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BBC Radio 4 - In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg

In Our Time

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of ideas

In Our Time

  • Piers Plowman
    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss William Langland's poem, written around 1370, about a man called Will who fell asleep on the Malvern Hills and dreamed of Piers the Plowman. This was a time between the Black Death and The Peasants’ Revolt, when Christians wanted to save their souls but doubted how best to do it - and had to live with that uncertainty. Some call this the greatest medieval poem in English, one offering questions not answers, and it can be as unsettling now as it was then. With Laura Ashe Professor of English Literature at Worcester College, University of Oxford Lawrence Warner Professor of Medieval English at King’s College London And Alastair Bennett Lecturer in Medieval Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Maria Theresa
    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Maria Theresa (1717-1780) who inherited the Austrian throne in 1740 at the age of 23. Her neighbours circled like wolves and, within two months, Frederick the Great had seized one of her most prized lands, Silesia, exploiting her vulnerability. Yet over the next forty years through political reforms, alliances and marriages, she built Austria up into a formidable power, and she would do whatever it took to save the souls of her Catholic subjects, with a rigidity and intolerance that Joseph II, her son and heir, could not wait to challenge. With Catriona Seth Marshal Foch Professor of French Literature at the University of Oxford Martyn Rady Professor of Central European History at University College London And Thomas Biskup Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of Hull Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Alan Turing
    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Alan Turing (1912-1954) whose 1936 paper On Computable Numbers effectively founded computer science. Immediately recognised by his peers, his wider reputation has grown as our reliance on computers has grown. He was a leading figure at Bletchley Park in the Second World War, using his ideas for cracking enemy codes, work said to have shortened the war by two years and saved millions of lives. That vital work was still secret when Turing was convicted in 1952 for having a sexual relationship with another man for which he was given oestrogen for a year, or chemically castrated. Turing was to kill himself two years later. The immensity of his contribution to computing was recognised in the 1960s by the creation of the Turing Award, known as the Nobel of computer science, and he is to be the new face on the £50 note. With Leslie Ann Goldberg Professor of Computer Science and Fellow of St Edmund Hall, University of Oxford Simon Schaffer Professor of the History of Science at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Darwin College And Andrew Hodges Biographer of Turing and Emeritus Fellow of Wadham College, Oxford Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Deism
    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the idea that God created the universe and then left it for humans to understand by reason not revelation. Edward Herbert, 1583-1648 (pictured above) held that there were five religious truths: belief in a Supreme Being, the need to worship him, the pursuit of a virtuous life as the best form of worship, repentance, and reward or punishment after death. Others developed these ideas in different ways, yet their opponents in England's established Church collected them under the label of Deists, called Herbert the Father of Deism and attacked them as a movement, and Deist books were burned. Over time, reason and revelation found a new balance in the Church in England, while Voltaire and Thomas Paine explored the ideas further, leading to their re-emergence in the French and American Revolutions. With Richard Serjeantson Fellow and Lecturer in History at Trinity College, Cambridge Katie East Lecturer in History at Newcastle University And Thomas Ahnert Professor of Intellectual History at the University of Edinburgh Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Macbeth
    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies. When three witches prophesy that Macbeth will be king one day, he is not prepared to wait and almost the next day he murders King Duncan as he sleeps, a guest at Macbeth’s castle. From there we explore their brutal world where few boundaries are distinct – between safe and unsafe, friend and foe, real and unreal, man and beast – until Macbeth too is slaughtered. The image above shows Nicol Williamson as Macbeth in a 1983 BBC TV adaptation. With: Emma Smith Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Hertford College, University of Oxford Kiernan Ryan Emeritus Professor of English Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London And David Schalkwyk, Professor of Shakespeare Studies and Director of Global Shakespeare at Queen Mary, University of London Producer: Simon Tillotson