Monday, November 07, 2011

Shakespeare at the BBC:
In Our Time
with Melvyn Bragg.

Prospero and Ariel on BBC Broadcasting HouseRadio  You may have read in the past week that the BBC is in the process of digitising it's entire radio archive with a view to putting the whole thing on-line, which is pretty amazing.  But the Radio 4 website already has a vast amount of content and I've been glancing through to see if much of it is about or at least connected to Shakespeare.  Unsurprisingly there's a fair amount so I've decided to put together a series of posts indexing the streams to help me make sense of it all.

First, In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg.  I've collected together programmes which directly mention Shakespeare in their synopsis and anything else which seems important, though please note any omissions or other programmes you think might be relevant and could be added.  I've included a quote from each of the programme pages to give a flavour of what lies within.  All of these episodes are available as podcasts should you want to go off and find them.


Shakespeare's Life
"The mystery may have been a pleasure to Dickens but for forgers, conspiracy theorists and Shakespeare scholars it is a tantalising conundrum that has exercised minds since the day the playwright died. How was the low born son of an illiterate craftsman, with a meagre education, able to write with such skill and erudition? How did a provincial man manage to become so attuned to the politics of kings? And how do we know that the plays that we have are the right plays, written by the right man and published in the form they were written?"

Shakespeare's Work
"William Shakespeare 'was not of an age, but for all time' according to Ben Johnson. That was in the seventeenth century and it's a claim that has often been repeated since, but is it really true? Is what we see in theatre and increasingly at the cinema the work of a playwright whose works live on, or are we merely watching historical reconstructions - museum pieces - with any contemporary meaning obscured by the reverence we pay to the author?"

Shakespeare and Literary Criticism
"Why does Shakespeare still hold the popular and indeed academic imagination in the twentieth century? Should we read him above all others as Harold Bloom suggests in the way he suggests? And what does this say about the state of literary criticism today?"


King Lear
"Around the turn of 1606, a group of London theatre-goers braved the plague to take in a new play by the well-known impresario, Mr William Shakespeare. Packed into the Globe Theatre, they were treated to a tale of violence, hatred and betrayal so upsetting that it thereafter languished among Shakespeare’s less popular plays.".


Elizabethan Revenge
"From Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy to Shakespeare's Hamlet, the Elizabethan stage was awash with the bloody business of revenge. Revenge was dramatic, theatrical and hugely popular. It also possessed a fresh psychological depth in the way vengeful minds were portrayed through a new dramatic device: the soliloquy."

"You could be forgiven for thinking that in our century, of all centuries, the notion of the death of a tragedy would be comical. But there is a view that in its broad theatrical sense, tragedy, as defined by Aristotle and accepted to the time of Racine, has indeed lost its place and power as a form."

Pastoral Literature
"An entreaty from Christopher Marlowe's Passionate Shepherd to His Love - thought by many to be the crowning example of Elizabethan pastoral poetry. The traditions of pastoral poetry, literature and drama can be traced back to the third century BC and have principally offered a conventionalised picture of rural life, the naturalness and innocence of which is seen to contrast favourably with the corruption and artificialities of city and court life. Pastoral literature deals with tensions between nature and art, the real and the ideal, the actual and the mythical, and although pastoral works have been written from the point of view of shepherds or rustics, they have often been penned by highly sophisticated, urban poets and playwrights."

The Sonnet
"For over five hundred years its fourteen lines have exercised poetic minds from Petrarch and Shakespeare, to Milton, Wordsworth and Heaney. It has inspired the duelling verse of ‘sonneteering’, encapsulated the political perspectives of Cromwell and Kennedy and most of all it has provided a way to meditate upon love. Dante Gabriel Rossetti called it “the moment’s monument”. What is it about the Sonnet that has inspired poets to bind themselves by its strictures again and again?"


Agincourt (Henry V)
"It is a battle that has resounded through the centuries and has been used by so many to mean so much. But how important was the battle in the strategic struggles of the time? What were the pressures at home that drove Henry's march through France? And what is the cultural legacy of Agincourt?"

Bohemia (The Winter's Tale)
"Why was Bohemia such a crucible of dissent and how were its ideas exported to the rest of Europe? What did it mean to be Bohemian then and how was the ancient kingdom of Bohemia, with its ferment of religious, national and ethnic ideologies, divided up to form the states of modern Central Europe?"

Cleopatra (Anthony & Cleopatra)
"The last pharaoh to rule Egypt, Cleopatra was a woman of intelligence and charisma, later celebrated as a great beauty. During an eventful life she was ousted from her throne and later restored to it with the help of her lover Julius Caesar. A later relationship with another Roman statesman, Mark Antony - and Cleopatra's subsequent death at her own hands - provided Shakespeare with the raw material for one of his greatest plays. Today Cleopatra is still an object of fascination, her story revealing as much about the Roman world as it does about the end of the age of the Pharaohs."

