The United Kingdom is a tiny island in the Northern Atlantic that once ruled a vast expanse of the globe. While today, that empire is a vestigial tail of what it once was, but its primary export still reflects that legacy: Culture. For centuries, the British way of life has been touted as superior, from the posh accent to the English language to the cups of tea. While people may not mindlessly accept that as they once did, there is one crown jewel that has stood the test of time and changing social mores: William Shakespeare, whose first full, complete, posthumously published works turn 400 next month.
The U.K., naturally, is going all out, with the BBC airing Shakespeare films and histories and so forth, and other projects commissioned about the creation of the almost-ubiquitous compendium of plays. But PBS will also be getting in on the action, with Great Performances airing an episode dedicated to the Bard. Entitled Making Shakespeare: The First Folio, the special will deep dive into the history behind the struggle to gather all of Shakespeare's known works into one place, including how it saved 18 plays from being lost to history.
Great Performances also has a long-running history with New York Public Theater, the company behind the famous "Shakespeare in the Park" series of plays performed in Central Park since the mid-1950s and recently celebrated their 60th anniversary. The special brings in the continuing efforts by the company to keep Shakespeare relevant for modern audiences and how his works can speak to the essential human condition so profoundly that they've transcended centuries, mediums, and even the very empire that spawned them.
Here's the episode's synopsis:
Celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s First Folio, which saved 18 plays from being lost. Tracing the First Folio’s story, the film also spotlights how New York City’s Public Theater presents Shakespeare’s work for today’s audiences.
Great Performances is currently in its 51st season on PBS, airing on most stations on Friday evenings in primetime and arriving on the PBS app the same day, with a 30-day delay before streaming on PBS Passport for members. Making Shakespeare: The First Folio looks to be following that schedule, premiering Friday, November 17, at 9 p.m. ET on linear and the PBS app and then debuting on PBS Passport one month later on Saturday, December 16, 2023. As always, check your local listings.