British Universities Film & Video Council

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British Empire Shakespeare Society

Alternative title
Excerpts from Shakespeare
A ‘Shakespeare Night’ programme transmitted in two parts. Initiated by the British Empire Shakespeare Society, the programme was comprised of play readings.
Part 1:
'Trial scene’ and ‘Casket scene’ from The Merchant of Venice performed with support from members of the Old Vic Company, the ‘Letter Scene’ from The Merry Wives of Windsor, the ‘Fall of Wolsey’ from Henry VIII, the ‘Tent Scene’ from Julius Caesar, a Shakespeare song ('A poor soul sat sighing’) by Roy Russell (Pulham Humphrey 1647-1674) and Hamlet’ s soliloquy read by Eve M. Donne [believed to be the first female Hamlet on radio].
Part 2:
Prison scene from Much Ado About Nothing, Gladys Palmer sings "Blow, blow, thou winter wind" (Arne), ‘Sigh no more, ladies’ (Stevens) and ‘It was a lover and his lass’ (Morley), David Ellis sings German’s "drink to me only’ and ‘Where heaven lies’ and Nigel Playfair performs a speech from As You Like It.
Great Britain
Transmission details
23 Apr 1923 at 18:00 (Channel: BBC)
90 (total)
No archive copy known


William Shakespeare
Edward German; Morley; Stevens; Thomas Arne
David Ellis (2); Gladys Palmer
Eve DonneHamlet
Athene SeylerMistress Margaret Page
Gerald LawrenceBassanio
Cathleen NesbittPortia
Henry CaineDogberry
Basil Gill 
Fred GrovesSexton
Lyn Harding 
Nigel Playfair 
Roy Russell 

Additional Details

Theatre company
Old Vic Theatre Company
Production type
Television and Radio Drama
As You Like It; Hamlet; Henry VIII; Julius Caesar; Merchant of Venice, The; Merry Wives of Windsor, The; Much Ado About Nothing
Shakespeare, William (1564-1616); Gender reversal


Source: BBC Programmes as Broadcast, The Times
The British Empire Shakespeare Society (B.E.S.S.) was founded in 1901. It aimed "to diffuse widely among our fellow-countrymen, both in Great Britain and in all parts of the Empire, a knowledge and love of the greatest dramatic poet the world has ever known, whose work incarnates all the noblest and most splendid qualities of the British race" (anon., The Free Lance, 1902). According to Coppelia Kahn, the B.E.S.S. "sponsored essay and recitation contests and performances of Shakespeare, and published editions of the plays designed for amateur group readings". Cf. Kahn’s article ‘Remembering Shakespeare Imperially: The 1916 Tercentenary’ in Shakespeare Quarterly, 52.4 (2001), p. 459n13.
Broadcast in two 45-minute parts. Part 1: 18:00-18:45, Part 2: 21:00-21:45.
"In the periodical readings arranged in London by the British Empire Shakespeare Society we are presented with Shakespeare ‘as he is wrote’. We are given the traditional text and the traditional arrangement of scenes; there is no scenery and there are no costumes. The artists sit round in a circle in their everyday clothes, the scenes and stage direction are indicated by a lady who is described on the programme as ‘stage directions’,' and the action is carried through from beginning to end without pause. It is an ordeal from which the works only of the greatest dramatists could emerge with any measure of success..." ('Romeo and Juliet’: British Empire Society Reading, The Times, 20 March 1923, p. 10).

Production Company



The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)

Record Stats

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