How to Read and Understand Shakespeare

Watch How to Read and Understand Shakespeare

  • 2013
  • 1 Season

The Great Courses has created an exceptional course titled, How to Read and Understand Shakespeare. This is an all-inclusive course which takes viewers on a journey through some of Shakespeare's most renowned works with a focus on reading, understanding, and delving deep into the texts themselves.

The show is introduced by Professor Marc C. Conner, a renowned scholar and the provost at Washington and Lee University. He sets out the basics of what students will be learning in the course, including how to approach Shakespeare's works, how to understand the context of his writing, and how to appreciate his language and language style-speak a different language.

The course is formatted into 24 lectures that each explore a different play by Shakespeare, including famous ones like Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Othello, and Hamlet. However, there are also some that may be lesser-known, but equally important works like The Winter's Tale, Love's Labour's Lost, and The Tempest. Each lecture is approximately 30 minutes long, and within each one, Professor Conner thoroughly examines each work, with its political, historical, and social contexts analyzed to provide a deeper understanding of the complexity of Shakespeare's plays.

What sets this course apart from others is that it's designed for everyone from beginners, intermediate learners, and advanced learners. The course is intended to be for everyone, regardless of their academic background or literary knowledge level. The lectures are comprehensive and it's designed to elevate the intellectual capacity and analytical skills of the viewer, allowing them to appreciate Shakespeare in a profound way they may have never experienced before.

Professor Conner's passion for Shakespeare is contagious, he ensures that the material is presented in a comprehensible and easy-to-digest way. He brings the plays to life by quoting and performing some of the best-known lines, explains the meaning behind some of the most obscure words, and brings the historical context of the plays to life by comparing them with real-world history.

The show also features close readings of particular passages and lines within the plays, letting students get inside the mind of Shakespeare himself. The professor uses his exceptional literary background to examine various themes, such as power, politics, love, honor, jealousy, and the human condition. He also explores how Shakespeare used theatrical elements to create emotions, evoke depth, and increase drama in his plays.

Throughout the course, Professor Conner uses illustrations, images, paintings, and historical references to give depth to his analysis of the plays. Additionally, he explores different types of language styles, such as wit, irony, and metaphor, and how they are commonly used in Shakespeare's works. He also shares insights on the different ways the language has evolved over time, allowing us to understand how words and phrases have changed from the Elizabethan era to present-day.

The lecture series not only dives into the plays, but also talks about the creation of Shakespeare himself. The professor provides an insightful overview of Shakespeare's life, his influences, and how he came to be known as one of the greatest playwrights in history. In the final episodes, the course ties all of this together, providing viewers with a comprehensive understanding of how Shakespeare was a master storyteller and how his writing managed to capture the humanity in everyone.

Overall, How to Read and Understand Shakespeare is an exceptional course that will leave viewers fulfilled, enriched and with a new found understanding and appreciation of one of the greatest writers of all time. The depth and breadth of this course are unmatched and it's recommended for anyone interested in literature, drama, or history, and is suitable for beginners, intermediates, and advanced learners in literary studies.

How to Read and Understand Shakespeare is a series that is currently running and has 1 seasons (24 episodes). The series first aired on March 8, 2013.

