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30
JUN

Shakespeare's Sonnets (Repeat)

In a programme first broadcast in 2021, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the collection of poems published in 1609 by Thomas Thorpe: Shakespeare’s Sonnets, “never before imprinted”. Yet, while some of Shakespeare's other poems and many of his plays were often reprinted in his lifetime, the Sonnets were not a publishing success. They had to make their own way, outside the main canon of Shakespeare’s work: wonderful, troubling, patchy, inspiring and baffling, and they have appealed in different ways to different times. Most are addressed to a man, something often overlooked and occasionally concealed; one early and notorious edition even changed some of the pronouns. With: Hannah Crawforth Senior Lecturer in Early Modern Literature at King’s College London Don Paterson Poet and Professor of Poetry at the University of St Andrews And Emma Smith Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Hertford College, Oxford Producer: Simon Tillotson
30
JUN

Shakespeare's Sonnets

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the collection of poems published in 1609 by Thomas Thorpe: Shakespeare’s Sonnets, “never before imprinted”. Yet, while some of Shakespeare's other poems and many of his plays were often reprinted in his lifetime, the Sonnets were not a publishing success. They had to make their own way, outside the main canon of Shakespeare’s work: wonderful, troubling, patchy, inspiring and baffling, and they have appealed in different ways to different times. Most are addressed to a man, something often overlooked and occasionally concealed; one early and notorious edition even changed some of the pronouns.

With:

Hannah Crawforth
Senior Lecturer in Early Modern Literature at King’s College London

Don Paterson
Poet and Professor of Poetry at the University of St Andrews

And

Emma Smith
Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Hertford College, Oxford

Producer: Simon Tillotson
23
JUN

Hegel's Philosophy of History

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss ideas of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770 - 1831) on history. Hegel, one of the most influential of the modern philosophers, described history as the progress in the consciousness of freedom, asking whether we enjoy more freedom now than those who came before us. To explore this, he looked into the past to identify periods when freedom was moving from the one to the few to the all, arguing that once we understand the true nature of freedom we reach an endpoint in understanding. That end of history, as it's known, describes an understanding of freedom so far progressed, so profound, that it cannot be extended or deepened even if it can be lost.

With

Sally Sedgwick
Professor and Chair of Philosophy at Boston University

Robert Stern
Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield

And

Stephen Houlgate
Professor of Philosophy at the University of Warwick

Producer: Simon Tillotson
16
JUN

Comenius

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Czech educator Jan Amos Komenský (1592-1670) known throughout Europe in his lifetime under the Latin version of his name, Comenius. A Protestant and member of the Unity of Brethren, he lived much of his life in exile, expelled from his homeland under the Catholic Counter-Reformation, and he wanted to address the deep antagonisms underlying the wars that were devastating Europe especially The Thirty Years War (1618-1648). A major part of his plan was Universal Education, in which everyone could learn about everything, and better understand each other and so tolerate their religious differences and live side by side. His ideas were to have a lasting influence on education, even though the peace that followed the Thirty Years War only entrenched the changes in his homeland that made his life there impossible.

The image above is from a portrait of Comenius by Jürgen Ovens, 1650 - 1670, painted while he was living in Amsterdam and held in the Rikjsmuseum

With

Vladimir Urbanek
Senior Researcher in the Department of Comenius Studies and Early Modern Intellectual History at the Institute of Philosophy of the Czech Academy of Sciences

Suzanna Ivanic
Lecturer in Early Modern European History at the University of Kent

And

Howard Hotson
Professor of Early Modern Intellectual History at the University of Oxford and Fellow of St Anne’s College

Producer: Simon Tillotson
09
JUN

Tang Era Poetry

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss two of China’s greatest poets, Li Bai and Du Fu, who wrote in the 8th century in the Tang Era. Li Bai (701-762AD) is known for personal poems, many of them about drinking wine, and for finding the enjoyment in life. Du Fu (712-770AD), a few years younger, is more of an everyman, writing in the upheaval of the An Lushan Rebellion (755-763AD). Together they have been a central part of Chinese culture for over a millennium, reflecting the balance between the individual and the public life, and one sign of their enduring appeal is that there is rarely agreement on which of them is the greater.

The image above is intended to depict Du Fu.

With

Tim Barrett
Professor Emeritus of East Asian History at SOAS, University of London

Tian Yuan Tan
Shaw Professor of Chinese at the University of Oxford and Professorial Fellow at University College

And

Frances Wood
Former Curator of the Chinese Collections at the British Library

Producer: Simon Tillotson
02
JUN

The Davidian Revolution

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the impact of David I of Scotland (c1084-1153) on his kingdom and on neighbouring lands. The youngest son of Malcolm III, he was raised in exile in the Anglo-Norman court and became Earl of Huntingdon and Prince of Cumbria before claiming the throne in 1124. He introduced elements of what he had learned in England and, in the next decades, his kingdom saw new burghs, new monasteries, new ways of governing and the arrival of some very influential families, earning him the reputation of The Perfect King.

With

Richard Oram
Professor of Medieval and Environmental History at the University of Stirling

Alice Taylor
Professor of Medieval History at King’s College London

And

Alex Woolf
Senior Lecturer in History at the University of St Andrews

Producer: Simon Tillotson
26
MAY

Early Christian Martyrdom

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the accounts by Eusebius of Caesarea (c260-339 AD) and others of the killings of Christians in the first three centuries after the crucifixion of Jesus. Eusebius was writing in a time of peace, after The Great Persecution that had started with Emperor Diocletian in 303 AD and lasted around eight years. Many died under Diocletian, and their names are not preserved, but those whose deaths are told by Eusebius became especially celebrated and their stories became influential. Through his writings, Eusebius shaped perceptions of what it meant to be a martyr in those years, and what it meant to be a Christian.

