BBC Television Shakespeare

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In 1978 the BBC, which had sporadically televised a number of Shakespeare's plays, embarked on a plan to produce all of them at the rate of about six a year. Cedric Messina was originally in charge of the project; Jonathan Miller took over after two years, to be succeeded by Shaun Sutton. Directors include Miller himself, Elijah Moshinsky, Jane Howell, David Jones, etc. Some cuts are made (The Taming of the Shrew loses the Christopher Sly scenes), though the early histories, for example, are given in exceptionally full texts. The costumes are mostly of Shakespeare's time or of the historical period represented, and settings are generally representational. They include distinguished performances by e.g. John Gielgud, Celia Johnson, Claire Bloom, Derek Jacobi, Richard Pasco, Helen Mirren, Michael Hordern, and others, sometimes repeating roles they have played on stage. Production styles have been criticized as unadventurous; some of the less popular plays (e.g. All's Well that Ends Well, Henry VIII) have succeeded best. The series was completed in 1985 with Titus Andronicus and has had an international distribution. An account of the venture is provided by The BBC Shakespeare Plays: Making the Televised Canon (1991) by Susan Willis. Plays have subsequently been commissioned and filmed by the BBC, e.g. Measure for Measure (1994), Henry IV (1995, and the Bard on the Box season of programmes in 1995 included documentaries, workshops, and performances.

Subjects: Shakespeare Studies and Criticism.

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