How to Read and Understand Shakespeare
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The Tools for a Lifetime of Shakespeare
24. The Tools for a Lifetime of Shakespeare
March 8, 2013
The many interpretive tools you've studied leave you with the ability to engage meaningfully with any Shakespeare play. In concluding, look at three plays you have not yet studied in detail--Much Ado About Nothing, Julius Caesar, and As You Like It--and see how the tools allow you to directly appreciate their structures, devices, and deeper meanings.
The Tempest?Shakespeare?s Farewell to Art
23. The Tempest?Shakespeare?s Farewell to Art
March 8, 2013
Begin this lecture by investigating the spiritual significance of The Tempest's island setting as a testing ground for humanity's nobler nature. Then grasp how Shakespeare seems to speak directly to us through the figure of Prospero, whose final renunciation of his magical art mirrors Shakespeare's own farewell to playwriting.
Tools of Romance in The Tempest
22. Tools of Romance in The Tempest
March 8, 2013
At the end of his career, Shakespeare developed the form of drama known as his Late Romances. Here, learn how The Tempest exemplifies the three-part structure of the Romances, as the magical figure Prospero "stages" a series of trials for the shipwrecked characters, leading them through suffering to ultimate reconciliation.
Measure for Measure?Overcoming Tragedy
21. Measure for Measure?Overcoming Tragedy
March 8, 2013
This lecture uses the interpretive tools of both comedy and tragedy to mine the deeper meanings of Measure for Measure. Study how the playwright treats plot elements and character relationships that show the hallmarks of tragedy, finally overturning them in a surprising and transformative resolution of the story
Measure for Measure?Is This Comedy?
20. Measure for Measure?Is This Comedy?
March 8, 2013
With Measure for Measure, you enter the world of Shakespeare's "problem plays"--dramas that seem neither truly comic nor tragic. Here, observe how Shakespeare creates Vienna, the play's setting, as a place of hypocrisy, deception, and trickery, where nothing is what it seems and all the tenets of comedy are subverted.
The Arc of Character in The Merchant of Venice
19. The Arc of Character in The Merchant of Venice
March 8, 2013
Begin this lecture by tracing the historical background of Judaism in Elizabethan London, and how the portrayal of Shylock conforms to contemporary conventions of comic villains. Then see how Shakespeare breaks free of the stereotypes of his time, developing the character and the play as a penetrating meditation on justice and mercy.
The Merchant of Venice?Comedy or Tragedy?
18. The Merchant of Venice?Comedy or Tragedy?
March 8, 2013
In this extraordinary play, Shakespeare explores the dark undercurrents of comedy to the fullest. Delve into the crisis of identity that each character faces, the theme of perilous risk, and the plot elements of loss and sacrifice that work against the play's comic structure.
The Women of Hamlet
17. The Women of Hamlet
March 8, 2013
Two crucial women illuminate the core themes and dynamics of Hamlet. Grasp how Gertrude, who speaks only in moderation, compellingly underlines the issues of loyalty and betrayal that drive the story, and how Ophelia, torn between irreconcilable male figures, becomes a sacrifice to the tragic forces of the play.
The Religious Drama of Hamlet
16. The Religious Drama of Hamlet
March 8, 2013
A deep look at the religious and theological issues at work in Hamlet unlocks the meanings in Shakespeare's most celebrated play. Study three important moments of religious contemplation within the play, and see how Hamlet's hesitance to avenge his father's murder is enmeshed with his foreboding sense of the afterlife.
Staging Hamlet
15. Staging Hamlet
March 8, 2013
Discover how Hamlet's opening scene reveals many of the crucial themes of the play. Then delve into the use of acting as a major dynamic of the story, as Hamlet ultimately takes action through the devices of theater, staging a play to determine the course of his own fate.
The Tragic Woman in Macbeth
14. The Tragic Woman in Macbeth
March 8, 2013
Shakespeare's great tragic women are central to the functioning of his tragedies. Here, encounter the powerful figure of Lady Macbeth and observe how her arc of development as a character inversely mirrors her husband's. Grasp how Macbeth poignantly sounds the depths of meaninglessness as he confronts the abyss of his own making.
Macbeth??Foul and Fair?
13. Macbeth??Foul and Fair?
March 8, 2013
In Macbeth, Shakespeare reveals a world in which everything becomes its opposite. Study how reversals of reality and meaning dominate the play, seen vividly in the recurring dynamic of betrayal and the politically charged tension between appearance and reality. See how the playwright uses "comic relief" to ultimately heighten the horror you've witnessed
The Drama of Ideas in Henry V
12. The Drama of Ideas in Henry V
March 8, 2013
