The PBS series "Shakespeare Uncovered" is a mesmerizing six-pack of behind-the-play musings for casual fans to ardent Bardolators.
In each hour-long installment, noted Shakespearean actors and directors illuminate how the history, politics, business and social aspects of Elizabethan and Jacobean England influenced this planet's best writer, and why his canon continues to be produced throughout the centuries.
Ethan Hawke shepherds the Scottish play, Derek Jacobi presents "Richard II," and Joely Richardson explores the comedies "As You Like It" and "Twelfth Night." Director Trevor Nunn tackles "The Tempest," and Jeremy Irons takes on both "Henry IV" and "Henry V."
Scotsman David "Dr. Who" Tennant starred as Hamlet on stage and on film in 2008, so brings fresh knowledge about the most famous play of all time. At the British Library, he presents varying texts from the "Bad" Quarto to the Folio, and notes that the play "shouldn't still be relevant and contemporary, but it is. It's deeply ingrained in our culture. Just about everybody can quote a line or two."
Renowned Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt observes that the play's action-propelling ghost would have been familiar to audiences of the period, because "they knew the graveyard, and what it meant to bury your hopes." (Shakespeare himself lost his 11-year-old son Hamnet around the time he wrote the play). This revenge thriller of "monarchy, madness and murder" and its theme of bereavement and loss was probably first presented in London's Globe Theatre around 1601.
Tennant and his interviewees - including Jude Law, who played the melancholy Dane recently in London and on Broadway - all agree that it's Hamlet's questions that keep him alive, even today. Hamlet's only reliable and constant confidante is the audience, with whom he (and the actors playing him) shares his troubled soul via soliloquies. Hamlet is strikingly transparent, and mortal, and like every human he just wants to know why he is alive.
Even while dying, Hamlet bids Horatio to tell his story of living, and we're still listening today. The rest may be silence, but first, watch this series.