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BBC Four Documentary on Shakespeare's Mother

Shakespeare’s Mother: the Secret Life of a Tudor Woman

Michael Wood

Historian Michael Wood uncovers the fascinating tale of Mary Arden and the Shakespeare family in a new BBC Four documentary looking at what life was like for ordinary Tudor folk.

Shakespeare’s Mother: the Secret Life of a Tudor Woman was filmed at Mary Arden’s Farm, Shakespeare’s Birthplace and across South Warwickshire, with special access to our museum and library collections, as well as Borough archives dating back to the twelfth century.

Mary Arden came from small beginnings as the daughter of a peasant farmer in the Warwickshire hamlet of Wilmcote, before marrying John Shakespeare and starting a new life in the rising Tudor middle class in Stratford-upon-Avon.

The world has heard a lot about Mary Arden’s son, William Shakespeare, but very little has been made of his mother before now. This long overdue portrayal uncovers the woman who steered her family through an age of revolution, secrecy and suspicion, and all in the process of raising the world’s most famous poet!

Through this documentary Michael Wood investigates the role of the Tudor woman; how she raised and educated her children, the beliefs she passed down in an age of religious persecution, and how the political battles of the Elizabethan state could touch even an ordinary family during one of the most dramatic periods of change in history.

On making the film, Michael Wood said: “It was a real pleasure working with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to bring Mary Arden’s story to life. I can think of few nicer places to work as a filmmaker: the terrific locations, the staggering resources of the library and archive, and the unrivalled expertise, enthusiasm, commitment and sheer helpfulness of everyone who works there. When we were filming at Mary Arden’s Farm I felt, as Bottom would say, “transported”! I hope some of that magic comes over in our film.”