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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…
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…
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…
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 Tempest—Shakespeare’s Farewell to Art
Episode 23 of How to Read and Understand Shakespeare Course
Begin this episode 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…
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,…
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.
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…
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…
The Women of Hamlet
Episode 17 of How to Read and Understand Shakespeare Course
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…
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…
Romeo and Juliet—The Tools of Tragedy
Episode 6 of How to Read and Understand Shakespeare Course
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…
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…
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…
Appearance versus Reality in Twelfth Night
Episode 7 of How to Read and Understand Shakespeare Course
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…
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…
James Bond--A Dangerous Protector
Episode 21 of Heroes and Legends
Thanks to novels, movies, and an array of charismatic actors, nearly everyone in the developed world knows about James Bond and how he drinks his martini--"shaken, not stirred." But who is Bond? What makes him tick? Look beyond the girls,…
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…
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…
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…