and there is no truly reliable evidence that he was the villain Shakespeare describes), it is the play that has created the image a tyrant for all-time.

Both Caesar and Richard III hinge on flawed characters, on strength, and on frailty, and explore what humans will resort to in order to achieve power. They also challenge us to think about who or what to trust and what values we want to live by.

Turbulent times often provoke the creation of great art. In ours, the chaos is also a reason to seek out Shakespeare Uncovered…  just when we need it most!

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Thank you for the incredible information. You were quite good at reporting the facts, so why did you stop? I can't assume it was because of the war.
Feb 25, 2024   |  Reply
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