Last Night's viewing: The King and the Playwright: a Jacobean History, BBC4
Scott & Bailey, ITV1

 

In Jacobean London, a city of just 200,000 people, there were eight theatres. By my calculation (a phrase that, it might be worth saying, is not an unimpeachable guarantee of mathematical accuracy), that would mean that we'd need more than 300 theatres today to match them, in per capita terms, for the eagerness of their theatre-going. Some qualifications are necessary, though. They obviously couldn't stay in and watch Scott & Bailey instead of heading off to the Globe for Shakespeare's latest. And if they wanted a commentary on contemporary events they couldn't turn to Newsnight. The players were, as Hamlet said but James Shapiro did not, "the abstracts and brief chronicles of the time". What James Shapiro did say in The King and the Playwright: a Jacobean History, the first of his series on the Shakespeare of James I's reign, was this: "Forgive the prop. It's visual shorthand for news." He waved the newspaper he'd been discovered reading at the camera, as if mildly testy at the theatricals to which the modern scholar-presenter has to submit himself.

The point he was making was much the same anyway. The stage could be a kind of op-ed column by other means, heavily coded, naturally, since the price of offending the powerful could be far more substantial than a blistering post in the below-the-line comments. You could have your nostrils slashed and your ears cut off, or find yourself in jail, as Ben Jonson did after unwisely giving voice to widespread anti-Scots prejudice in his play Eastward Hoe. And Shapiro's main business here is to map Shakespeare's late plays on to the politics and the tensions of the Jacobean period, much as he did for Elizabeth I in his bestselling book 1599.

First to get the treatment was Measure for Measure, not the first Shakespeare play to be presented before the new king (he glutted himself with plays during the Christmas of 1603) but probably the first to be written in his reign. James, his biographer told Shapiro, hated crowds and was awkward with people, a man far happier in a library or on a hunting field than playing the part of a king. Or, as the Duke puts it, "I love the people but do not like to stage me to their eyes." What's more, Measure for Measure addresses the very issues of good (practical) governance versus good (pious) governance that were preoccupying James at the start of his reign. Roxana Silbert, director of a recent RSC production of the play that provided illustration for The King and the Playwright, obligingly supplied a contemporary television analogy: "It's not a million miles away from Undercover Boss."

You might jib at that, but a million miles gives you a fair amount of leeway, I suppose. And as the film continued you felt the gap between particular plays and their notional references did need a more generous measure of proximity. Timon of Athens, we were told, alluded to James's problems with profligacy and debt, while King Lear offered a refracted vision of the anxieties generated by King James's vision of political union and tacitly rebuked a king who had "kept perpetual Christmas". "Only Shakespeare could have been so bold," Shapiro said, a phrase that sat a little oddly with his earlier suggestion that Shakespeare was far too canny an operator ever to take the risk of directly offending the powers that be. By the sound of it, Ben Jonson was a lot bolder.

If police dramas are the "abstracts and brief chronicles" of our times then it seems we're very worried about postcode gangs and baby-mothers, at the heart of last night's Scott & Bailey. Or rather, not really at its heart, since the crimes in this series are always subsidiary to the emotional entanglements. In last night's episode, the case was concluded so brusquely that it was as if someone had suddenly noticed the clock and thought, "Blimey, is that the time! Less gossip, more action".

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker