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Radio Documentary

Shakespeare in American Life

Sam Waterston

In celebration of its 75th anniversary, Folger Shakespeare Library presents “Shakespeare in American Life”—three one-hour radio documentaries exploring the influence of William Shakespeare’s works on American civic, political, and cultural life.  These programs are produced by award-winning public radio producer Richard Paul and narrated by Sam Waterston.  The documentary will be distributed by Public Radio International beginning in April 2007.

Series Promo Spot

Told in three parts, the story of “Shakespeare in American Life” includes:


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. Click on the link at right to hear a sample.

Download the Episode

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. Click on the link at right to hear a sample. 


Download the Episode

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. Click on the link at right to hear a sample.

Download the Episode

To view stations and air dates for the documentary, read program directors' reactions to the documentary or learn more about the three episodes, the team making the documentary, and our funders, click on the links at left.  


Funding for the project comes from the National Endowment for the Humanities: “great ideas brought to life,” the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes that a great nation deserves great art, The Lee and Juliet Folger Fund, and The Mosaic Foundation (of Rita & Peter Heydon). 


For PRI, major corporate underwriters include Volkswagen, Merck, and Medtronic.  Foundation support is provided by the Ford Foundation, The John D.  and Catherine T.  MacArthur Foundation, The Atlantic Philanthropies (USA) Inc., the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and many others.


More at the Shakespeare in American Life website at www.shakespeareinamericanlife.org


The Bible-Shakespeare Calendar. Calendar, 1916

Secondary School Shakespeare Festival

Related Items

Shakespeare in American Life Website

Shakespeare in Performance sample clip

Education and Civic Life sample clip

Shakespeare in American Politics sample clip

Learn More About Producer Richard Paul


The Mosaic Foundation

     of Rita and Peter Heydon


The Lee and Juliet Folger Fund

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