Review: Cunk on Shakespeare

by Matthew Cobb

As regular readers will know, Jerry’s favourite Boltonian, Philomena Cunk (aka Diane Morgan), starred in a 30-minute special on BBC2 last night, entitled Cunk on Shakespeare. It was a hoot, and I guffawed all the way through. Tw*tter was awash with people repeating their favourite lines (guilty, m’lud) as Morgan and the three script-writers –  Charlie Brooker,  Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris – demolished every trope of the TV documentary (‘I’m going on a journey’ said Cunk, grimacing, before claiming ‘I’ve been studying Shakespeare ever since I was asked to do this programme, and it turns out he was more than just a bald man who could write with feathers’), while savaging how literature is taught and presented.

In a performance that proved Morgan to have the kind of dead-pan talent that made Buster Keaton and Stan Laurel so great, Cunk swivelled her eyes, pursed her lips, consulted her phone and was generally mardy as she tried to make sense of the bald man from Stratford with the aid of the usual band of experts, who this time seemed happy to be along for the ride, rather than utterly bemused as in the case of some of her previous outings.

According to The Daily TelegraphCunk’s implacable idiocy was thrillingly iconoclastic. Mainly, though, it was very silly and gloriously funny’, while The Guardian said ‘I also like that it’s not so squirmingly Ali G-mean on the serious Shakespeare contributors – the archivist Paul Taylor, theatre director Iqbal Khan, actor Simon Russell Beale and Mr Burton, the “fictional English teacher from TV drama Educating Yorkshire”. I think they’re having a good time too. Brilliant.’ 

But judge for yourselves. Lucky UK readers, or those with the know-how to pretend they are in the UK, can watch it on iPlayer. [JAC: a very kind reader send me a samizdat copy, which I’ll watch soon.] For the rest of you, here are some extracts (I’d be interested to know how many of the jokes non-anglophiles get).

The first, on the words Shakespeare may or may not have invented, is NSFW unless you have headphones on, as it contains A Rude Word (hyphenated) towards the end. Just listen to the brilliantly subtle emphasis when Cunk says ‘Did he?’ at the beginning.

Here she talks with Matthew Burton, an English teacher who featured in an excellent documentary about school life, Educating Yorkshire, and learns how to pronounce ‘pentameter’:

And finally, her she is discussing with theatre director Iqbal Khan. If only real presenters would challenge their interviewees in this way:

JAC: Philomena’s Twi**er followers have taken a big jump, of course, so I now face many more competitors.


  1. GBJames
    Posted May 12, 2016 at 8:22 am | Permalink


  2. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted May 12, 2016 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    Painfully funny to watch last night.

  3. Merilee
    Posted May 12, 2016 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    Please, sir, I want some MOAR (samizdat).

  4. Randy Schenck
    Posted May 12, 2016 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    Like the reference to “bendiest” brains. Same thing the religious recruiters learned long ago, even before Shakespeare.

  5. GBJames
    Posted May 12, 2016 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    BTW… for those of us in the US…

    There is a Chrome extension called “Hola” which will allow you to watch BBC iPlayer video.

    • Posted May 12, 2016 at 9:31 am | Permalink

      Have I mentioned Tunnelbear?



    • Posted May 13, 2016 at 3:50 am | Permalink

      I can’t get either one to work, eith Iron or Chrome (on Linux). I click on the icon and it just gives me a blank page with “Tunnelbear” at the top. 😦

  6. Posted May 12, 2016 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would. It seemed a bit flaccid compared to her science videos.


  7. Andy Bowes
    Posted May 12, 2016 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    I downloaded this & watched it on my way to work this morning.

    I was nearly crying with laughter but it did mean that I got a lot of room in the carriage. The bit with the white gloves when reading the 1st folio was a particular highlight plus the surreptitious checking of her phone whilst the actor performed Hamlet’s speech.

    • moleatthecounter
      Posted May 12, 2016 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

      My favourite bits too actually! Wonderful…

  8. Kevin
    Posted May 12, 2016 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Phiomena is precious. I get the same thing happen to me when I pronounce Scotches…it’s Glenmorangie no it’s Glenmorangie no it’s pronounced Glenmorangie…and on and on

  9. Posted May 12, 2016 at 12:35 pm | Permalink


    • merilee
      Posted May 12, 2016 at 12:39 pm | Permalink


  10. wiseape108
    Posted May 12, 2016 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    Thanks indeed for the transcript.

    “I’ve never had to stand for a whole Shakespeare. I don’t think I could do it. I’d be livid if I didn’t have a chair.”

    Worthy of the Bard himself.

  11. Graham Head
    Posted May 12, 2016 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    I loved the bit at the start when she pointed at the last four letters of Corialanus like a schoolgirl looking up rude words in the dictionary.

  12. nurnord
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    How strange ! On the general post page, all 3 clips are the same (the ‘which words did Shaky make up’ clip), only when I go to the comments page (where the post appears above the comments), does the correct 3 clips appear !

  13. jeremyp
    Posted May 20, 2016 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    School in Shakespeare’s day and age was vastly different to our own. In fact, it was far easier because you didn’t have to study Shakespeare.

    Says it all.

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