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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

  • The Siege of Malta, 1565
    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the event of which Voltaire, two hundred years later, said 'nothing was more well known'. In 1565, Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman leader, sent a great fleet west to lay siege to Malta and capture it for his empire. Victory would mean control of trade across the Mediterranean and a base for attacks on Spain, Sicily and southern Italy, even Rome. It would also mean elimination of Malta's defenders, the Knights Hospitaller, driven by the Ottomans from their base in Rhodes in 1522 and whose raids on his shipping had long been a thorn in his side. News of the Great Siege of Malta spread fear throughout Europe, though that turned to elation when, after four months of horrific fighting, the Ottomans withdrew, undermined by infighting between their leaders and the death of the highly-valued admiral, Dragut. The Knights Hospitaller had shown that Suleiman's forces could be contained, and their own order was reinvigorated. The image above is the Death of Dragut at the Siege of Malta (1867), after a painting by Giuseppe Cali. Dragut (1485 – 1565) was an Ottoman Admiral and privateer, known as The Drawn Sword of Islam and as one of the finest generals of the time. With Helen Nicholson Professor of Medieval History at Cardiff University Diarmaid MacCulloch Professor of the History of the Church at the University of Oxford and Kate Fleet Director of the Skilliter Centre for Ottoman Studies and Fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge Producer: Simon Tillotson.

  • Hamlet
    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Shakespeare's best known, most quoted and longest play, written c1599 - 1602 and rewritten throughout his lifetime. It is the story of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, encouraged by his father's ghost to take revenge on his uncle who murdered him, and is set at the court of Elsinore. In soliloquies, the Prince reveals his inner self to the audience while concealing his thoughts from all at the Danish court, who presume him insane. Shakespeare gives him lines such as 'to be or not to be,' 'alas, poor Yorick,' and 'frailty thy name is woman', which are known even to those who have never seen or read the play. And Hamlet has become the defining role for actors, men and women, who want to show their mastery of Shakespeare's work. The image above is from the 1964 film adaptation, directed by Grigori Kozintsev, with Innokenty Smoktunovsky as Hamlet. With Sir Jonathan Bate Provost of Worcester College, University of Oxford Carol Rutter Professor of Shakespeare and Performance Studies at the University of Warwick And Sonia Massai Professor of Shakespeare Studies at King's College London Producer: Simon Tillotson.

  • Beethoven
    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the great composers, who was born into a family of musicians in Bonn. His grandfather was an eminent musician and also called Ludwig van Beethoven. His father, who was not as talented as Beethoven's grandfather, drank heavily and died when Beethoven was still young. It was his move to Vienna that allowed him to flourish, with the support at first of aristocratic patrons, when that city was the hub of European music. He is credited with developing the symphony further than any who preceded him, with elevating instrumental above choral music and with transforming music to the highest form of art. He composed his celebrated works while, from his late twenties onwards, becoming increasingly deaf. (Before the live broadcast, BBC Radio 3's Breakfast programme played selections from Beethoven, with Essential Classics playing more, immediately after, on the same network.) With Laura Tunbridge Professor of Music and Henfrey Fellow, St Catherine's College, University of Oxford John Deathridge Emeritus King Edward Professor of Music at King's College London And Erica Buurman Senior Lecturer in Music, Canterbury Christchurch University Producer: Simon Tillotson.

  • Thomas Becket
    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the man who was Henry II's Chancellor and then Archbishop of Canterbury and who was murdered by knights in Canterbury Cathedral (depicted by Matthew Paris, above). Henry believed that Becket owed him loyalty as he had raised him to the highest offices, and that he should agree to Henry's courts having jurisdiction over 'criminous clerics'. They fell out when Becket agreed to this jurisdiction verbally but would not put his seal on the agreement, the Constitutions of Clarendon. The rift deepened when Henry's heir was crowned without Becket, who excommunicated the bishops who took part. Becket's tomb became one of the main destinations for pilgrims for the next 400 years, including those in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales where he was the 'blisful martir'. With Laura Ashe Associate Professor of English at Worcester College, University of Oxford Michael Staunton Associate Professor in History at University College Dublin And Danica Summerlin Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of Sheffield Producer: Simon Tillotson.

  • Moby Dick
    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Herman Melville's (1819-1891) epic novel, published in London in 1851, the story of Captain Ahab's pursuit of a great white sperm whale that had bitten off his leg. He risks his own life and that of his crew on the Pequod, single-mindedly seeking his revenge, his story narrated by Ishmael who was taking part in a whaling expedition for the first time. This is one of the c1000 ideas which listeners sent in this autumn for our fourth Listener Week, following Kafka's The Trial in 2014, Captain Cook in 2015 and Garibaldi and the Risorgimento in 2016. With Bridget Bennett Professor of American Literature and Culture at the University of Leeds Katie McGettigan Lecturer in American Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London And Graham Thompson Associate Professor of American Studies at the University of Nottingham Producer: Simon Tillotson.