In Search of Shakespeare

History / Michael Wood / Art

William Shakespeare is the world’s greatest writer, but his life story remains a tantalising mystery. In this engrossing four-part historical detective story, Michael Wood investigates Shakespeare’s life in the turbulent times of Queen Elizabeth I. Using fascinating new evidence from spies’ reports, local archives and even a coded prison diary, he uncovers the dark side of Shakespeare’s world. Present day witnesses help him trace William’s early days, his schooling, his father’s shady business deals and the dark secret that ruined the family.


4 X 60 mins for BBC/PBS. Director: David Wallace Producer: Rebecca Dobbs Camera: Peter Harvey

BBC2 June 2003. PBS Feb 2004 DVD available from BBC

Book available from Amazon

Visit the BBC History site


Ep 1 A Time of Revolution – Shakespeare’s life in the early years of Elizabeth’s reign. William is one of the privileged few, brought up in a nice house, lots of money, servants, and a good education. But suddenly William’s world turns upside down. His father is hounded by informers, loses his fortune, and sells off his lands.   Now we learn the family’s dark secret. In the new Protestant state of Elizabeth, Shakespeare is brought up at home in a family loyal to the old faith, Catholicism. Between 12 and 15 the family is ruined and the boy has to leave school early. At eighteen, William gets a local girl pregnant and his shotgun marriage also gives us his first known work, a love poem to his wife on their wedding day.

Ep 2 The Lost Years – How this young man from Stratford became a star of the London stage. Michael Wood travels with the Royal Shakespeare Company who perform the plays in a Tudor inn yard as Shakespeare did, and using Tudor maps and remarkable Victorian photos brings his first London home back to life. And he follows Shakespeare’s great rival Christopher Marlow on his fateful journey by river to Deptford – and a murder which left 29 year old Shakespeare as the star of Elizabethan London.

Ep 3 The Duty of Poets – Shakespeare’s rise to fame and fortune in Elizabethan London. With ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘ A Midsummer Nights Dream’, Shakespeare becomes England’s top entertainer. But now tragedy strikes, as his only son Hamnet dies at the age of 11. Plunged into a mid-life crisis William falls in love with a beautiful teenage nobleman, has a passionate affair with a mysterious married woman and is summonsed for GBH! Meanwhile his theatre company builds the Globe Theatre, and is caught up in the rebellion against Queen Elizabeth. But in the midst of it all, William creates some of the greatest characters in the literature of the world.

Ep 4 For all Time – Shakespeare’s life in the era of King James 1. Michael Wood unearths his neighbourhood in London and visits the present queen’s robe makers for evidence of Shakespeare’s role in the royal coronation. But Shakespeare’s world would be transformed in 1605 by the Gunpowder Plot, a Jacobean September 11th. The entertainment industry responded, and Shakespeare contributed a daring play about the murder of a King – ‘Macbeth’. Finally Wood follows Shakespeare back to Warwickshire and looks at the riddle of his will, and its strange bequest to his wife Anne.