Fans of the BBC's much acclaimed series A History of the World in 100 Objects will probably want to take a look at a new series just getting started called Shakespeare's Restless World. Hosted by British Museum Director Neil MacGregor, each episode runs for approximately 15 minutes and focuses on a significant object from the Museum and what it shows about how the playwright and his audience were dealing with a world that was going through turbulent changes as earth shaking as the 20th century venture into space. Episodes are broadcast Monday through Friday at 1:45pm and 7:45pm on BBC 4. They are also available as podcasts.
After a short introductory opening, the second episode looks at a medal cast to commemorate Sir Francis Drake's circumnavigation of the globe and shows how his voyage symbolized the way the world was changed by the wave of exploration throughout Europe. Not only did it feed the British public's nationalistic pride but it promised all sorts of exotic new experiences and knowledge. MacGregor points out how exploration informed passages in plays like A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Comedy of Errors. He even suggests that the new interest in the wider world as evidenced by the publication of something like the first book of maps might have been one reason for the name given to the new theater built by Shakespeare's company.
The second episode looks at the role of religion in everyday life through a silver communion cup from Holy Trinity Church in Stratford on Avon dating from 1571-2. The website indicates that the cup was brought to Stratford when Shakespeare was young to reinforce Elizabeth's support for Protestantism. It demonstrates the significance of religion in politics during the period.
Twenty episodes are planned for the series over four weeks. The object to be dealt with in each episode is pictured on the Shakespeare's Restless World website. Included are things like design proposals for a new British flag after the assent of James I to the throne, a Reliquary containing the right eye of Blessed Edward Oldcorne, and a musical clock. Perhaps a mite less ambitious than its predecessor, this new series is both informative and entertaining. It is 15 minutes well spent.