Don Quixote (Cardenio)
"How has the book endured over the centuries? What was the relationship between Cervantes' work and the world of 17th century Spain in which he lived? In what ways was Don Quixote an interpretation of the age which hitherto had not been articulated? And can it live up to the claim that it was the first European novel?"

Fairies (A Midsummer Night's Dream)
"In what way have fairies changed in guise and purpose throughout history? How did ancient fairy lore sit with the Christianity of the Middle Ages? How were fairies appropriated for the purpose of the 16th century witchcraft trials and why did fairies obsess so many Victorian artists and writers? And why is it that stories about fairies exist all over the world and what is our fascination with them?"

Rome and European Civilisation (The Roman Plays)
"According to William Shakespeare, after Brutus slayed his friend Caesar he claimed, “Not that I loved Caesar less but that I loved Rome more”. But what was the idea of Rome that demanded such devotion? And how was an identity forged that exported its values to the greatest Empire the world had ever seen? Rome has meant Republicanism, as well as Imperialism; it has stood for Pax Romana and also for the machinery of war, it is an eternally pagan city that still beats as the Catholic Heart of the Christian Church."

The Siege of Orleans (Henry VI)
"Joan of Arc came to the rescue of France and routed the English army with the help of God. The perfidious English then burnt her as a heretic in Rouen marketplace. At least that's the story we're told but the truth involves the murky world of French court politics, labyrinthine dynastic claims, mass religious hysteria and English military and political incompetence."

"The isolated Ancient Greek city-state of Sparta was a ferocious opposite to the cosmopolitan port of Athens. Spartans were hostile to outsiders and rhetoric, to philosophy and change."

The Dissolution of the Monasteries (Henry VIII or What You Will)
"Was Henry’s decision to destroy monastic culture in this country a tyrannical act of grand larceny or the pious destruction of a corrupt institution?"

The Tudor State (The Histories)
"Were the Tudors as instrumental in reshaping the British state as historians have liked to make out, and did their reign throughout the 16th century really lay the political foundations of our own age?"

The War of the Roses (The Histories)
"The period in the fifteenth century when the House of Lancaster and the House of York were continually at odds is described by Shakespeare, in the three parts of Henry VI and Richard III as a time of enormous moral, military and political turmoil - the quintessential civil war ..."


The Anatomy of Melancholy
"In 1621 the priest and scholar Robert Burton published a book quite unlike any other. The Anatomy of Melancholy brings together almost two thousand years of scholarship, from Ancient Greek philosophy to seventeenth-century medicine. Melancholy, a condition believed to be caused by an imbalance of the body's four humours, was characterised by despondency, depression and inactivity. Burton himself suffered from it, and resolved to compile an authoritative work of scholarship on the malady, drawing on all relevant sources."

Baconian Science
"Francis Bacon was a lawyer and political schemer who climbed the greasy pole of Jacobean politics and then fell down it again. But he is most famous for developing an idea of how science should be done - a method that he hoped would slough off the husk of ancient thinking and usher in a new age. It is called Baconian Method and it has influenced and inspired scientists from Bacon's own time to the present day."

Christopher Marlowe
"A forger, a brawler, a spy, a homosexual and accused of atheism but above all a playwright and poet, Christopher Marlowe was the most celebrated writer of his generation, bringing Tamburlaine, Faustus and The Jew of Malta to the stage and far outshining William Shakespeare during his lifetime. Then came his mysterious death at 29, days before he was due to appear on trial accused of heresy. Was he stabbed in an argument over a bill? Was he assassinated? And how does his work measure up to Shakespeare, a man who paid generous tribute and some say stole some of his best lines?"

"In October 1586, in the forbidding hall of Fotheringhay Castle, Mary Queen of Scots was on trial for her life. Accused of treason and denied legal representation, she sat alone in the shadow of a vast and empty throne belonging to her absent cousin and arch rival Elizabeth I of England. Walsingham, Elizabeth’s Principal Secretary, had already arrested and executed Mary’s fellow conspirators, her only hope lay in the code she had used in all her letters concerning the plot. If her cipher remained unbroken she might yet be saved. Not for the first time the life of an individual and the course of history depended on the arcane art of Cryptography."

The Death of Elizabeth I
"By the spring of 1603, Elizabeth had been Queen for 44 years, and it was clear that she would leave no heir. Many feared that her death would spark insurrection, led perhaps by Puritans, perhaps by Catholics, possibly with the support of Spain. As it became clear that she was dying, Elizabeth's chief minister, Sir Robert Cecil, put into action his covert strategy to secure the succession of King James the Sixth of Scotland."

The Jesuits
"Founded in the 16th century by the soldier Ignatius Loyola, they became a major force throughout the world, from China to South America. “Give us a boy and we will return you a man, a citizen of his country and a child of God”, they declared."

