Approaching Shakespeare—The Scene Begins

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How to Read and Understand Shakespeare Course
Shakespeare's plays are masterworks, but they can be hard to understand for a modern English speaker. Gain direct insight into Shakespeare's writing in this course which explains how to enter Shakespeare's world, how to grasp what's happening in his plays, and how to enjoy each play on both the page…
Shakespeare’s Theater and Stagecraft
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"…
The Tempest—Shakespeare’s Farewell to Art
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 his magical art mirrors Shakespeare's own farewell to playwriting.
The Drama of Ideas in Henry V
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…
Macbeth—“Foul and Fair”
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…
Politics as Theater in Henry IV, Part I
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…
The Arc of Character in The Merchant of Venice
Begin this episode 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…
Romeo and Juliet—Words, Words, Words
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.
Shakespeare - A Mirror to Man
Shakespeare wrote of the depths of human passion and ambition -- eternal themes that continually prove their relevance to modern readers and citizens. Shakespeare: A Mirror to Man demonstrates that timelessness through performances of scenes from plays including The Taming of the Shrew, Macbeth, and Othello. "Well-cast and employing the…
Measure for Measure—Is This Comedy?
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 Merchant of Venice—Comedy or Tragedy?
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.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream—Comic Structure
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 to reconciliation and regeneration.