Shakespeare's Restless World – a new
BBC and British Museum radio series

British Museum Director Neil MacGregor presents Shakespeare's Restless World, a new series for Radio 4, and part of a wider BBC Shakespeare Season. The 20-part series looks at the world through the eyes of Shakespeare's audience by exploring objects from that turbulent period.

Examining these objects, Neil discusses how Elizabethan playgoers understood and made sense of the unstable and rapidly changing world in which they lived. With old certainties shifting around them, in a time of political and religious unrest and economic expansion, Neil asks what the plays would have meant to the public when they were first performed. He uses carefully selected objects to explore the great issues of the day that preoccupied the public and helped shape the works, and considers what they can reveal about the concerns and beliefs of Shakespearean England.

Gwyneth Williams, Controller, BBC Radio 4 says: 'I am thrilled to welcome Neil MacGregor back to Radio 4 to present our Shakespeare series. His perspective, as you would expect, is original and inspiring and I recommend these programmes as a framework within which to approach and enjoy this special celebratory year of Shakespeare. Scholarship and a unique understanding of significant objects of the period bring alive the restless years and uncertain times in which Shakespeare wrote. Thus, through Neil’s analysis, just as we are enlightened historically, we are reminded again of our common humanity.'

Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum says: 'This series gives us a chance to understand what life was like in the turbulent world of William Shakespeare. Using 20 objects from the period – some grand, some everyday things – we can explore what the world looked like to the groundlings in the Globe and try to understand Shakespeare’s restless world.'

Shakespeare scholars and historians share their expertise on the wide ranging subjects raised in the series – from witchcraft and warfare to fencing and food, and from luxury trade and religion to cruelty and deception. Such experts as the eminent historians Eamon Duffy and Keith Thomas, Chief Associate Director of the RSC, Greg Doran, National Theatre Director Nicholas Hytner and fight director Alison de Burgh, discuss the issues these objects raise - everything from exploration and discovery to violence, entertainment and the plague. Bringing to life some of Shakespeare's inspiring speeches are actors, including Rory Kinnear, Don Warrington, Don Gilet, Hattie Morahan, David Warner and John Heffernan.

The objects are drawn not only from the British Museum, but from an eclectic array of collections around the country including: The National Museum of Wales, the National Museum of Scotland, The Royal Armouries at Leeds, Edinburgh University Library, Westminster Abbey, the British Library and Stonyhurst College. They vary from the magnificent to the prosaic, from ceremonial to the everyday.

Audiences will be able to follow the series, and find a wealth of extra content online. The site, built by the BBC working in collaboration with the British Museum, will follow a similar model to the award-winning A History of the World site. The programmes will be made permanently available to listen to online and download. The objects, from the British Museum and institutions across the UK, can be viewed in deep zoom, along with in depth information about the object and their place in the culture and society of Shakespeare's world. The site will feature video clips, along with a rich selection of related programmes from the Radio 4 archive. The audience will be invited to comment and debate on the site and across social media. The site will remain online and accessible across mobiles and tablet devices.

Shakespeare’s Restless World will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 from 16 April 2012 at 13.45 and 19.45.

The BP Exhibition Shakespeare: staging the world is supported by BP and will run at the British Museum from 19 July – 25 November 2012. The exhibition will feature key objects focussed on in the series.


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Neil MacGregor in the recording studio.