"To T.S.Eliot it was the “Unreal City”, to Wordsworth “Earth has not anything to show more fair” but to Shelley, “Hell is a city much like London”."

The Music of the Sphere
"The idea of music of the spheres ran through late antiquity and the medieval period into the Renaissance and its echoes could be heard in astrology and astronomy, in theology, and, of course, in music itself. Influenced by Pythagoras and Plato, it was discussed by Cicero, Boethius, Marcello Ficino and Johannes Kepler It affords us a glimpse into minds for which the universe was full of meaning, of strange correspondences and grand harmonies."

"In 1800, in his preface to Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth wrote "Every great and original writer, in proportion as he is great and original, must himself create the taste by which he is to be relished". But did the notion of originality begin with the Romantics in the 18th century, or has society always valued originality? Should we consider Shakespeare an innovator or a plagiarist?"

The Pilgrim Fathers
"The Pilgrim Fathers and their 1620 voyage to the New World on the Mayflower. "

Seventeenth Century Print Culture
"From the advent of the printing press the number of books printed each year steadily increased, and so did literacy rates. With a growing and socially diverse readership appearing over the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, printed texts reflected controversy in every area of politics, society and religion. In the advent of the Civil War, print was used as the ideological battleground by the competing forces of Crown and Parliament."

The Spanish Armada
"On May 28th, 1588, a fleet of a hundred and fifty-one Spanish ships set out from Lisbon, bound for England. Its mission was to transport a huge invasion force across the Channel: the Spanish King, Philip II, was determined to remove Elizabeth from the throne and return the English to the Catholic fold."

St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre
"In Paris, in the high summer of 1572, a very unusual wedding was happening in the cathedral of Notre Dame. Henri, the young Huguenot King of Navarre, was marrying the King of France’s beloved sister, Margot, a Catholic. "


The Aeneid
"Virgil's Aeneid was the great epic poem that formed a founding narrative of Rome. It made such an impact on its audience that it soon became a standard text in all schools and wiped away the myths that preceded it. It was written in Augustus' reign at the start of the Imperial era and has been called an apologia for Roman domination; it has also been called the greatest work of literature ever written."

Aristotle's Poetics
"The Poetics is, as far as we know, the first ever work of literary theory. Written in the 4th century BC, it is the work of a scholar who was also a biologist, and treats literary works with the detached analytical eye of a scientist. Aristotle examines drama and epic poetry, and how they achieve their effects; he analyses tragedy and the ways in which it plays on our emotions."

Aristotle's Politics
"Aristotle’s ‘Politics’. Looking out across the city states of 4th century Greece Aristotle asked what made a society good and developed a language of ‘oligarchies’, ‘democracies’ and ‘monarchies’ that we still use today."

The Augustan Age
"Called the Augustan Age, it was a golden age of literature with Virgil's Aeneid and Ovid's Metamorphosis among its treasures. But they were forged amidst creeping tyranny and the demands of literary propaganda. Augustus tightened public morals, funded architectural renewal and prosecuted adultery. Ovid was exiled for his saucy love poems but Virgil's Aeneid, a celebration of Rome's grand purpose, was supported by the regime."

Comedy in Ancient Greek Theatre
"But how did Greek comedy evolve? Why did its subsequent development differ so radically from that of Greek tragedy? To what extent did it reflect the anxieties and preoccupations of a nascent democracy? And can it be said to have left any lasting legacy?"

"Chaucer was born the son of a London vintner, yet rose to high office in the court of Richard II. He travelled throughout France and Italy where he came into contact with the works of Dante, Boccaccio, Machaut and Froissart. He translated Boethius, wrote dream poetry, a defence of women and composed the tragic masterpiece Troilus and Criseyde. As well as the father of English literature, Chaucer was also a philosopher, bureaucrat, courtier and diplomat."

Dante's Inferno
"Dante’s ‘Inferno’ - a medieval journey through the nine circles of Hell. “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here”. This famous phrase is written above the gate of Hell in a 14th century poem by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri. The poem is called the ‘Divine Comedy’ and Hell is known as ‘Dante’s Inferno’. It is a lurid vision of the afterlife complete with severed heads, cruel and unusual punishments and devils in frozen lakes."

The Divine Right of Kings
"The idea that a monarch could heal with his touch flowed from the idea that a king was sacred, appointed by God and above the judgement of earthly powers. It was called the Divine Right of Kings. The idea resided deep in the culture of 17th century Britain affecting the pomp of the Stuart Kings, the writings of Milton and Shakespeare and the political works of John Locke. It is a story that involves witches, regicide, scrofula, Macbeth, miraculous portraits and some of the greatest poetry in the English language."

