If you had doubts about Ethan Hawke’s Shakespeare chops in the first episode of “Shakespeare Uncovered: Macbeth with Ethan Hawke,” Joely Richardson’s stage pedigree should be readily acceptable worldwide. This time the topic is less grim in “Shakespeare Uncovered: The Comedies with Joely Richardson.”
Richardson is the daughter of Vanessa Redgrave and director Tony Richardson. She is the granddaughter of Sir Michael Redgrave and Rachel Kempson.
At 24, in 1961, Vanessa Redgrave played Rosalind in a BBC production of “As You Like It.” Vanessa Redgrave began reading at 4 and went on to discover “The Merchant of Venice” and loved the “quality of mercy” speech.
This is more about family–not only Richardson’s family and her theater pedigree, but also Shakespeare’s family. He had fraternal twins (Judith and Hamnet born in 1585) and twins figure in his comedies. “The Comedy of Errors” has two sets of identical twins–masters and servants–who are separated at birth. In “Twelfth Night or What You Will,” Viola is separated with her twin brother, Sebastian. When Viola, disguised as a boy, Cesario, courts the countess Olivia for the duke Orsino, Olivia falls in love with Viola and easily transfers that to Sebastian.
The comedies have strong women and we get to see a lot of strong women. Besides Vanessa Redgrave, we also see Helen Mirren who was in the 1978 BBC version of “As You Like It” playing Rosalind.
Another strong point made is that Shakespeare’s portrayal of marriage for love wasn’t a common concept at that time. As with the previous episode, we near from experts–directors, other actors and historians on Shakespeare and his women. Unlike “Shakespeare Uncovered: Macbeth with Ethan Hawke” Vanessa Redgrave is less the center of the contemplation and research, but our facilitator. It doesn’t seem to be her goal to play Rosalind, her favorite characters, but to explore and express the joy and admiration of such well rounded well written roles for women (even if originally these roles were played by men).
For more information on Shakespeare and his life and very dramatic times, you can watch “In Search of Shakespeare.” For fun, try the PBS quiz to see what character you might be.
Shakespeare Uncovered: The Comedies with Joely Richardson” premieres tonight, 25 January 2013 on PBS at 10-11 p.m. Check local listings.