9:00pm Friday 29 June on BBC TWO
Simon Schama explores Shakespeare’s attitude to the other great subject of his day – Kingship. He asks how far Shakespeare’s most profound tragedies, including Richard II, Hamlet, Macbeth and King Lear, were inspired by his own experience of writing for the courts of Elizabeth and James I.
Elizabeth, the consummate royal actress in decline, was to prove a powerful muse, while James’s own obsessions and inviolable sense of his own grandeur inspired Shakespeare to probe deeper into the royal mind than had been done before.
Schama asks whether seeing the royals’ frailty, vanity and folly first-hand fired Shakespeare’s imagination, inspiring him on to explore the great themes of power and ambition. In his plays kings murdered their way to the throne and went mad, as he stripped away the mask of royalty to reveal the flawed men underneath. Somehow, he got away with it and revealed profound truths not just about kings but about the rest of us too.
An extraordinary cast of actors deliver some of Shakespeare’s most moving and profound soliloquies. The actors include Judi Dench, Simon Russell Beale, Tobias Menzies, Roger Allam and Harriet Walter.