The image above is of The Martyrdom of Saint Blandina (1886) at the Church of Saint-Blandine de Lyon, France

With:

Candida Moss
Edward Cadbury Professor of Theology at the University of Birmingham

Kate Cooper
Professor of History at Royal Holloway, University of London

And

James Corke-Webster
Senior Lecturer in Classics, History and Liberal Arts at King’s College London

Producer: Simon Tillotson
19
MAY

Olympe de Gouges

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the French playwright who, in 1791, wrote The Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen. This was Olympe de Gouges (1748-93) and she was responding to The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen from 1789, the start of the French Revolution which, by excluding women from these rights, had fallen far short of its apparent goals. Where the latter declared ‘men are born equal’, she asserted ‘women are born equal to men,’ adding, ‘since women are allowed to mount the scaffold, they should also be allowed to stand in parliament and defend their rights’. Two years later this playwright, novelist, activist and woman of letters did herself mount the scaffold, two weeks after Marie Antoinette, for the crime of being open to the idea of a constitutional monarchy and, for two hundred years, her reputation died with her, only to be revived with great vigour in the last 40 years.

With

Catriona Seth
Marshal Foch Professor of French Literature at the University of Oxford

Katherine Astbury
Professor of French Studies at the University of Warwick

And

Sanja Perovic
Reader in 18th century French studies at King’s College London

Producer: Simon Tillotson
12
MAY

Homo erectus

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of our ancestors, Homo erectus, who thrived on Earth for around two million years whereas we, Homo sapiens, emerged only in the last three hundred thousand years. Homo erectus, or Upright Man, spread from Africa to Asia and it was on the Island of Java that fossilised remains were found in 1891 in an expedition led by Dutch scientist Eugène Dubois. Homo erectus people adapted to different habitats, ate varied food, lived in groups, had stamina to outrun their prey; and discoveries have prompted many theories on the relationship between their diet and the size of their brains, on their ability as seafarers, on their creativity and on their ability to speak and otherwise communicate.

The image above is from a diorama at the Moesgaard Museum in Denmark, depicting the Turkana Boy referred to in the programme.

With

Peter Kjærgaard
Director of the Natural History Museum of Denmark and Professor of Evolutionary History at the University of Copenhagen

José Joordens
Senior Researcher in Human Evolution at Naturalis Biodiversity Centre and Professor of Human Evolution at Maastricht University

And

Mark Maslin
Professor of Earth System Science at University College London

Producer: Simon Tillotson
05
MAY

Polidori's The Vampyre

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the influential novella of John Polidori (1795-1821) published in 1819 and attributed first to Lord Byron (1788-1824) who had started a version of it in 1816 at the Villa Diodati in the Year Without A Summer. There Byron, his personal physician Polidori, Mary and Percy Shelley and Claire Clairmont had whiled away the weeks of miserable weather by telling ghost stories, famously giving rise to Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein'. Emerging soon after, 'The Vampyre' thrilled readers with its aristocratic Lord Ruthven who glutted his thirst with the blood of his victims, his status an abrupt change from the stories of peasant vampires of eastern and central Europe that had spread in the 18th Century with the expansion of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The connection with Lord Byron gave the novella a boost, and soon 'The Vampyre' spawned West End plays, penny dreadfuls such as 'Varney the Vampire', Bram Stoker’s 'Dracula', F.W Murnau's film 'Nosferatu A Symphony of Horror', and countless others.

The image above is of Bela Lugosi (1882-1956) as Count Mora in Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer's 'Vampires of Prague' (1935)

With

Nick Groom
Professor of Literature in English at the University of Macau

Samantha George
Associate Professor of Research in Literature at the University of Hertfordshire

And

Martyn Rady
Professor Emeritus of Central European History at University College London

Producer: Simon Tillotson
28
APR

The Sistine Chapel

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the astonishing work of Michelangelo (1477-1564) in this great chapel in the Vatican, firstly the ceiling with images from Genesis (of which the image above is a detail) and later The Last Judgement on the altar wall. For the Papacy, Michelangelo's achievement was a bold affirmation of the spiritual and political status of the Vatican, of Rome and of the Catholic Church. For the artist himself, already famous as the sculptor of David in Florence, it was a test of his skill and stamina, and of the potential for art to amaze which he realised in his astonishing mastery of the human form.

With

Catherine Fletcher
Professor of History at Manchester Metropolitan University

Sarah Vowles
The Smirnov Family Curator of Italian and French Prints and Drawings at the British Museum

And

Matthias Wivel
The Aud Jebsen Curator of Sixteenth-Century Italian Paintings at the National Gallery

Producer: Simon Tillotson
21
APR

Antigone

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss what is reputedly the most performed of all Greek tragedies. Antigone, by Sophocles (c496-c406 BC), is powerfully ambiguous, inviting the audience to reassess its values constantly before the climax of the play resolves the plot if not the issues. Antigone is barely a teenager and is prepared to defy her uncle Creon, the new king of Thebes, who has decreed that nobody should bury the body of her brother, a traitor, on pain of death. This sets up a conflict between generations, between the state and the individual, uncle and niece, autocracy and pluralism, and it releases an enormous tragic energy that brings sudden death to Antigone, her fiance Haemon who is also Creon's son, and to Creon's wife Eurydice, while Creon himself is condemned to a living death of grief.

With

Edith Hall
Professor of Classics at Durham University

Oliver Taplin
Emeritus Professor of Classics, University of Oxford

And

Lyndsay Coo
Senior Lecturer in Ancient Greek Language and Literature at the University of Bristol

Producer: Simon Tillotson

150 episodes

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