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Last Will. & Testament

Airs Friday, October 25, 2013 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: The famous Ashbourne portrait, purchased by the Folger Shakespeare Library, was long believed to be a depiction of William Shakespeare. But x-ray examination in 1940 revealed that the artwork had been painted over, covering what many believe to be the lost portrait of Edward DeVere, 17th Earl of Oxford. The debate still rages as to the true identity of the subject.

"Last Will. & Testament" explores one of the great literary mysteries of all time: Who wrote the works attributed to William Shakespeare? Although the official story of a Stratford merchant writing for the London box office has held sway for centuries, questions over the authorship of the plays and poems have persisted.

Courtesy of ©Folger Shakespeare Library

Derek Jacobi on the set of Columbia Pictures’ "Anonymous," a film about the disputed authorship of Shakespeare's plays.

Courtesy of Reiner Bajo/Columbia Pictures

Mark Rylance on the set of Columbia Pictures’ "Anonymous," a film about the disputed authorship of Shakespeare's plays.

Courtesy of Ben Huddleston/First Folio Pictures

Noted actress Vanessa Redgrave is interviewed in "Last Will. & Testament."

Courtesy of First Folio Pictures

The six known signatures of William Shakespeare. "All he left us in his own hand are six shaky signatures in which he uses eleven letters of the alphabet. There’s nothing else. He never left a letter, a memo, anything." - Charles Beauclerk

Courtesy of Reiner Bajo/Columbia Pictures

On the set of Columbia Pictures’ "Anonymous," a film about the disputed authorship of Shakespeare's plays.

Mark Twain, Sigmund Freud, Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles are among the many famous figures who doubt that a grain-dealer from Stratford-Upon-Avon was England’s “Star of Poets.” Experts have debated, books have been written, and scholars have devoted their lives to protecting or debunking theories surrounding the authorship.

Sir Derek Jacobi leads an impressive cast featuring Oscar®-winning actress Vanessa Redgrave and Tony® Award-winning actor Mark Rylance on a quest to uncover the truth behind the elusive author and discovers a forgotten nobleman whose story could rewrite history.

The first part of "Last Will. & Testament" explores the orthodox story of William Shakespeare of Stratford and the longstanding views held by academia. Stanley Wells, Honorary President of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, and Prof. Jonathan Bate defend the orthodox position, while anti-Stratfordians Charles Beauclerk, Dr. Roger Stritmatter, Dr. Daniel Wright, Diana Price and actors Vanessa Redgrave, Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance expose the thin trail of evidence that has fueled doubt for centuries.

The second part is a testament to an alternative Shakespeare — one presented to the world in the literary works themselves and in the testimony of his most insightful doubters. Through a series of interviews with scholars currently working in the field, the film fashions a profile of the elusive poet.

During the last century, a field of more than 60 candidates for authorship has narrowed, with Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, and group authorship becoming the most popular alternatives.

"Last Will. & Testament" traces the life and literary career of this forgotten nobleman. Through on-camera commentary, a portrait of de Vere emerges: a real-life Hamlet, whose tragic experiences provided the raw material for the canon and gave birth to the anti-Stratfordian and Oxfordian movements.

The final segment of the film weaves together the major historical events of the late Tudor era, including the crisis of succession and the Essex Revolt. The power politics of the Elizabethan Age and the towering figure of the Queen herself are addressed by the film’s commentators, who seek to connect Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets to the turbulent world of the court. By the end of "Last Will. & Testament," viewers are challenged to explore the many unresolved historical, political and artistic issues that lie at the heart of the mystery of who wrote Shakespeare’s works.

"Last Will. & Testament" is on Facebook, and you can follow @LWANDTTHEMOVIE on Twitter.

Last Will. & Testament Preview

It’s a great literary mystery: who wrote the works of William Shakespeare? Although the official story of a Stratford merchant writing for the London box office has held sway for centuries, questions over the authorship of the plays and poems have persisted.

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