Episode 1 A Time Of Revolution – Sets Shakespeare’s life in the early years of Elizabeth’s reign, at the beginning of Elizabeth’s Cultural Revolution. We set the scene with the seesaw politics of England in the twenty years since Henry VIII’s split with Rome. The age is marked by the battle of conscience and power, which will lead to religious and class struggle, and eventually to Civil War. Through local documents and with the help of the modern day town councilors we follow William’s father’s career in a small town, rising to become Alderman and Mayor. Contrary to the myth, Shakespeare came from an upwardly mobile family. Dad makes money, not only as a glover, but by money lending and illegally dealing in wool, as we learn from recently discovered court cases. His eldest son William is one of the privileged few, brought up in a nice house, with money, servants, and a good education. Suddenly, William’s world turns upside down. His father is hounded by informers, loses his fortune and sells off his lands. Now we learn the family’s dark secret In the new Protestant state of Elizabeth, Shakespeare’s family is loyal to the old faith. So from the start he has a foot in both worlds he knows what it is like to be an outsider, a part of the persecuted minority. Between the ages of 12 and 15 his family is ruined as the government turns up the heat in its persecution of the old religion.
Episode 2 The Lost Years – Shakespeare’s “missing years” have mystified scholars for centuries. Michael Wood explores conflicting theories of how Shakespeare spent the ten years between his marriage to Anne Hathaway and his emergence as a star writer in London. Apart from the birth of his three children absolutely nothing is known about Shakespeare’s life between the ages of 18 and 28, but there are some intriguing clues. Wood first checks out a fascinating theory which takes young William up to serve in an old Catholic house near Preston in Lancashire. There Michael meets the Hoghton family, who believe a family will proves Shakespeare lived with them. Wood also investigates the possibility that Shakespeare first trod the boards in an ancient hall at Rufford near Liverpool. From such humble beginnings, how then did William learn his craft as an actor and playwright? Wood examines the theory that Shakespeare joined Elizabeth’s government propaganda company, the Queen’s Men, in the year before the Spanish Armada. Greg Doran and a company of actors from the Royal Shakespeare Company bring their long forgotten scripts back to life, offering a unique insight into the humor of the times. Using original documentation, Wood traces the downfall of Shakespeare’s great rival Christopher Marlowe, recreating his fateful last journey, and, again aided by the Royal Shakespeare Company, unveils some of Shakespeare’s earliest works. With the death of Marlowe, fame and fortune beckon for the young bard, but ahead too lie trauma and loss, both in life and in love.
Episode 3 The Duty of Poets – Michael Wood uncovers Shakespeare’s rise to fame and fortune in Elizabethan London, and the disasters in life and love which marked his path to greatness. 1590s England was still split by religious conflict. Rejecting the plea to write religious poetry, Shakespeare pens “Romeo and Juliet” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” cementing his place as England’s greatest popular playwright. At this moment, Will’s only son, Hamnet, dies aged 11. Plunged into a mid life crisis, William falls in love with beautiful teenage nobleman, and has a passionate sexual affair with a mysterious married woman. Here he writes one of his greatest characters, Falstaff, whom the English immediately took to their hearts. Forced out by their landlord, Shakespeare’s company rebuilds its theater south of the river as the Globe, and the greatest phase of his career begins.In his late thirties, pursuing his own path between the extremes, Shakespeare had hit on the true duty of poets “to speak what we feel not what we ought to say.”
Episode 4 For All Time – In the final episode of his historical detective story Michael Wood uncovers the story of Shakespeare’s life in the “New Age” of King James I. We discover Shakespeare’s neighborhood in London where he lived with a French Huguenot family and played a fascinating part in the marriage of their daughter. Wood visits the present Queen’s robe makers Ede and Ravenscroft and finds evidence for Shakespeare’s role in the royal coronation.