Simon Schama argues that it is impossible to understand how Shakespeare came to belong ‘to all time’ without understanding just how much he was of his time.
Schama explores how, in his history plays, Shakespeare created a vision of England that still rings true today. Against the backdrop of the Reformation, Shakespeare began to dramatize English history and the English character in a new and unprecedented way. From his first blockbuster, Henry VI, he made sure that his England was not just a place where King and Queens strutted and preened, but where ordinary Englishmen and women took centre stage.
It was inclusive vision that Shakespeare expanded upon in his masterpiece – Henry IV – a play which presents England in glorious technicolour: kings and pickpockets, country squires and common prostitutes, corrupt knights and ragged soldiers. And at the centre of it all is the outsized figure of Sir John Falstaff – a character that transfixed Elizabethan audiences and still moves us today.
Falstaff is Shakespeare’s most stupendous creation; an outsized dream of Englishness who embodies more purely the essence of English irreverence, generosity and wit that any of the characters with whom he shares the stage.
As well as this an extraordinary cast of actors deliver some of Shakespeare’s most moving and profound soliloquies.