William Shakespeare is one of the greatest writers in literary history if not the single greatest. His plays have been studied by students and academics of nearly every level and age. They have been the basis for countless dramas and comedies churned out by Hollywood’s major name studios through the ages. Throughout it all, there has remained one lingering question underlying all of Shakespeare’s credits. That question is who really wrote the plays that have been so timeless? The question of authorship has beguiled authors, critics, academics, and readers in general for many years. Now thanks to PBS this discussion has been put into a whole new light in the new documentary, Last Will. & Testament. This documentary is one that will interest anyone that has ever had any interest in the works of Shakespeare because of the new light given to the discussion. Not only does it discuss who really crafted Shakespeare’s plays, but who the legendary bard might have actually been. The two arguments are combined with acting equal to that of other recent documentaries from PBS to make for one more impressive work proving the value and importance of PBS.
Last Will. & Testament is one of the most documentaries on William Shakespeare and his plays in many years. Whether or not Shakespeare was actually the man behind great plays such as Much Ado About Nothing, The Twelfth Night, and Julius Caesar, has been discussed among academic circles of every level for ages. Now PBS puts the discussion into a whole new light in this documentary. It does so through interviews with a handful of academics that specialize in the life and history of Shakespeare and his works. The most common argument that these individuals tackle is that someone other than Shakespeare wrote his plays. Not many names are thrown out. Though, it is argued indirectly that Shakespeare might have taken his plays as inspiration from another playwright. That writer’s name was Benjamin Johnson. It focuses on the relationship between the two, pointing out the similarities between the pair’s works. Even more interesting is that it is all explained in a manner simple enough for any reader of any age, making it fitting for any English course from high school through college and beyond.
The discussion on who really wrote Shakespeare’s works is just the tip of the iceberg in Last Will. & Testament. From this early discussion, director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, Stargate, The Patriot) takes viewers even deeper into the discussion, raising the topic that maybe, just maybe Shakespeare himself didn’t really exist, but that “he” was just a pen name for someone else. It goes into this discussion by explaining how a play such as Hamlet was in fact a political satire of the time. The argument is made that through such a play, a figure such as Edward Devere, the 17th Earl of Oxford was in fact Shakespeare. The argument goes on to say that Devere used the Shakespeare name so that no one in England’s hierarchy would know it was him making fun of them. It is an argument that would make sense. Had political leaders realized that a play such as this was a satire, rather than a tragedy, the bard’s acting company would have been shut down. The discussion goes into even more depth from here, even arguing that the queen herself could have been behind the plays. Anyone that is a true fan of Shakespeare’s works will find something to appreciate in these arguments. They’re not all that audiences will appreciate, either. Audiences will also appreciate the acting incorporated into the documentary.
Last Will. & Testament raises some interesting points throughout the course of its near two-hour runtime. Any true aficionado of Shakespeare’s works will find plenty to discuss as long as they keep an open mind. They are the center of this documentary. But one would be remiss to ignore the acting segments tied in to the documentary. This isn’t the first time this year that PBS has presented a documentary that incorporates actual acting. And hopefully it isn’t the last, either. The addition of these segments helps to drive home the arguments being made in regards to Shakespeare’s times and how they might have affected the reality of his identity. These are expertly acted scenes that are right up there with the documentaries once crafted for the likes of History Channel. It’s the crowning touch on what could potentially be one of the year’s best documentaries. Teachers and parents can pre-order the DVD direct through PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=23500946&cp=&sr=1&kw=last+will.++testament&origkw=Last+Will.+%26amp%3B+Testament&parentPage=search. It will be available on October 15th on DVD.
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