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Shakespeare in American Life

Shakespeare Becomes American: Shakespeare in Performance

Shakespeare is everywhere in America, including musicals, festivals, television, and the movies.  The documentary explores how American Shakespeare has been shaped by the American experience.  From the young nation’s earliest days, when an “American” acting style first took shape, to the influence of African-Americans on Shakespeare on stage, to method acting, to Hollywood, America and Americans—actors, directors, and audiences—have made Shakespeare our own.

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Shakespeare in Education and Civic Life
After the American revolution, there were real questions about whether America should adopt British culture and literature—including Shakespeare’s plays—or create its own.  The documentary follows Shakespeare’s path in the years that followed, including his surprisingly late arrival in the classroom and his role in major movements like the push west, the establishment of cities, the Civil War, and the immigrant experience.  It also explores America’s fascination with Shakespeare outdoors.


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Shakespeare in American Politics
John Adams was a Shakespeare enthusiast who filled his diaries with mentions of the plays.  Janet Reno assembled her staff to read King Lear.  In 1849, disputes over British and American acting styles touched off a deadly riot. The most famous black Shakespearean of the 19th century was an American who went to Europe after he saw black actors arrested for performing Shakespeare in the US. In the 1980s, Shakespeare was drawn into battles over race and gender on college campuses.  This program explores how Shakespeare’s work has intertwined itself with American electoral politics, geopolitics, and racial, class and academic politics.  It also explores how Shakespeare has been used for political purposes throughout American history.

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Sam Waterston

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