The Epic
"Who are the heroes of these epics? To what extent was the classical epic a political project, a means of creating a founding myth for empire? How did the Renaissance revive the form and how successful were writers such as Milton in rendering the Christian story an epic? And what does the novel owe to the epic?"

The Greek Myths
"Are you a touch narcissistic? Do you have the body of an Adonis? Are you willing to undertake Herculean tasks or Promethean ventures? Perhaps you have an Oedipus complex?"

The Odyssey
"The Odyssey by Homer, often claimed as the great founding work of Western Literature. It's an epic that has entertained its audience for nearly three thousand years: It has shipwrecks, Cyclops, brave heroes and seductive sex goddesses. But it’s also got revenge, true love and existential angst. The story follows on from Homer's Iliad, and tells of the Greek hero Odysseus and his long attempt to get home to Ithaca after the Trojan War. "

The Oresteia
"Why did Aeschylus make the family the subject of his bloody revenge tragedy? How did his trilogy make a contribution to the development of Athenian legal institutions? And why has the Oresteia had such a powerful hold over the modern imagination?"

The Philosophy of Love
"How has the Western understanding of the Philosophy of Love developed since Plato? Has it always been about finding our ‘other half’?"

"In person Socrates was deliberately irritating, he was funny and he was rude; he didn’t like democracy very much and spent quite a lot of time in shoe shops. He claimed he was on a mission from God to educate his fellow Athenians but has left us nothing in his own hand because he refused to write anything down."

"Stoicism influenced the Christian church, had a big effect on Shakespeare and Renaissance drama and may even have given the British their 'stiff upper lip', but it's a philosophy that was almost forgotten in the 20th century. Does it still have a legacy for us today?"

"Shakespeare’s Iago says “Virtue! A fig! ‘tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are our gardens to the which our wills are gardeners."

"Shakespeare’s King Lear warned, “Nothing will come of nothing”. [...] What was it about zero that so repulsed their intellects? How was zero invented? And what role does zero play in mathematics today?"


Alexander Pope (editor)
"How did Pope manage to transform himself from a crippled outsider into a major cultural and moral authority? How did he shape our ideas about what a “modern author” is? Does his work still have resonances today or is it too firmly embedded in the politics, cultural life and rivalries of the period?"

"Does beauty really have a moral quality? And is it inherent in things, or in the mind of the observer? How much influence have Plato's ideas had on the history of aesthetics and what has been said to counter or develop them?"

Brave New World
"In Act V Scene I of Shakespeare's The Tempest, the character Miranda declares 'O wonder! How many Godly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O Brave new world! That has such people in it!'. It is perhaps the only line of Shakespeare to be made famous by someone else, for Brave New World is not associated with Prospero's Island of sprites, magic and wondrous noises, but with Aldous Huxley's dystopia of eugenics, soma and zero gravity tennis. A world, incidentally, upon which literary references to Shakespeare would be entirely lost."

"how did the Ancients establish the parameters of the true nature of friendship in the literature and philosophy that followed? How have different forms of friendship helped or hindered creativity and intellectual pursuit? What has been the apparent relationship between friendship and power? And what of the darker aspects of friendship - jealousy, envy and exploitation?"

History of Metaphor
"In Shakespeare's As You Like It, the melancholy Jaques declares: "All the world's a stage/And all the men and women merely players." This is a celebrated use of metaphor, a figure of speech in which one thing is used to describe another."

History's relevance in the 20th century
"Why is the study of history important? Is history relevant to us today? Are the truths likely to be yielded from history closer to those disclosed in great novels than the abstract general laws sought by social scientists? And what is the role of imagination in the writing of history?"

The Individual
"The Renaissance gave birth to the concept of the individual. Shakespeare defined this individual in language which accepted the primacy of the male gender: “What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form, in moving, how express and admirable!"

Inspiration and Genius
"Are geniuses born or made? And what are the circumstances necessary for the great leaps of consciousness that inspire the development of science and art? Did Einstein’s brain arrive like that - markedly different from the expected formation - or did it become like that through thought?"

Samuel Johnson
"Samuel Johnson was credited with defining English literature with his Lives of the Poets and his edition of Shakespeare, and of defining English language with his Dictionary. Yet despite those lofty acclamations he failed to get a degree, claimed he had never finished a book, was an inveterate hack who told his friend James Boswell, "No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money"."

The Scriblerus Club (Alexander Pope)
"The 18th century Club included some of the most extraordinary and vivid satirists ever to have written in the English language. We are given giants and midgets, implausible unions with Siamese twins, diving competitions into the open sewer of Fleet-ditch, and Olympic-style pissing competitions: "Who best can send on high/The salient spout, far streaming to the sky". "

1 comment:

Sylvia Morris said...

What a great idea for you to put these together! These programmes are a wonderful source of intelligent and informed discussion, and I've already spotted several that I remember hearing.