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Approaching Shakespeare—The Scene Begins
Episode 1 of How to Read and Understand Shakespeare Course
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…
Austen - The Life and Work of Jane Austen
Jane Austen produced some of the finest novels in English literature. The film covers her life and ends with an overview of her work.
Harry Potter--Whistle-Blower Hero
Episode 24 of Heroes and Legends
Finish your course with one of the most unexpected hits of our time--and a smash hit at that. What can the surprising success of Harry Potter teach us about successful heroes? And what do his battles against Lord Voldemort tell…
Frodo Baggins--A Reluctant Hero
Episode 1 of Heroes and Legends
What makes certain characters successful? Begin your study with a look at Frodo Baggins, the hobbit-hero from The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In considering what makes him a hero--and how he runs counter to our notions of the traditional…
Shakespeare’s Theater and Stagecraft
Episode 2 of How to Read and Understand Shakespeare Course
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,…
A Midsummer Night’s Dream—Comic Tools
Episode 3 of How to Read and Understand Shakespeare Course
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…
Beowulf--A Hero with Hidden Depths
Episode 7 of Heroes and Legends
Beowulf is not an easy poem to understand, but Beowulf is not an easy character to understand. Here, analyze how this classic male hero--a big, strong, monster killer--may have a hidden vulnerability. Then, look at what insights Beowulf's story offers…
The Tragic Woman in Macbeth
Episode 14 of How to Read and Understand Shakespeare Course
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…
Elizabeth Bennet--A Proper Pride
Episode 12 of Heroes and Legends
Meet the charming heroine from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. The story of her complicated relationship with Mr. Darcy is a realistic Cinderella story and has lent itself to numerous adaptations, including Bridget Jones's Diary. Consider the integral role that…
Fairy-Tale Heroines--New-Style Princesses
Episode 22 of Heroes and Legends
Cinderella. Snow White. Rapunzel. These fairy-tale heroines are imbued in our cultural consciousness. What lessons are they meant to teach? And do these lessons align with our current cultural values? Study the composite fairy-tale heroine, both in the classic fairy…
Dracula--The Allure of the Monster
Episode 17 of Heroes and Legends
The 19th century produced a radically different kind of hero: the spooky and fantastical Dracula. After observing the structural complexity of this novel, you'll examine the hidden fears and repressed sensuality that led Bram Stoker to create this vampire and…
Romeo and Juliet—Words, Words, Words
Episode 5 of How to Read and Understand Shakespeare Course
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…
Macbeth—“Foul and Fair”
Episode 13 of How to Read and Understand Shakespeare Course
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…
The Merchant of Venice—Comedy or Tragedy?
Episode 18 of How to Read and Understand Shakespeare Course
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…
A Midsummer Night’s Dream—Comic Structure
Episode 4 of How to Read and Understand Shakespeare Course
This episode 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…
Lisbeth Salander--Avenging Female Fury
Episode 23 of Heroes and Legends
Lisbeth Salander, the heroine from the popular Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, seems to be an original character well suited to our times--hip, ingenious, computer savvy. But as you'll discover in this episode, her character also has echoes of…
Twelfth Night—More Comic Tools
Episode 8 of How to Read and Understand Shakespeare Course
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…
Sherlock Holmes--The First Great Detective
Episode 16 of Heroes and Legends
We are familiar with Sherlock Holmes's methodology--using clues, facts, evidence, and reason to solve the case. Here, go inside the world of the 19th century and see what circumstances paved the way for such a hero. Then, turn to some…
Thor--A Very Human God
Episode 8 of Heroes and Legends
Thor may seem like another classic male hero--the god of thunder in Norse mythology and a superhero today--yet the Icelandic poems and stories from the 13th century undercut the image of Thor as a straightforward hero. These amusing tales will…
Staging Hamlet
Episode 15 of How to Read and Understand Shakespeare Course
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…