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Shakespeare & Beyond

Marking a milestone: 200 episodes of Shakespeare Unlimited

This month, the Folger’s Shakespeare Unlimited podcast released its 200th episode. Over nearly 10 years, we’ve shared more than hundred hours of insightful conversations about Shakespeare, his world, and his legacy. We’ve chatted with guests including actors Sir Ian McKellen, Glenda Jackson, Sir Derek Jacobi, Sir Antony Sher, Dame Harriet Walter, Olivia Hussey, Keith Hamilton Cobb, and Paterson Joseph; directors Sir Peter Brook, Kenny Leon, Adrian Noble, Peter Sellars, Michael Kahn, and Phyllida Lloyd; writers Maggie O’Farrell, Billy Collins, Mark Haddon, and Deborah Harkness; scholars Stephen Greenblatt, James Shapiro, Ayanna Thompson, Kim Hall, and Emma Smith; and other brilliant Shakespeareans. Put simply, it’s been quite a run.

Episode 200 features an interview with Dr. Ian Smith of Lafayette College about his new book, Black Shakespeare: Reading and Misreading Race. Smith, who will deliver our 2023 Shakespeare’s Birthday Lecture, is returning to the podcast for a second time, after appearing with Ayanna Thompson on Episode 50.

To celebrate hitting 200 episodes, we went back to revisit our five most popular episodes to date. Take a listen, and tell us in the comments what your favorite episode is!

#5: Shakespeare’s Language and Race, with Patricia Akhimie and Carol Mejia LaPerle

Scholars Patricia Akhimie—whom we recently announced would be joining us as the new director of the Folger Institute—and Carol Mejia LaPerle join us to talk about their chapters in the Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare and Race. Together, they discuss the ways that Shakespeare’s language—think descriptors like “fair,” “sooty,” “alabaster”—constructs and enshrines systems of race and racism. Learn more and read a transcript.

#4: Lena Cowen Orlin on The Private Life of William Shakespeare

Orlin’s The Private Life of William Shakespeare is an exhaustive return to the primary sources that document Shakespeare’s life, a book that scholar James Shapiro says “demolishes shoddy claims and biased inferences that have distorted our understanding of Shakespeare’s life.” We talk to Orlin about a few of the most talked-about elements of Shakespeare’s biography, including his relationship with Anne Shakespeare, how he escaped an apprenticeship and career in Stratford-upon-Avon, and his funerary monument in Stratford’s Holy Trinity Church, which Orlin argues he likely commissioned himself. Learn more and read a transcript.

#3: How We Hear Shakespeare’s Plays, with Carla Della Gatta

What do we hear when we hear one of Shakespeare’s plays? What information do we gather from its words, music, or sound effects? What if it has been adapted, updated, or translated? Carla Della Gatta of Florida State University tells us about the aural effects of Shakespeare’s plays. Learn more and read a transcript.

#2: Shakespeare and the British Royal Family, with Gordon McMullan

2022 was a big year in the life of the British monarchy, as King Charles III ascended to the throne after the 70-year reign of Queen Elizabeth II. Gordon McMullan, Principal Investigator of the online exhibition Making History: Shakespeare and the Royal Family, tells us about the long, calculated relationship between Shakespeare and the British royal family. Learn more and read a transcript.

#1: Maggie O’Farrell on Hamnet

We talk to the author of Hamnet, one of the most talked-about books of the past three years. She tells us about how the idea for story came to her, the way she imagines Shakespeare and his family, and what she learned in the process of writing the book. Learn more and read a transcript.

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