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Published: 20/04/2020

BBC Shakespeare Archive

The BBC Shakespeare Archive Resource is one of a number of digital initiatives announced as part of the BBC’s celebration of Shakespeare’s work across all its services to mark 400 years since his death. This online resource provides schools, colleges and universities across the UK with access to hundreds of BBC television and radio broadcasts of Shakespeare’s plays, sonnets and documentaries about Shakespeare. In addition, all the television programmes featured on the site have been subtitled. This means students, teachers and academics can now watch the plays and sonnets of Shakespeare together with their corresponding transcript. Not only does this help deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers to follow the action, but it also allows students to see the words coming alive as they are performed.

The material on the BBC Shakespeare Archive Resource, which dates from the 1950s, includes the first British televised adaptations of Othello and Henry V, classic interviews with key Shakespearean actors including John Gielgud, Judi Dench and Laurence Olivier, several of Shakespeare’s famous sonnets in TV and radio broadcasts and more than 1,000 stills of Shakespeare productions.

Other highlights include:

•    The 37 classic productions in the BBC Television Shakespeare series.
•    An Age of Kings, the 15 part series of the RSC’s Shakespeare history plays.
•    The original War of the Roses productions from the 1960s, also from the RSC.
•    Previously ‘lost’ versions of part of the 1955 production of The Merry Wives of Windsor starring Anthony Quayle, the RSC’s production of As You Like It, broadcast in 1963 starring a young Vanessa Redgrave as Rosalind, the earliest surviving production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from 1958 and Maggie Smith and Robert Stephens in a 1967 production of Much Ado About Nothing.

The content is organised into plays, sonnets and poems, factual programmes such as documentaries, and entertainment; and the search box enables users to find content for a specific play or a person who appeared in, or worked on the production. For instance, the factual category includes Paul Robeson talking in 1959 about acting Shakespeare and the difficulty of English accents, and the series of Prefaces to Shakespeare and Shakespeare in Perspective which accompanied the major BBC series of Shakespeare’s works, transmitted between 1978 and 1985. On the lighter side, there is Blackadder punching Shakespeare ‘for every schoolboy and schoolgirl for the next four hundred years!’, as well as a sketch from The Morecambe and Wise Show. 

The BBC Shakespeare Archive Resource is only available to those in formal UK education and is free at the point of use. Access has been made as simple as possible; schools in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland can log in using their Hwb+, Glow or C2K credentials and schools in Scotland and England can also access the site using RM Education’s Launchpad. 

If users are unable to automatically view and play the media, they can email and once it has been established that they are part of a formal educational institution in the UK, access credentials can be issued.

Under the terms of the Educational Recording Agency (ERA) licence the site can only include audio-visual content up until 1989 on the BBC Shakespeare Archive Resource site (approx. 300 titles), but teachers and academics can access the whole BBC collection from the 1950s to the present day if their school, college or university subscribes to off-air providers like BoB, Planet eStream’s Connect, Clickview or Imagen. So that’s a huge amount of Shakespeare, including The Shakespeare Animated Tales in English and Welsh, the modern take on the plays in Shakespeare Retold, the Storyville on American prisoners staging The Tempest, In Search of Shakespeare and the Live from the Globe productions starring Mark Rylance to name just a few.

BBC Shakespeare Archive Resource can be found at

For more information about access, contact:

To provide feedback on the site, contact:

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