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Explore the history and themes in “Much Ado About Nothing” with host Helen Hunt.

“Much Ado About Nothing” is one of 13 plays that Shakespeare set in Italy, a country that was warm, sensuous and inviting for any 16th-century Englishmen writing about lovers. Claudio and Hero are the conventional lovers, too tongue-tied to speak to each other; Beatrice and Benedick are the skeptics, too busy insulting each other to realize how much they are in love. Hunt explores this exquisite comedy of comparison and contrast, as well as what the ultimate “ado” about “nothing” really means. Premieres Friday, October 19th at 9 p.m. on PBS.

 

Untangle the controversies of “The Merchant of Venice” with host F. Murray Abraham.

Shakespeare probably never met a Jewish person. Three centuries before “The Merchant of Venice” was written, England became the first country in medieval Europe to expel its Jewish population. Abraham addresses the ubiquitous anti-Semitism that characterized Europe in Shakespeare’s time. Comparing Shylock to the stock Jewish villain of the day, the episode looks at the efforts over the years to interpret him as both villain and victim. Premieres Friday, October 19 at 10 p.m.