The 5 most popular Shakespeare Unlimited podcast episodes of 2016: Othello, food, magic, religion, and the First Folio

1. Othello and Blackface

This podcast episode, which deals with race, Othello, and how the Elizabethans portrayed blackness onstage, offers a startling, new interpretation of Desdemona’s handkerchief that is changing the way scholars understand the play.

Our guests are Ayanna Thompson, Professor of English at George Washington University and a Trustee of the Shakespeare Association of America, and Ian Smith, Professor of English at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania.

2. The Food of Shakespeare’s World

This episode shifts slightly from our usual intense focus on Shakespeare. Instead, we are talking about the world that he inhabited, or at least a small part of that world: the kitchen. Kitchens, and what goes on in them, come up in Shakespeare’s plays with surprising frequency, whether directly or, more often, obliquely.

Our guest is Wendy Wall, an English professor at Northwestern University and director of the Kaplan Institute for the Humanities.

3. Shakespeare and Magic

In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the magician Prospero conjures up a storm, charms his daughter to sleep, and uses his power to control Ariel and other spirits. Is this magic for real, or is Prospero pulling off elaborate illusions?

Fascinated by this question and by Prospero’s relinquishing of magic at the play’s end, Teller (of the magic/comedy team Penn & Teller) co-directed a production of The Tempest with Aaron Posner at Chicago Shakespeare Theater in 2015.

In this episode, Teller joins Barbara Mowat, director of research emerita at the Folger and co-editor of the Folger Editions, to talk about magic in The Tempest and other Shakespeare plays, as well attitudes about magic in late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century England.

4. Shakespeare and Religion

The period when Shakespeare was writing was one torn by disagreements over the proper method of observing Christianity in England. Protestantism was at war with Catholicism and the Church of England often employed coercion and even violence to enforce its hegemony. How did Shakespeare handle these divisions?

Our guest is David Scott Kastan, George M. Bodman Professor of English at Yale University and the author of Will To Believe: Shakespeare and Religion.

5. Creating Shakespeare’s First Folio

We likely wouldn’t have half of Shakespeare’s plays without the First Folio of 1623. Imagine a world without Macbeth, Twelfth Night, or Julius Caesar.

Our guest is Emma Smith, a professor of Shakespeare studies at Oxford and the author of The Making of the First Folio. She authenticated the First Folio that was recently discovered in Scotland. In her book, she offers an intimate, step-by-step examination of how the First Folio was conceived, how Shakespeare’s plays were gathered, how the rights for them were obtained, how the book was laid out, and – most vividly – how it was assembled and printed.

What was your favorite Shakespeare Unlimited podcast episode this year? Tell us in the comments.

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