BBC Television Shakespeare

BBC Two (ended 1985)




Episode Guide


  • Season 1
    • Titus Andronicus
      Titus Andronicus
      Episode 37
      Saturninus and Bassianus are struggling over the succession to Rome's imperial throne, but the likely winner is general Titus Andronicus. Titus has brought Tamora, Queen of the Goths, to Rome as a prisoner of war, with her family, and a bloodbath develops. For more, see Recap.
    • Love's Labour's Lost
      The King of Navarre and three of his lords take an oath of study and chastity for three years, but they begin to change their minds when the Princess of France and three of her ladies-in-waiting arrive at court to discuss the debts France owes to Navarre. A clown called Costard mixes up two letters, so that one from Armado to Jacquenetta (a village girl) is read to the Princess, while Jacquenetta receives a love sonnet from Berowne to Rosaline. This leads to some confusion. In the last act of the play, the lords meet the ladies in a mock-Russian entertainment, and news arrives that the King of France has died. The Princess and her ladies get ready to leave Navarre and give their lovers a series of tasks for a year and a day.moreless
    • Much Ado About Nothing

      Claudio and Benedick come home from the wars, having fought under Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon, to suppress a rebellion by his weird brother, Don John. Leonato, Governor of Messina, welcomes Claudio and Benedick into his house. Claudio woos Hero, Leonato's daughter, while Benedick quips and quarrels with Beatrice, Hero's cousin.

      Claudio and Hero get engaged to marry and try to trick Benedick and Beatrice into also falling in love. Don John sets out to make mischief and persuades Claudio and Don Pedro that Hero is a scarlet woman. Claudio denounces Hero in front of her family and refuses to marry her, Hero faints. Friar Francis helpfully suggests that Hero be said to have died until her name can be cleared.

      Left alone in the church, Benedick and Beatrice exchange vows of love and Beatrice gets Benedick to promise he will kill Claudio for the harm he has done Hero. A duel is planned, but before it can take place Don John's dastardly plot is uncovered and Hero is restored to favour, then to life. For reasons best known to her, she makes it up with Claudio.


    • Pericles, Prince of Tyre
      Prince Pericles, visiting Antioch, solves King Antiochus's riddle to his daughter's suitors - the answer is that the King has had an incestuous relationship with his daughter. Pericles realizes he must escape to Tyre, and from there he goes to Tarsus to relieve a famine. Pursued by Antiochus's men, his ship is wrecked on the shores of Pentapolis and he marries Thaisa, the daughter of its King. Thaisa gives birth to a daughter, Marina, at sea, and in a great storm Thaisa is thrown overboard in a sea-chest. Coming to land at Ephesus, she believes Pericles is drowned and becomes a priestess of Diana.

      Pericles arranges for Marina to be brought up by Cleon of Tarsus and his wife Dionyza, and returns to Tyre. Fourteen years go by, and Dionyza, jealous of Marina, is about to have her murdered, when Marina is kidnapped by pirates, who send her to a brothel in Mytilene. Cleon tells Pericles that Marina is dead. Meanwhile, in Mytilene Marina's purity triumphs, startling the governor of the city, Lysimachus, and she gets honest work. Pericles visits Mytilene, where he recognizes Marina, and the goddess Diana, in a dream, tells him to go to her temple at Ephesus, where he finds Thaisa, too. Marina is betrothed to Lysimachus, and they are now to rule in Tyre, while Pericles and Thaisa retire to Pentapolis.


    • The Life and Death of King John
      This play is about the attempts of King John to hold onto the English throne, despite the better claim of Prince Arthur, the son of his elder brother Geoffrey, who is supported by the French.

