Making Shakespeare

Great Performances traces the history of Shakespeare’s First Folio and spotlights the impact of Shakespeare on today’s world.

Great Performances

FRIDAY at 8:30PM

With only half of Shakespeare’s plays published before his death, often in inaccurate and incomplete versions, the "First Folio" was the first published collection of William Shakespeare’s full plays. Produced seven years after Shakespeare’s death, it preserved the other half of the Bard’s works including beloved plays like “The Tempest,” “Julius Caesar,” “Twelfth Night” and “Macbeth” which would have otherwise been lost to time. As Professor Jonathan Bate explains: “The First Folio is the most important secular book in the history of the Western World.” On the 400th anniversary of its publication, Great Performances – Making Shakespeare: The First Folio explores the story behind the folio and why it is so important.

Narrated by Emmy, Tony, and Grammy award winner Audra McDonald and from the directors and producers of Shakespeare Uncovered, Great Performances – Making Shakespeare: The First Folio tells the story of Shakespeare’s fellow actors John Heminges and Henry Condell’s enterprise to create the book. The film shows their struggle securing finances, tracing the scripts and choosing between versions of the published plays available. Printing the 900-page volume proved to be a challenge with all the complexities and inadequacies of 17th century printing techniques.

Only approximately 750 First Folios have been printed, and these copies have made their way around the world. Great Performances – Making Shakespeare: The First Folio showcases several folios with notable owners. King Charles III examined one that was also owned and cherished by King Charles I before his execution. The film uncovers the mystery owner of a folio who had remained anonymous for four centuries, later revealed to be the celebrated English poet John Milton. Emmy Award-winning actor Brian Cox and his wife and fellow actor Nicole Ansari also discover more about great American Shakespeare lover Henry Folger, a folio collector who amassed a third of all known folios. Great Performances – Making Shakespeare: The First Folio follows the trail of the infamous stolen Durham folio as it made its way across the Atlantic. It was finally identified and recovered 20 years later.

Featuring numerous museums and universities, Great Performances – Making Shakespeare: The First Folio spotlights the work of the Public Theater in New York City, including their bilingual musical version of “Comedy of Errors” that tours New York’s diverse neighborhoods. The film spotlights 11-year-old students from the Bronx who make their own interpretation of “Romeo and Juliet.” See behind the scenes of Kenny Leon’s Shakespeare in the Park production of “Hamlet,” set in Atlanta, Georgia that uncovers a Shakespeare who challenges racism and violence in America today.

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