Shakespeare's Life and Work
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assignment Level : Introductive
chat_bubble_outline Language : English
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Key Information

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About the content

How do we read Shakespeare? Do his plays belong to the past, or the present? To a famed dramatic genius or to readers and audiences around the globe? What do his plays really mean?

Moving between the world in which Shakespeare lived and the present day, this course will introduce different kinds of literary analysis that you can use when reading Shakespeare. With short videos filmed on location in England and readings covering topics like Shakespeare's contemporaries and the politics of modern performance, you will learn a range of critical tool that you can use to unlock the meaning and relevance of Shakespeare’s plays.

Join us as we visit Stratford-upon-Avon, where Shakespeare was born in 1564; London, the lively city where he began as an actor; and the Globe Theater, where his first plays were performed. This journey through Shakespeare’s life will transport you to another era and will give you a new perspective on his timeless work.

  • The cultural significance of Shakespeare's plays and their performance
  • How Shakespeare’s work was considered in his own time and in the present, in his own country and around the world
  • Different approaches to textual interpretation
  • How to consider authorial intention, historical context, and present relevance
  • How to analyze Shakespeare's plays on the page and in performance
  • Foundational knowledge on Shakespeare that can be applied to his specific works

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Syllabus

Part 1: Biographical Interpretation

In this unit, we'll learn more about Shakespeare's life and think about the interpretive possibilities that open up when we read with the author in mind.

By the end of this unit, you will be able to:

  • Describe Shakespeare's childhood, education, and family life, determining how the facts of his life might have informed his playwriting.
  • Evaluate different viewpoints on the "author problem," which relates to how relevant the author and his/her intentions are to interpreting a text.
  • Generate an original interpretation of The Comedy of Errors that relates to Shakespeare's life and/or intentions.

Part 2: Historical Interpretation

In this unit, we’ll focus on historical interpretation by placing Shakespeare’s texts in their historical context.

By the end of this unit, you will be able to:

  • Describe Shakespeare's unlikely entry to the theater world, as well as the facts of London, the Bankside, and the increasingly professionalized theater industry.
  • Assess the viewpoint that Shakespeare's plays are embedded in their time and so require historical analysis to unlock what they "mean".
  • Analyze a Shakespeare play or passage through knowledge of historical context.

Part 3: Presentist Interpretation

In this unit, we’ll cover presentist interpretation--what can we reveal about Shakespeare’s plays by placing them in a modern context?

By the end of this unit, you will be able to:

  • Describe original performance practices, Shakespeare's death, and his legacy.
  • Analyze a Shakespearean scene in performance, contrasting different approaches.
  • Evaluate the viewpoint that Shakespeare's plays belong to the present, and that we should interpret/perform them as they are most "relevant" now.
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Instructors

Stephen Greenblatt
Cogan University Professor of the Humanities
Harvard University

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Content Designer

Harvard University

Harvard University is a private Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Established in 1636 and named for its first benefactor clergyman John Harvard, Harvard is the United States' oldest institution of higher learning, and its history, influence, and wealth have made it one of the world's most prestigious universities. The Harvard Corporation is its first chartered corporation. Although never formally affiliated with any denomination, the early College primarily trained Congregational and Unitarian clergy. Its curriculum and student body were gradually secularized during the 18th century, and by the 19th century, Harvard had emerged as the central cultural establishment among Boston elites. Following the American Civil War, President Charles W. Eliot's long tenure (1869–1909) transformed the college and affiliated professional schools into a modern research university; Harvard was a founding member of the Association of American Universities in 1900. A. Lawrence Lowell, who followed Eliot, further reformed the undergraduate curriculum and undertook aggressive expansion of Harvard's land holdings and physical plant. James Bryant Conant led the university through the Great Depression and World War II and began to reform the curriculum and liberalize admissions after the war. The undergraduate college became coeducational after its 1977 merger with Radcliffe College.

The university is organized into eleven separate academic units—ten faculties and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study—with campuses throughout the Boston metropolitan area: its 209-acre (85 ha) main campus is centered on Harvard Yard in Cambridge, approximately 3 miles (5 km) northwest of Boston; the business school and athletics facilities, including Harvard Stadium, are located across the Charles River in the Allston neighborhood of Boston and the medical, dental, and public health schools are in the Longwood Medical Area. The endowment of Harvard's is worth $37.1 billion, making it the largest of any academic institution.

Harvard is a large, highly residential research university. The nominal cost of attendance is high, but the university's large endowment allows it to offer generous financial aid packages. The Harvard Library is the world's largest academic and private library system, comprising 79 individual libraries holding over 18 million items. The University is cited as one of the world's top tertiary institutions by various organizations.

Harvard's alumni include eight U.S. presidents, several foreign heads of state, 62 living billionaires, 359 Rhodes Scholars, and 242 Marshall Scholars. To date, some 157 Nobel laureates, 18 Fields Medalists, and 14 Turing Award winners have been affiliated as students, faculty, or staff. In addition, Harvard students and alumni have won 10 Academy Awards, 48 Pulitzer Prizes, and 108 Olympic medals (46 gold, 41 silver and 21 bronze).

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Edx

Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of California, Berkeley, are just some of the schools that you have at your fingertips with EdX. Through massive open online courses (MOOCs) from the world's best universities, you can develop your knowledge in literature, math, history, food and nutrition, and more. These online classes are taught by highly-regarded experts in the field. If you take a class on computer science through Harvard, you may be taught by David J. Malan, a senior lecturer on computer science at Harvard University for the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. But there's not just one professor - you have access to the entire teaching staff, allowing you to receive feedback on assignments straight from the experts. Pursue a Verified Certificate to document your achievements and use your coursework for job and school applications, promotions, and more. EdX also works with top universities to conduct research, allowing them to learn more about learning. Using their findings, edX is able to provide students with the best and most effective courses, constantly enhancing the student experience.

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