      For more, see Recap.
    • The Tragedy of Coriolanus
      The Tragedy of Coriolanus is the 1983 BBC Television production of Shakespeare's violent history play about Rome. The play follows the rise of a brilliant Roman general, Caius Martius (Alan Howard), who rises in power and becomes Coriolanus. His political machinations lead to his expulsion from the country, and he then leads a bloody assault on his homeland.moreless
    • The Two Gentlemen of Verona
      The Two Gentlemen of Verona is the 1983 BBC Television production of William Shakepeare's early romantic comedy. The play follows the complicated love story of two best friends, Valentine (John Hudson) and Proteus (Tyler Butterworth), as they try to win the hearts of two young noblewomen, Julia (Tessa Peake-Jones) and Sylvia (Joanne Pierce).moreless
    • The Comedy of Errors
      BBC Television Shakespeare's production of The Comedy of Errors is directed by James Cellan Jones and stars The Who's Roger Daltrey as the twin Dromio brothers. In this slapstick farce, two sets of identical twins are separated at birth and meet years later in Ephesus, where a case of mistaken identities leads to trouble for the brothers and their families.moreless
    • Macbeth
      Episode 29
      BBC Television Shakespeare's production of "Macbeth" is directed by Jack Gold and stars Nicol Williamson as Macbeth and Jane Lapotaire as Lady Macbeth. Ambitious and scheming Lady Macbeth convinces her husband, a general, to murder the king of Scotland in order to fulfill a prophecy that he will become king. Macbeth is racked with guilt and begins to hallucinate, but he must continue to kill in order to hold his power.moreless
    • Cymbeline
      Episode 28
      BBC Television Shakespeare's production of "Cymbeline" is directed by Elijah Moshinsky and stars Richard Johnson as King Cymbeline and Helen Mirren as his daughter Imogen. Against her father's wishes, Imogen marries Posthumus, who is then banned by Cymbeline. To be reunited, the lovers must overcome both the queen's plot to kill them and Posthumus' friend Iachimo's scheme to separate the sweethearts.moreless
    • The Tragedy of King Richard the Third
      The Tragedy of King Richard the Third is the 1979 BBC Television adaptation of William Shakespeare's classic history play. The drama follows the deformed and bitter Richard the Third (Jon Finch) as he murders and manipulates his way to the throne of England before losing his crown and life during a battle with rebels.moreless
    • King Henry the Sixth, Part III
      King Henry the Sixth, Part III is the 1983 BBC Television production of Shakespeare's history play. The play follows the chaotic aftermath of the Duke of York (Bernard Hill) leading the rebellion against Henry the VI (Peter Benson) for the throne of England. After Henry negotiates a settlement with York, his wife, Queen Margaret (Julia Foster) leads a armed attack against the Yorkists.moreless
    • King Henry the Sixth, Part II
      King Henry the Sixth, Part II is the 1983 BBC Television production of Shakespeare's history play. The play follows the King Henry VI (Peter Benson) as he endured the loss of his beloved mentor, Duke of Gloucester (David Burke), while the Duke of York (Bernard Hill) threatens his reign. The play details the political conflicts leading to the War of the Roses beginning with the First Battle of St Albans.moreless
    • King Henry the Sixth, Part I
      This play is the story of Joan of Arc, but seen through English eyes.
    • The Merry Wives of Windsor
      BBC Television Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor is directed by David Hugh Jones and stars Richard Griffiths as the lovable buffoon Sir John Falstaff. Falstaff romances Mrs. Ford and Mistress Quickly, the wives of two prominent merchants, in an effort to gain access to their money. When the women discover Falstaff's plot, they vow to turn the tables and teach Falstaff a lesson.moreless
    • King Lear
      King Lear
      Episode 22
      King Lear, a production of BBC Television Shakespeare, is directed by Jonathan Miller and stars Michael Hordern as Lear. This tragedy charts the fate of an elderly king who foolishly disinherits his loving daughter Cordelia, dividing his kingdom between her greedy sisters Goneril and Regan. As Lear realizes his mistake, he succumbs to madness.moreless
    • A Midsummer Night's Dream
      Elijah Moshinsky directs BBC Television Shakespeare's adaptation of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," starring Helen Mirren as Titania, queen of the fairies, and Peter McEnery as Oberon, king of the fairies. As Theseus, the Duke of Athens, prepares to marry Hippolyta, four young lovers sneak into the forest. When Oberon's servant Puck applies a love potion to the wrong man, the confusion threatens to tear all the couples apart.moreless
    • Troilus and Cressida
      Jonathan Miller directs this adaptation of William Shakespeare's tragedy, Troilus and Cressida. During the Trojan War, the city is in turmoil. Troilus (Anton Lesser) is devastated to learn that his lover, Cressida (Suzanne Burden), has been used as a military pawn. After she is bargained off to the Greek army, their love is put to a serious test.moreless
    • Othello
      Episode 19
      BBC Television Shakespeare's adaptation of Othello is directed by Jonathan Miller and stars Anthony Hopkins as Othello, a general in the Venetian army who has secretly married Desdemona. Othello's soldier Iago, dissatisfied because Othello has passed him over for a promotion, sows discord between the lovers by framing Desdemona for adultery. Othello's jealousy and rage threaten to destroy his new marriage.moreless
    • Antony and Cleopatra

      Octavius Caesar (later known as Augustus), Mark Antony, and Lepidus form a triumvirate to rule the Roman Empire. Antony will rule in the east and goes to Egypt, where he becomes the lover of Queen Cleopatra. When Pompey raises an army to fight the triumvirate, Antony returns to Rome and marries Caesar's sister, Octavia. Cleopatra becomes jealous and plans to win Antony back. Caesar breaks a deal with Pompey and defeats him. Antony sends Octavia home to Rome and goes back to Cleopatra, and in Egypt he raises an army and a navy to fight Caesar. Antony's forces lose a critical sea battle when Cleopatra's ship flees. Antony hears Cleopatra has committed suicide and falls on his own sword. Cleopatra is taken prisoner and kills herself.


