Shakespeare at the BBC: Beyond The Hollow Crown

Tonight sees the start of the BBC's long awaited series of adaptations of the Henriad, beginning with Richard II under the umbrella title The Hollow Crown. The pre-broadcast reviews and trailers suggest this is going to be one of the great televisual events and there's been a suggestion that if the ratings hold up, the BBC might be convinced to produce some more, perhaps the whole lot.

In an entirely presumptuous move, especially since none of this has been broadcast yet, I wondered how the BBC might go about selecting the plays for production and assuming they continued with the entirely sensible umbrella title idea how they might be grouped together. A second series comprising the other Henriad ending with Richard III is most obvious but what about the rest, those plays who's connection is more tenuous?

The Hollow Crown
 Richard II
Henry IV, p1
Henry IV, p2
Henry V

The Hollow Crown II
 Henry VI, p1
Henry VI, p2
Henry VI, p3
Richard III

The Two Gentlemen of Verona
The Merchant of Venice
Romeo and Juliet

 Much Ado About Nothing
Measure for Measure
The Winter’s Tale

Sibling Rivalries
 Twelfth Night
King Lear
The Comedy of Errors
The Taming of the Shrew

 As You Like It
Edward III
King John
Alls Well That Ends Well

 The Merry Wives of Windsor
Henry VIII
Sir Thomas More
Love’s Labour’s Lost

Classical World
 Troilus and Cressida
Timon of Athens
The Two Noble Kinsmen

 Titus Andronicus
Julius Caesar
Anthony and Cleopatra

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
The Tempest

As you can see I've tried to think with a television scheduler's brain, putting the better known plays at the top and bottom of each series with the wilder material in the middle, including the audacious inclusion of some of the outlying regions of the canon like Sir Thomas More and Edward III neither of which are likely to be filmed in a million years. Or Cardenio, depending on who's version of the text is used (assuming it isn't a new adaptation).

Some of my choices are perfectly obvious, as in these are all plays which have some kind of deception within or these are all set in Italy and France. I've tried to be a bit innovative so "Gloriana" features plays which have some connection to Elizabeth I (reputed to have suggest, her Dad, her Dad, potential allegory) and it's not often these plays featuring spirits are put together in quite this way.

Probably the least appetising from a modern commissioning standpoint is "Classical World" with its three collaborations and opening with a play which few people know much about to begin with.  Logistically Rome's the hardest with its five plays and many locations but there's potential casting connections between JC and A&C.  Please do let me know if you can think of any other ways of grouping the plays together.

Some of the groupings are with an eye to television production. Following The Hollow Crown's lead and boring the pants off Jonathan Miller (who went out of his way not to do this in his BBC Shakespeare's in the 80s) these will all be in period dress so it makes sense to have all the Roman plays together so that props/sets can be reused. Though of course that goes out of the window when it comes to the deception plays.

I'm under no illusions about this. Our luck no matter how well The Hollow Crown does, the BBC'll probably only see it as part of their Olympic celebrations and leave it at that. Plus if they follow this plan, it's a ten year commitment and expensive. But at least I've thought about the logistics and the logic of producing Macbeth, Hamlet and JC so soon after the recent productions and putting them late in the schedule, the best until last.

The Hollow Crown begins tonight at 9pm on BBC Two.

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