Professor Ewan Fernie
Professor Ewan Fernie

Professor Ewan Fernie, at the University of Birmingham, is a leading expert on Shakespeare and is about to star in a three-part series the BBC are putting out called Shakespeare: Rise of a Genius featuring Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Brian Cox, Martin Freeman and Birmingham-born actor Adrian Lester. The first episode will air at 9pm on Nov 8 on BBC2 as part as a Shakespeare season to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the publication of Shakespeare’s First Folio.

Shakespeare: Rise of a Genius upends the old cliché that we know nothing about Shakespeare and nothing much happened to him. This series tells a very different story - how a small-town boy prevails in a dangerous, uncertain and violent world to the extent of creating some of the greatest art the world has ever seen. It’s a bit of a thriller, and after decades of working on Shakespeare, it’s thrilling to be part of it.

Professor Ewan Fernie, Chair of Shakespeare Studies and Fellow at The Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-upon-Avon.
A snippet of Shakespeare: Rise of a Genius series
A snippet of Shakespeare: Rise of a Genius series

The objective of the series is to get inside Shakespeare’s life as a man and artist, trying to imagine and recover the novelty and freshness of his accomplishments before scholarship, as it were. If there’s one thing he’s learned from the experience, Fernie says, "it’s the humanity of Shakespeare. It’s easy to forget he was a real person who lived and died, just as we do. Shakespeare achieved what he did against spectacular odds. His story, like his plays, encourages us to be vigilantly open to experience and each other, and to live as fully and creatively as we can."

Ewan’s infectious passion for Shakespeare, coupled with his ability to impart his knowledge in a way that’s accessible but never shallow, has been invaluable in helping to bring Shakespeare’s story to life for the modern viewer. His intellectual generosity and openness, from the research phase through to post-production, has been unwavering and we’re thrilled to have worked with him.

Julian Jones, Series Director of Shakespeare: Rise of a Genius.

Ewan is no stranger to Shakespeare and for the last four years has been working on the ‘Everything to Everybody’ Project. A pioneering collaboration with Birmingham City Council funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund reviving the largest public Shakespeare collection in the world with people and communities across the City.

Birmingham’s copy of the 1623 Shakespeare First Folio, the original collection edition of Shakespeare’s plays, is The People’s Folio: the only First Folio in the world bought as part of a vision of comprehensive culture. On Saturday 21st October, in the year of its 400th birthday, Fernie and the ‘Everything to Everybody’ Project presented The People’s Folio to the people of Birmingham, in the City’s iconic Bullring, with the help of a brilliant range of performers and Project Patron, the Birmingham-born Shakespeare actor, Adrian Lester.

Fernie explains that the founders of Birmingham’s uniquely democratic Shakespeare culture wanted to give everything – including the very best of human culture – to everybody, and that bringing the Folio into a shopping centre is a great way to make good on this. Birmingham’s pioneers felt not just that everybody should have access to great culture; but, equally, that great culture would thereby be reinvigorated and enriched.

Working with people and communities across the City, the ‘Everything to Everybody’ Project has reinvented Shakespeare in Birmingham, reviving the fundamental spirit of creative conversation in Shakespeare’s plays as a positive force for change and cultural regeneration now.

Watch the trailer clip for Shakespeare: Rise of a Genius.