Wednesday, September 10, 2014
As the BBC website describes, in The Secret Life of Books, "Six classic British books are considered with a fresh eye. Returning to the authors' original manuscripts and letters, expert writers and performers bring their personal insights to these great works." Given the eclectic mix of books chosen, it wasn't exactly certain that Shakespeare's Folio would appear especially since it's been so well served on television previously not least during The Big Read whose campaigning series this 6x30mins superficially resembles.
There's a short potted history of Shakespeare's publishing history, the usually glee at the sheer apparent wrongness of "To Be Or Not To Be..." in the original quarto which Beale attempts to read out loud from the British Library copy, the words crumbling in his mouth. Perhaps some day we'll have a series of programmes about literature's oddities which'll look at more closely. The programme doesn't come to any real conclusions about its origin and even uses the words "bad quarto" almost in a pejorative sense as though it's a term we used in the past but we're much more enlightened now.
It's interesting to note the extent that scholarship has mode on that this kind of programme is now comfortable enough to stress Shakespeare as a collaborator in a way which I've not quite seen with such force in this kind of veneration. That make's the oddity that the BL's manuscript copy of Sir Thomas More with its page and a half of potential Shakespeare handwriting isn't mentioned while Beale talks about how we don't have the ability to see the playwright's original papers quite strange.
Nevertheless this an enjoyable half hour and even more so thanks to Beale's own performance of speeches from Lear (which appeared in at the National during the production of the film), Timon of Athens and Hamlet which is represented by his heart-stopping rendition of "To Be Or Not To Be..." stood on the banks of the Thames, words spoken with a force of understanding which I've rarely seen, especially in extract. You can really tell that this an actor whose lived with the play and Shakespeare's words his entire life.
The Secret Life of Books: Shakespeare's First Folio is on the iPlayer here and available to watch for the next month in the relevant territories.
Clips from the programme can be sampled here.