    • Timon of Athens
      Timon of Athens
      Episode 17

      Ancient Athenian Timon is well-known for his generosity - his many friends come to all his parties and like to get presents from him. But then Timon suffers losses and finds himself in debt, and his friends melt away. He loses faith in humanity and becomes a hermit.

    • The Winter's Tale
      The Winter's Tale
      Episode 16
      King Leontes of Bohemia suspects his wife, Queen Hermione, of cheating on him with his good friend Polixenes. So Leontes drives Polixenes out of the kingdom, but this leads to unforeseen results - the arrival of a dangerous bear, a baby abandoned in the snow, love, death, and a statue which comes to life.moreless
    • All's Well That Ends Well
      All's Well That Ends Well is the 1980 BBC Television production of Shakespeare's romantic comedy of mistaken identity. Helena (Angelea Down) falls in love with the nobleman Bertram (Ian Charleson) and he is forced to marry her when she cures his father, the King of France (Donald Sinden) of an illness. Bertram runs away to war and the play follows Helena's efforts to regain her husband.moreless
    • The Merchant of Venice
      The Merchant of Venice is the 1980 BBC Television production of William Shakespeare's classic romantic comedy. The play involves a young but money poor noble, Bassiano (John Nettles), who wants to marry Portia (Gemma Jones), but needs his friend Antonio (John Franklyn-Robbins) to borrow funds from the Jewish merchant Shylock (Warren Mitchell). When Shylock demands "a pound of flesh" as repayment, the young lovers must fight in a court of law to save Antonio's life.moreless
    • The Taming of the Shrew
      Kind-hearted Bianca (Susan Penhaligon) wants nothing more than to marry and settle down, but her father (John Franklyn-Robbins) will not allow it until her older sister, Kate (Sarah Badel), is married off first. The problem is that Kate is rude, stubborn and hot-tempered. However, Bianca's suitors find the perfect candidate to woo Kate: an eccentric gentleman (John Cleese) out to make a fortune.moreless
    • Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

      The prince of Denmark discovers that his stepfather, who has seized the throne, murdered his father, the former king.

    • The Tempest
      The Tempest
      Episode 11
      Prospero, a former Duke of Milan whose brother stole his dukedom, is now a sorcerer living on a remote island with his daughter Miranda, a slave called Caliban, and some fairies. He uses his magical powers to arrange for his enemies (including King Alonso of Naples and Prospero's brother Antonio, the false Duke of Milan) to land on his island, believing they are shipwrecked. Young Miranda falls in love with Alonso's son, Prince Ferdinand. Eventually Prospero reveals himself to the visitors, and Alonso sensibly restores Prospero's dukedom. For more, see Recap.moreless
    • Twelfth Night, or, What You Will
      Twelfth Night, or, What You Will, is the 1980 BBC Television production of Shakespeare's comedy of mistaken identity. Viola (Felicity Kendal) finds herself stranded on a foreign shore after a shipwreck. To survive, she disguises herself as a boy in order to serve as a page to Lord Orsino (Clive Arrendell). Her first task is to help him woo the lovely Olivia (Sinead Cusack), but she soon develops a romantic yearning for her employer.moreless
    • King Henry the Fifth
      King Henry the Fifth is the 1979 BBC Television production of Shakespeare's history play. Now that he is King, Henry V (David Gwillim) no longer resembles his degenerate Prince Hal of his youth. He leads his fleet to France and must survive an assassination attempt before going to battle against the French.moreless
    • King Henry the Fourth, Part II
      King Henry the Fourth, Part II is the 1979 BBC Television production of Shakepeare's history play which follows the journey of Prince Hal (David Gwillim) from heir to the throne to King. After the Battle of Shrewsbury, Prince Hal now takes seriously his royal destiny, whereas his former companion, Sir John Falstaff (Anthony Quayle) continues the dissolute life of taverns and prostitutes.moreless
    • King Henry the Fourth, Part I
      King Henry the Fourth, Part I is the 1979 BBC Television production of Shakespeare's history play covering the English throne in the 15th century. The play depicts King Henry the IV (Jon Finch) as he struggles to maintain power while he deflecting criticism about the dissolute lifestyle of his heir, Prince Hal (David Gwillim), who keeps company with the noted liar and drink Falstaff (Anthony Quayle).moreless
    • King Henry the Eighth
      This is the story of King Henry VIII, who broke his country's links with Rome and set himself up as head of the Church of England, abolishing England's monasteries and nunneries and seizing their wealth. Meanwhile, he ran through six wives in his ambition for sons to carry on the Tudor line. Shakespeare was rather kind to Henry - no doubt because he was the father of England's reigning Queen, Elizabeth I.moreless
    • Measure for Measure
      Desmond Davis directs this adaptation of William Shakespeare's dark comedy, Measure for Measure. When Angelo (Tim Pigott-Smith), a stern and unforgiving judge, ends up gaining control over the city, he instantly finds ways to wreak havoc. This is unfortunate news for Claudio (Christopher Strauli) and Juliet (Yolanda Vazquez), who are expecting a surprise newcomer.moreless
    • Julius Caesar
      Julius Caesar
      Episode 4
      The supporters of the ancient Roman Republic are alarmed by Julius Caesar's ambition to be the king or dictator of Rome, abolishing the age-old republican pattern of power-sharing by three consuls under the authority of the city's Senate. A soothsayer warns Caesar to beware the Ides of March. Caesar gets the monarchy he wants, but soon after he is killed by a group of leading Romans, including Cassius and his friend Brutus, on the Ides of March. Mark Antony makes the famous speech praising Caesar, and the action shifts to the battlefield on which Brutus and Cassius are defeated, with Caesar's crown as Emperor passing to his heir. Thus ended the Roman Republic.moreless
    • As You Like It
      As You Like It
      Episode 3
      Duke Frederick has driven out the lawful Duke and stolen his Duchy. Rosalind (daughter of the banished Duke) falls in love with Orlando de Boys, as he is beating Frederick's champion in a wrestling match. Frederick banishes her, too, and she leaves, disguised as a youth called Ganymede, taking Frederick's daughter Celia and his jester Touchstone with her. Rosalind's troupe heads for the Forest of Arden, where Rosalind's father is living quietly, with Orlando and his brother Jaques now members of the old Duke's rustic court.

