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November marks 400 years since arguably the greatest work of English literature was created, the ‘First Folio’, published seven years after the death of William Shakespeare and without which much of his work would have been lost for future generations to enjoy today.

The BBC is celebrating this extraordinary anniversary with an ambitious season of content across TV, Radio, BBC iPlayer & BBC Sounds exploring why, 400 years on, Shakespeare's relevance and influence is as strong as ever.

A wealth of programming featuring major actors and leading experts, including new documentaries, performance, music, drama, comedy, news coverage and the best of the BBC archive, as well as special items on flagship BBC shows, will celebrate the man, his world and his timeless writing.

Highlights include:

  • Major three part boxset for BBC Two and iPlayer – Shakespeare: Rise of a Genius with an A-list cast of actors, including Dame Judi Dench, Dame Helen Mirren, Brian Cox, Adrian Lester, Lolita Chakrabarti, Martin Freeman and Jessie Buckley, alongside academics and writers including James Shapiro and Jeanette Winterson, bringing fresh insights into the story of our greatest writer. The series is narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

  • BBC Four to feature star-studded selection of archive performances throughout October with specially filmed introductions from David Tennant, Sir Richard Eyre, Sir Simon Russell Beale, Sir Ian McKellen, Dame Janet Suzman, Gregory Doran, Russell T Davies, Dame Helen Mirren, Steven Berkoff and Hugh Quarshie; a brand new performance of Hamlet from the Bristol Old Vic with rising star Billy Howle in the title role; and Shakespeare’s Sonnets, A Modern Love Story includes performances from Rose Ayling Ellis, Eloka Ivo, Eben Figueiredo and Ioanna Kimbook.

  • Shakespeare content across the airwaves in the run up to Folio Day – 8 November - on flagship BBC shows including Bargain Hunt, EastEnders and The One Show.

  • On BBC Radio 4, there is new comedy drama, First Folio; Dame Judi Dench is John Wilson’s guest on This Cultural Life; and Greg Jenner presents a special edition of hit podcast You’re Dead to Me.

  • BBC Radio 3 is dedicating a day exclusively to music inspired by Shakespeare as well as bringing audiences new dramas inspired by Hamlet.

  • BBC Teach have created a brand new9-part animation of Romeo and Juliet for primary schools.

Suzy Klein, Head of BBC Arts and Classical TV, says: “Shakespeare lived in a dangerous age of plague, violence, vicious rivalries and political assassinations and his very survival is something of a miracle. His work was almost lost to history, and without the First Folio being published in 1623, eighteen of his greatest plays would have been lost forever...

"We would have none of those immortal characters such as Cleopatra and Marc Anthony, Macbeth or Malvolio, Prospero and Ariel. Shakespeare changed the way we talk, the words we use, our films, books, catchphrases and memes, the very way we think – and yet we know very little about him...

"This major new season pieces together the clues from his life and work to reveal the driving forces behind the glover's son from Stratford upon Avon who became the greatest writer that ever lived. ”

Charlotte Moore, BBC Chief Content Officer, says: “The BBC has a rich history of showcasing Shakespeare and bringing his works alive to successive generations. The 400th anniversary of the publication of the First Folio is an important opportunity to build on this legacy with an ambitious array of programming across the BBC celebrating the genius of our greatest writer...

"With documentaries, performance, music, drama, comedy and educational content as well as the very best of the BBC’s extraordinary archive, this season demonstrates our commitment to offering audiences programming they wouldn’t find anywhere else.”

The centrepiece of the season is a gripping three-part documentary series for BBC Two and iPlayer, Shakespeare: Rise of a Genius, featuring an A-list cast of actors, including Dame Judi Dench, Dame Helen Mirren, Brian Cox, Adrian Lester, Lolita Chakrabarti, Martin Freeman and Jessie Buckley.

Alongside academics and writers James Shapiro, Jeanette Winterson, Lucy Jago , Jeremy O’Harris and Ewan Fernie - who provide fresh insights into the incredible story of our greatest writer, the place and time he inhabited and the work he produced. The series is made by 72 Films (a Fremantle company), the award-winning producers of Rise of the Nazis, Elizabeth’s Secret Agents.

Contributing to the series, Dame Judi Dench, says: “His understanding of everything, of love, of anger, of jealousy, of rage, melancholy – who did it better, who has ever done it better? I wish I’d met him, oh I wish I’d met him.”

BBC Four will be showing a number of acclaimed performances of Shakespeare's greatest plays including Hamlet from the Bristol Old Vic featuring rising star Billy Howle in the title role; Henry V from Shakespeare’s Globe with Jamie Parker in the lead role; the RSC’s Henry VI Part 1 with Sir Antony Sher in the role of Falstaff; and the RSC’s Much Ado About Nothing.

Shakespeare’s Sonnets: A Modern Love Story features actors Rose Ayling Ellis, Eben Figueiredo, Eloka Ivo and Ioanna Kimbook performing a collection of sonnets in a fresh and innovative way.

On BBC Radio 4 – Dame Judi Dench, one of Britain’s foremost Shakespearean actors will be John Wilson’s guest on This Cultural Life. A special edition of Front Row: 1623 Review Show will see the panel and guests go back in time to review the music, poems and plays from the year that the First Folio was published.

In addition, First Folio, a new semi-fictionalised comic drama tells the story of the creation of the first book of Shakespeare’s plays and You’re Dead To Me, has a special edition recorded in front of an audience at the Shakespeare North Playhouse.

In addition, BBC Teach will publish a collated collection of resources for primary and secondary schools to mark the anniversary, including a new nine-part video animation of Romeo and Juliet for primary schools.


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