Reality television offers the BBC the opportunity to fulfil its dual imperatives of education and entertainment, frequently constructed as anathematic. This article considers three recent examples of televised teaching and learning Shakespeare: When Romeo Met Juliet, Macbeth, the movie star and me, and Off By Heart: Shakespeare. It demonstrates the programmes’ fit with the reality genre through their common ingredients of authenticity, contained locations, hybridity, experts, fallible and flawed participants, articulation and reconciliation of social difference. Moreover, all three share an emphasis on a reality television staple: transformation, in terms of the participants’ knowledge, skills and personal growth, but also in relation to television audiences and the British education system. The programmes might thus usefully be understood as part of a reality television subgenre, evolving in Britain since the late 1970s, of Shmake-over. This article is published as part of a collection to commemorate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death.
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