Shakespeare's Restless World Radio 4, Monday-Friday / Shakespeare's Playlist, Radio 4, Saturday
Shakespeare – the hoodie with the headphones
In 1596, one William Waite was allegedly set upon by four thugs on the south
bank of the Thames, an area notorious for its boozing, brawling and whoring. The
case was eventually settled out of court. We know for certain the identity of
one of the four. His name was William Shakespeare.
This was one of the revelations that made the first week of the 20-part Shakespeare's Restless World so tremendously impressive. Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, more or less invented a new genre of historical investigation in 2010 with his consistently enlightening A History of the World In 100 Objects. Now he's doing his bit for the BBC's celebration of all things British in the run-up to the Olympics with a more narrowly focused variation on the theme.
Though the template is the same – the Waite story emerged on Friday, while MacGregor was examining a rapier found by the Thames – there's a slightly lighter, almost skittish feel to it. So when the fatal fight between Mercutio and Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet comes up, he describes the play as "not so much Love Story as A Clockwork Orange". I'm looking forward to the other 15 installments.
There's another burgeoning radio genre, what might be termed mp3 history: after Jane Austen's iPod and The Brontës' Piano, the pre-Olympic Bardfest continued yesterday with Shakespeare's Playlist, looking at music the playwright probably heard.
It was as fascinating in its own way as MacGregor's efforts, but what was most remarkable to these ears was how contemporary the music sounded: there were plenty of hey-nonny-nos and fa-la-las, but in dark, twisting melodies with some almost bluesy intervals and surprising key changes.
We also learnt that Shakespeare usually concluded his plays, even the tragedies, with a "jig" – not a dance but a short farce, usually so bawdy that old men in the audience would be so inflamed with lust (even though the women's parts were played by men) that they'd have to take themselves off to the brothels of Southwark to round the night off. As London's tourist trade accelerates with the approach of the Olympics, this is maybe the kind of package deal our ticket agencies should be thinking of.
Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing
Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Astrological signs are almost all wrong, as movement of moon and sun throws out zodiac
- 2 Dad eats daughter's weed brownies, thinks he's had a stroke
- 3 The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
- 4 #FreeTheNipple: Women in Iceland bare breasts in solidarity with trolled student
- 5 Scientists have discovered a simple way to cook rice that dramatically cuts the calories
Jeremy Clarkson to host BBC's Have I Got News For You despite Top Gear exit
James Bond Spectre trailer drops on YouTube
Zayn Malik already working on solo material, just days after quitting One Direction
A historian gave the most British look of despair when someone screwed up Richard III's birthday at his reburial
Kay Burley 'bias' against Ed Miliband prompts 130 complaints to Ofcom
Nigel Farage brands LGBT activists 'filth' and 'scum' and accuses them of scaring away his children after they invade his local pub
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
Russia threatens Denmark with nuclear weapons if it tries to join Nato defence shield
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
Germanwings plane crash: Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz wanted to 'do something people would remember him for'