      Rosalind decides to live for a time as Ganymede, and she/he finds Orlando hanging poems to Rosalind on trees (no doubt he knows what he's doing?)... Ganymede promises to cure Orlando of his love, while Touchstone woos a country girl, Audrey. Meanwhile, a shepherdess called Phebe falls in love with Ganymede, scorning the love of the bumpkin Silvius. Oliver de Boys, another brother of Orlando, arrives and falls heavily for Celia.

      At the end, Ganymede turns himself/herself back into Rosalind, and all of the lovers get their hearts' desire - except for Phebe, who has to make do with Silvius. Duke Frederick chooses this moment to retire into a life of prayer, leaving the coast clear for the restoration of the true Duke to his rightful power and glory.moreless

    • King Richard the Second
      Bolingbroke wrongly accuses Mowbray of killing the Duke of Gloucester, the uncle of King Richard II. The dastardly Richard (who in fact arranged the murder himself) then orders a trial by combat between Bolingbroke and Mowbray and turns this into exile for both of them. Bolingbroke's father, John of Gaunt, dies and Richard seizes his estates to pay for a campaign in Ireland. While Richard is off fighting the Irish, leaving the Duke of York as Regent, Bolingbroke invades England and the country rises in support of him. York vacillates, Richard lands in Wales, is arrested, and surrenders the crown to Bolingbroke, who becomes King Henry IV. A plot against Henry is discovered, Henry pardons his cousin Aumerle, but Richard is murdered while imprisoned at Pontefract.moreless
    • Romeo and Juliet
      Romeo and Juliet
      Episode 1
      Romeo is the son and heir of Lord Montague of the Italian city of Verona. One night, he goes (masked) to a dance held by the Capulets, the Montagues' bitter rivals. There, Romeo falls head over heels for Juliet Capulet, and a few days later they are secretly married by the obliging Friar Lawrence. However, they decide not to tell their families. Unluckily, Romeo then gets into a fight and is banished from Verona, and Juliet's father promises her in marriage to another young fellow, Paris. Juliet unwisely agrees to a crazy plan suggested by Friar Lawrence, and she takes a drug which will make her seem dead for two days. So Juliet gets a premature funeral and is put into the Capulet family vault, expecting Romeo to collect her when she wakes up. However, Friar Lawrence bungles again, and Romeo fails to get his message, so of course he believes Juliet is really dead. Romeo kills Paris, then drinks poison and dies by Juliet's side. Juliet then wakes up, and when she finds Romeo's body she stabs herself to death. As a result of this (it's pretty unlikely, though) the Montague and Capulet lords make up their ancient quarrel and a new friendship blossoms between the warring factions. Make love, not war.moreless