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All the World's a Stage - 'The Vices of Mankind' (1984)

All the World's a Stage - 'The Vices of Mankind'

'The Vices of Mankind' is episode seven (of thirteen) in the arts documentary series All the World's a Stage, written and presented by Ronald Harwood.  It was produced by the BBC and first broadcast on Sunday 11 March 1984 (BBC2, 8:35-9:30pm).

With special thanks to ZoŽ for this photo from the programme, in which she and Simon Callow are pictured as seventeenth-century theatrical couple the MoliŤres.


How did theatre begin and why is it important to us?  All the World's a Stage is a landmark arts documentary series that aims to answer these crucial questions, drawing on five years' filming and research across thirteen countries.  Encompassing everything from Ancient Greek drama to Broadway musicals, the series explores theatre's origins and development around the world.  Its writer and presenter, Ronald Harwood, is himself a playwright; in All the World's a Stage, he complements his own experiences of theatre with insights from actors, other writers, directors, technicians and critics. 

In the episode 'The Vices of Mankind', ZoŽ is among a group of actors celebrating the French drama of the seventeenth century by performing specially commissioned scenes and extracts from leading works.  Regarded as a golden age for the genre, the period witnessed Racine perfecting the classical rules, Corneille breaking from the past and MoliŤre caricaturing society rather than ignoring its vices.  'The Vices of Mankind' features extracts from seventeenth-century masterpieces Le Cid, L'Impromptu de Versailles and Tartuffe (performed in a specially reconstructed Tennis Court Theatre, in accordance with the series's strict emphasis on theatrical authenticity), in order to bring the history of French theatre to life.


Participants include:

ZoŽ Wanamaker, Simon Callow, Claude Winter, Edward Petherbridge, Judith Paris, John Moffatt


Director: Keith Cheetham
Producer: Harry Hastings
Executive Producer: Richard Cawston
Film Editor: Malcolm Daniel


ZoŽ discussed the conventions of seventeenth-century French theatre, as explored in 'The Vices of Mankind', during an interview for the Radio Times, published shortly before the programme was broadcast.  'There was a great deal of hand on heart, hand-sweeping brow, hands raised to signify horror - the gestures of seventeenth-century French drama were almost puppet-like in their over-sized formality,' she explained.

Her costumes in the programme, Zoe added, were particularly uncomfortable, consisting of 'tight, tight corsets, bustled gowns, and perruques'.  'We even went as far as emulating the dead white make-up of the day, dictated, I suppose, by the archaic stage lighting.  Did you know French theatrical make-up then contained enough lead to blemish the skin, which contributed to the vogue for facial patches?'

Against this backdrop, MoliŤre's works were a breath of fresh air: 'MoliŤre dealt a fierce attack on the stylised rules which limited French theatre, and also criticised the hypocrisy of dramatists who cared too much about pleasing the public with comedies which ought properly to have pointed a dramatic finger at their vices.'

Several years before 'The Vices of Mankind' was broadcast, Zoe took part in a documentary focused on another aspect of theatrical history, Omnibus - 'The Story of Pantomime' (1976).

Press coverage

The New York Times praised All the World's a Stage as a series 'chock-full of nuggets for anybody with even the slightest interest in theatre'.


Unfortunately, 'The Vices of Mankind' is not available to the general public on DVD or in any other format.  Members of some libraries may be able to rent a DVD or video of the programme.

The book All the World's a Stage by Ronald Harwood was produced to accompany the series.

Related links

'The Vices of Mankind' programme details - BFI Film & TV Database

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