Folger Shakespeare Library
Stage and Screen Education and Inspiration The American Identity


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Fact Sheet

Shakespeare in American Life

Brief Description: Three stand alone one-hour explorations of the 16th-century playwright's influence on American performance, politics and popular culture (one-time special)

Producer: Richard Paul for Folger Shakespeare Library

Program Feed info:

Content Depot: All active file-delivered programs, that is, programs within their broadcast rights window, are available for manual download from Content Depot at any time. See the Content Depot Help site for details.

PRX: Available for download

CD: CD's are available, contact Steve Martin, SFM Consulting, 703 715 0827

Host: Sam Waterston

Length: 59:00 Newscast compatible with local breaks at :20 and :40

Number of Programs: Three

Broadcast Rights: PRI affiliates may carry any or all of these programs, as fed or delayed, an unlimited number of times within three months of feed. Each program must be carried in its entirety. No excerpting is permitted. Simulcast streaming rights are available for this program. See terms and conditions on the InfoSite ( Prior to carrying this program, stations must confirm carriage on the InfoSite or contact their PRI Client Relations Manager, 888.330.4139.

Underwriters: National Endowment for the Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts, Lee and Juliet Folger Fund, The Mosaic Foundation (of Rita & Peter Heydon)

Program Detail

Told in three parts, the story of "Shakespeare in American Life" includes:

Shakespeare Becomes American: Shakespeare in Performance

Shakespeare is everywhere in America, including musicals, festivals, television, and the movies. The documentary explores how American Shakespeare has been shaped by the American experience. From the young nation’s earliest days, when an “American” acting style first took shape, to the influence of African-Americans on Shakespeare on stage, to the fascinating phenomenon of Shakespeare in Hollywood, America and Americans—actors, directors, and audiences—have made Shakespeare our own.

The Father of the Man in America: Shakespeare in Education and Civic Life

After the American revolution, there were real questions about whether America should adopt British culture and literature—including Shakespeare’s plays—or create its own. The documentary follows Shakespeare’s path in the years that followed, including his role in major movements like the push west, the establishment of cities, the Civil War, and the immigrant experience. It also explores America’s fascination with Shakespeare outdoors, from Oregon to Central Park, and Shakespeare’s surprisingly late arrival in the classroom. And along the way, we hark back to surprising story of Shakespeare’s own take on the New World, The Tempest—thought to be inspired by an actual shipwreck on the way to Jamestown in 1609.

Shakespeare is a Black Woman: Shakespeare in American Politics

John Adams was a Shakespeare enthusiast who filled his diaries with mentions of the plays. Janet Reno assembled her staff to read King Lear. In 1849, disputes over British and American acting styles touched off a deadly riot. The most famous black Shakespearean of the 19th century was an American who went to Europe after he saw black actors arrested for performing Shakespeare in the US. In the 1990s, Shakespeare was drawn into battles over race and gender on college campuses. This program explores how Shakespeare’s work has intertwined itself with American electoral politics, geopolitics, and racial, class and academic politics. It also explores how Shakespeare has been used for political purposes throughout American history.