In this introductory essay to The Hollow Crown, Peter Kirwan articulates something of its achievement in redesigning Shakespearean history for twenty-first-century television. The Hollow Crown is an important intervention in the production and reception history of these plays, but one that is specific to its cultural, historical, political and interpretive moment. Its directorial and performance choices may not resolve the issues of the plays, but open up productive questions that are as multi-faceted as the hollow crown itself. For as the crown shifts between material and symbolic functions, and takes on the values that are projected onto it by society, so too do The Hollow Crown’s idiosyncrasies, contradictions and innovations create a vision of medieval English history that defies easy interpretation.
The essay opens up ways of thinking about the films as modern television productions in their own right, as ways of exploring 21st Century responses to Shakespeare and as offering new insights into the plays' characters and themes as well as giving the viewer important contextual information about the plays' place in the Shakespeare canon and their evolution as a unique sequence and genre of play.