Broadcaster: BBC FOUR
Year: 2014
Genre: Literature, Documentary, Renaissance Drama, Shakespeare

Review by: Lerah Mae Barcenilla

The Secret Life of Books is a six-part series, which ran from the 5th September to the 6th November 2014 and aims to uncover ‘the stories behind the creation of six classic British books.’ In this second instalment, Simon Russell Beale looks at what we can learn from Shakespeare’s First Folio. This is particularly relevant to first year English undergraduates in their second semester studying the module, EN1050: Shakespeare and his Contemporaries.

It is worth watching the whole episode, but here are particular scenes of note:

  • 0:03:00 – ‘…collaborated, worked with his fellow playwrights and actors and his great words weren’t always his. His plays changed during his own lifetime.’
  • 0:12:15 – three versions of Hamlet
  • 0:14:05 – why there was different versions of certain plays; good and bad quarto.

As a 30-minute documentary, the information provided is not very detailed. Nonetheless, studying Shakespeare and his contemporaries, such as the likes of Marlowe, Webster and Kyd, may help develop a newfound love and respect for the beauty of Renaissance plays and their playwrights. This episode is particularly interesting in that it shows the early copies of Shakespeare’s works and how they may have changed from their original forms – whether it be as a result of changes by the actor or as a result of co-authorship and collaboration with his fellow playwrights and perhaps, what it would sound like if the Shakespearean plays we are familiar with today were written differently.