Upstart Crow

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Upstart Crow
Upstart Crow.png
Title screen, based on contemporary map art such as the Visscher panorama and John Norden's map of London.
Period piece
Written byBen Elton
Directed byMatt Lipsey
Richard Boden
StarringDavid Mitchell
Liza Tarbuck
Rob Rouse
Gemma Whelan
Mark Heap
ComposerGrant Olding
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original languageEnglish
No. of series3
No. of episodes21 (list of episodes)
Executive producerMyfanwy Moore
ProducerGareth Edwards
Camera setupMulti-camera
Running time30 minutes (series), 40 minutes (Christmas specials)
Original networkBBC Two
Picture format16:9 1080i
Audio formatStereo
Original release9 May 2016 (2016-05-09) –

Upstart Crow is a British sitcom based on the life of William Shakespeare. Written by Ben Elton, it premiered on 9 May 2016 on BBC Two[1] as part of the commemorations of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death. Its title quotes "an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers", a critique of Shakespeare by his rival Robert Greene in the latter's Groats-Worth of Wit.[2]

The show is set from 1592 (the year of Greene's quotation) onwards. Shakespeare is played by David Mitchell; his wife, Anne Hathaway, is played by Liza Tarbuck; and Greene himself by Mark Heap.[3] Shakespeare's father, John Shakespeare is played by Harry Enfield. The first series was directed by Matt Lipsey, with subsequent series being directed by Richard Boden.


The first series follows the writing and preparation to stage Romeo and Juliet after William has gained some early career recognition for his poetry, Henry VI and Richard III. Events in each episode allude to one or more Shakespeare plays and usually end with Will discussing the events with Anne and either being inspired to use, or dissuaded from using, them in a future work. Along with the many Shakespearean references (including the use of asides and soliloquies) there are also several references to the television shows Blackadder and The Office. There are running gags in many episodes: the casual sexism towards Kate's attempts to become an actress, Shakespeare's coach journeys between London and Stratford which refer to modern motorway and railway journey frustrations, and are delivered in a style that references the 1970s sitcom The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, Shakespeare (and in one episode Marlowe) demanding ale and pie from his servants or family, and Shakespeare frequently claiming credit for common turns-of-phrase that predate Elizabethan times (many of them now commonly misattributed to Shakespeare).

The second and third six-episode series were broadcast in 2017 and 2018, as well as two Christmas Day specials.[4][5][6][7]

A 2020 Christmas special, "Lockdown Christmas 1603", depicted William and Kate during the plague of 1603, making references to the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns in Britain during the year of broadcast.[8]

Stage play[edit]

In September 2019, a stage play adaptation was announced for the Gielgud Theatre, City of Westminster, also written by Elton and with Mitchell and several others reprising their roles. The play opened on 7 February 2020 under the title The Upstart Crow: Elton commented that it was "an entirely original excursion, not a 'TV adaptation' ".[9][10] The play reopened in the West End at the Apollo Theatre for a ten-week season from 23 September until 3 December 2022, with Mitchell and Whelan reprising the roles of William Shakespeare and Kate.

Series overview[edit]

SeriesEpisodesOriginally aired
First airedLast aired
169 May 2016 (2016-05-09)13 June 2016 (2016-06-13)
26 (+1)11 September 2017 (2017-09-11)16 October 2017 (2017-10-16)
25 December 2017 (special)
36 (+1)29 August 2018 (2018-08-29)3 October 2018 (2018-10-03)
25 December 2018 (special)
S121 December 2020 (2020-12-21)


David Mitchell, who plays Shakespeare in both the TV sitcom and the first and second run of the stage play

Guest stars[edit]


The theme music is a 17th-century English country dance tune called "Jamaica".[21] This was first published in the 1670 4th Edition of John Playford's The Dancing Master, after Shakespeare's death.


Upstart Crow was positively received by critics.[22][23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Upstart Crow". Radio Times. Retrieved 28 April 2016.[failed verification]
  2. ^ "David Mitchell to play Shakespeare in new BBC sitcom". RadioTimes. Retrieved 8 May 2016.
  3. ^ "David Mitchell to star as Shakespeare in new BBC Two sitcom by Ben Elton". BBC Media Centre. 7 December 2015. Retrieved 2 August 2020.
  4. ^ "Upstart Crow Series 2, Episode 1 – The Green-Eyed Monster". British Comedy Guide. Retrieved 26 September 2017.
  5. ^ "Upstart Crow will return for a second series plus a Christmas special in May 2017". Radio Times. 13 June 2016. Retrieved 31 August 2016.
  6. ^ Guide, British Comedy (16 October 2017). "Upstart Crow gets Series 3". British Comedy Guide.
  7. ^ "Upstart Crow is set to return for a third series". BBC Media Centre.
  8. ^ Singh, Anita (21 December 2020). "Upstart Crow, review: Is Covid comedy is a plagued format?". The Telegraph. Retrieved 22 December 2020.
  9. ^ Wiegand, Chris (25 September 2019). "David Mitchell and Ben Elton's Upstart Crow sitcom to become stage show". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 September 2019.
  10. ^ Programme, The Upstart Crow, Gielgud Theatre (2020), p. [4]
  11. ^ Dustagheer, Sarah. "Upstart Crow: Shakespeare sitcom is really quite educational". Retrieved 31 August 2018.
  12. ^ Dugdale, John (28 October 2016). "How close were Marlowe and Shakespeare?". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 September 2017 – via
  13. ^ Dessau, Bruce (26 May 2016). "TV Review: Upstart Crow, BBC2, Episode 3 – The Apparel Proclaims The Man". Beyond The Joke. Retrieved 3 February 2019.
  14. ^ Dugdale, John (28 October 2016). "How close were Marlowe and Shakespeare?". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 February 2018.
  15. ^ Elton, Ben (18 October 2018). Upstart Crow. Random House. ISBN 978-1473561229 – via Google Books.
  16. ^ Raeside, Julia (10 May 2016). "Upstart Crow review: Ben Elton finds the comedy in Shakespeare's history". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 February 2019.
  17. ^ Cowell, Rob (2 May 2018). "New Ben Elton comedy about Shakespeare takes a pop at… Ricky Gervais". Radio Times.
  18. ^ "Emma Thompson to join the cast of Upstart Crow". BBC Media Centre. Retrieved 26 September 2017.
  19. ^ Low, Valentine (11 September 2018). "Mark Rylance ridiculed by upstarts over comedy of errors". The Times.
  20. ^ Moore, William (12 September 2018). "Much ado about Shakespeare's plays, but Ben Elton has the last laugh". Evening Standard. Retrieved 3 February 2019.
  21. ^ "Upstart Crow (TV Series 2016– )". Retrieved 2 August 2020 – via
  22. ^ Raeside, Julia (10 May 2016). "Upstart Crow review: Ben Elton finds the comedy in Shakespeare's history". the Guardian. Retrieved 21 February 2018.
  23. ^ "Upstart Crow's David Mitchell on Shakespeare, Peep Show and jokes". 6 September 2017. Retrieved 21 February 2018.

External links[edit]