In plumbing the riches of one of Shakespeare's greatest history plays, assess Henry's ambiguous relation to God as he manipulates faith and religion to his political ends. Grasp also how Henry employs the dynamics of theater, brilliantly "staging" each of his critical actions, and how he defeats the expectations of his French foes.
Henry IV, Part 2?Contrast and Complexity
11. Henry IV, Part 2?Contrast and Complexity
March 8, 2013
As an interpretive tool, define Part 2's stark differences with the preceding play, noting its shifting depictions of courage and honor, and its characters' reversals of fortune. Follow Prince Hal's dramatic metamorphosis as he assumes the throne, disavowing the dissolute life he lived and embracing the course of justice and order.
Politics as Theater in Henry IV, Part I
10. Politics as Theater in Henry IV, Part I
March 8, 2013
Here, the dynamic of appearance versus reality illuminates the making of a king. In the dual world of the Court and the Tavern, witness Shakespeare's use of theatrical role-playing to reveal Prince Hal and Falstaff to themselves, and grasp how Hal's journey to kingship takes on the nature of a calculated "performance."
Richard II?History and Kingship
9. Richard II?History and Kingship
March 8, 2013
In his history plays, Shakespeare addresses profound issues of politics, philosophy, and religion. In Richard II, engage with core thematic elements that drive the history plays: the question of the "divine right" of kingship, the larger meanings of historical events, and the conflict between brothers--an emblem for civil war
Twelfth Night?More Comic Tools
8. Twelfth Night?More Comic Tools
March 8, 2013
In Shakespeare's encompassing vision of Twelfth Night, observe how the young characters' movement toward self-knowledge and mutual love contrasts with plot elements of isolation and rejection. See how the remarkable heroine Viola, a figure of grace, acts as an agent of redemption for the entire world of the play.
Appearance versus Reality in Twelfth Night
7. Appearance versus Reality in Twelfth Night
March 8, 2013
As one of his outstanding "mature" comedies, Twelfth Night reveals themes and elements that are keys to all of Shakespeare's plays. Discover how the comedy revolves around crises of identity, the need to distinguish external appearance from internal reality, and a reversal of power roles
Romeo and Juliet?The Tools of Tragedy
6. Romeo and Juliet?The Tools of Tragedy
March 8, 2013
Continuing with Romeo and Juliet, observe how the famous balcony scene shifts the action and sense of the play toward a new kind of character-driven tragedy. In the play's unfolding, note the role of the tension between fate and free will, and the arc of development whereby Juliet becomes a great tragic figure.
Romeo and Juliet?Words, Words, Words
5. Romeo and Juliet?Words, Words, Words
March 8, 2013
Shakespeare's primary tool as a playwright is words themselves as dramatic expressions of character and meaning. In Romeo and Juliet, see how Shakespeare ingeniously uses language to distinguish class and personality, and how he uses the poetic form of the sonnet in creating a sublime language of love.
A Midsummer Night's Dream-Comic Structure
4. A Midsummer Night's Dream-Comic Structure
March 8, 2013
This lecture explores key principles for understanding and appreciating Shakespeare's comedies. Grasp the thematic elements of a shift from friendship to romantic love and of severe testing of the characters. See how the three-part structure of the comedies leads inevitably to reconciliation and regeneration.
A Midsummer Night?s Dream?Comic Tools
3. A Midsummer Night?s Dream?Comic Tools
March 8, 2013
In his comedic plays, Shakespeare drew on the classical Roman model of comedy. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, see how he expands the form, using the archetypal plot devices of "blocked love," its resolution at either the altar or the grave, and the escape from urban life to the magical world of the forest.
Shakespeare's Theater and Stagecraft
2. Shakespeare's Theater and Stagecraft
March 8, 2013
Here, envision theatrical London as it existed in Shakespeare's time. First, consider Shakespeare's fundamental intent to "hold the mirror up to nature"--to imitate the living world. Then learn about the colorful milieu of Elizabethan theater; its conventions of physical space, scenery, and costumes; and how the playwright created theatrical "reality" through language.
Approaching Shakespeare-The Scene Begins
1. Approaching Shakespeare-The Scene Begins
March 8, 2013
Consider four points of entry for understanding what's happening in a Shakespeare play. Learn how to approach a single dramatic scene, focusing on Shakespeare's richly metaphorical use of language. Begin to grasp the playwright's use of stagecraft, and how his plays require your own active participation and powers of imagination.
Where to Watch How to Read and Understand Shakespeare
How to Read and Understand Shakespeare is available for streaming on the The Great Courses website, both individual episodes and full seasons. You can also watch How to Read and Understand Shakespeare on demand at Apple TV Channels, Amazon Prime, Amazon, Kanopy and Hoopla.
  • Premiere Date
    March 8, 2013