Shakespeare: Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies

Course No. 280
Professor Peter Saccio, Ph.D.
Dartmouth College
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Course No. 280
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Course Overview

There is no more important author in Western literature than William Shakespeare. And his plays—whether a comedy like A Midsummer Night's Dream; a history like Henry IV; or a tragedy like Hamlet—are treasure troves of insight into our very humanity. Shakespeare: Comedies, Histories, Tragedies introduces you to Shakespeare's plays and explains the achievement that makes Shakespeare the leading playwright in Western civilization. The key to that achievement is his "abundance," says Professor Saccio—not only in the number and length of his plays, but also in the variety of experiences they depict, the multitude of actions and characters they contain, the combination of public and private life they deal with, the richness of feelings they express and can provoke in an audience and in readers, and the fullness of language and suggestion.

Introduction: Lectures 1 and 2

The first two lectures consider how Shakespeare's plays have been valued by four centuries of readers, and how they have been interpreted and reinterpreted by the generations who have read and seen them.

The lectures also consider the kind of theater for which he wrote, the characteristic structures of his plays, and the way the plays easily mingle events from different realms: different social levels, different levels of realism, and different metaphysical contexts.

The course then considers the plays in terms of genre.

Four Comedies: Lectures 3–10

Twelfth Night offers an example of Shakespearean comic structure and subject: courtship. Renaissance courtship practices are discussed, with their implications about the place of romantic love in our lives. Shakespeare also includes in his survey of lovers Malvolio the ambitious steward, for whom courtship is a means of social advancement.

The Taming of the Shrew provides a somewhat realistic look at bourgeois marriage customs and the place of a strong woman in a patriarchal society. It shows Shakespeare experimenting with an unusually sharp collision of romance and farce.

The Merchant of Venice employs a particularly lofty form of romantic idealism in the courtship plot, but it confronts that idealism with the problematic, possibly tragic character of Shylock, who has forced generations of actors into reinterpreting Shakespeare.

Measure for Measure shows Shakespeare on the verge of breaking out of comic conventions altogether. The characters marry at the end, as is customary, but the route to their unions is a gritty path entailing near-rape and near-execution via the courtrooms and the sexual underground of a corrupt modern society.

Five Histories: Lectures 11–18

Richard III is followed through the arc of his villainous and entertaining career.

Richard II raises constitutional problems that vex us still: What can be done with a ruler who is undoubtedly entitled to rule and is also damaging the realm?

The two plays named after Henry IV show Shakespeare's widest scope in depicting the realm of England from throne room to tavern to countryside, and they introduce Shakespeare's most remarkable comic creation, Falstaff.

In Henry V, Shakespeare kills Falstaff in a scene of extraordinary artistic skill and emotional effect, and then takes the king to a military victory that still arouses all our conflicted convictions about the morality of warfare.

Seven Tragedies: Lectures 19–36

The lectures show Shakespeare taking Romeo and Juliet, who should be the leading pair of lovers in a comedy, and plunging their private bliss into the public violence of a city torn by feud.

Why ancient Rome was important to Shakespeare (and to the Renaissance as a whole) is explored in two lectures on Julius Caesar.

Two lectures on Troilus and Cressida show Shakespeare rewriting Homer into a bitter satire on vainglorious men and unfaithful women.

Finally, three lectures apiece are devoted to each of the four greatest tragedies, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth. As the richness of each play is explored, emphasis falls on the scope of the tragic effect: Shakespeare's acute development of the inner consciousness in his tragic soliloquies is placed within the far-ranging philosophical and theological implications.

Professor Saccio is a trained actor. He performed the Shakespearean roles of Casca, Angelo, Bassanio, and Henry IV, and directed productions of Twelfth Night, Macbeth, and Cymbeline.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Shakespeare Then and Now
    Shakespeare's plays moved audiences in his own time, and have proved enormously stimulating and useful to subsequent generations. Many have found Shakespeare valuable for a wide array of purposes over the years, reinterpreting him variously, even to the point of denying his authorship of the plays that bear his name. x
  • 2
    The Nature of Shakespeare's Plays
    Shakespeare was not a solitary genius, but a consummate theatre professional. In more ways than one, his plays are remarkable for their sheer "abundance." They boast a wealth of structural elements, and draw on many sources. They set unforgettable characters in motion against broad social and metaphysical backgrounds. And they mingle the fanciful with the realistic, and the comic with the tragic, in ways that challenge the normal boundaries between genres. x
  • 3
    Twelfth Night—Shakespearean Comedy
    For Shakespeare, romantic love is both foolish and wonderful. It often makes us look and act silly. Yet at its best, it moves us to reject self-absorption and share our God-given gifts in a spirit of generosity. How does Shakespeare use—and, at times contest—the conversions of romantic comedy as he pursues this vision? x
  • 4
    Twelfth Night—Malvolio in Love
    The steward Malvolio (whose name alone says much) stands outside the play's two main sets of characters. And there he remains at the conclusion, as Shakespeare refuses to fold him into the larger happy ending. Faults and all, he is the "odd man out" who makes Twelfth Night a comedy with a definite bite. x
  • 5
    The Taming of the Shrew—Getting Married in the 1590s
    Does The Taming of the Shrew advocate male supremacy in marriage? Is its portrayal of late 16th-century courtship customs a realistic one? What do modern productions (and modern playgoers) make of the play's most overt doctrinal statement about marriage, Kate's wedding-reception address? x
  • 6
    The Taming of the Shrew—Farce and Romance
    In this early comedy, Shakespeare adventurously combines romance with farce. Some critics look askance at this, but Shakespeare's use of "game" may be at once more "earnest" and more playful than they suspect. x
  • 7
    The Merchant of Venice—Courting the Heiress
    The Merchant of Venice is loaded with unlikely story lines, which raises a question about the significance of fairy-tale plots for human experience. Perhaps an answer lies in Shakespeare's use of one such fairy-tale element—the casket test set for Portia's suitors demanded by her father's will—to reveal nuances of character. x
  • 8
    The Merchant of Venice—Shylock
    Is Shylock a fairy-tale villain? We examine the tripartite stereotype that underlies the character, and consider how great actors have played him from the 17th century to the present. Might it be that his most famous speech, with its vengeful logic, in fact implicates all of us? x
  • 9
    Measure for Measure—Sex in Society
    At first glance, this play appears to be a conventional comedy, but it turns out to have a plot of unusual intricacy involving sorely troubled characters, and its portrayal of human sexuality is unsettling. Desire, instead of being romantic or lighthearted, here leads to self-hatred and uncharitableness. x
  • 10
    Measure for Measure—Justice and Comedy
    As the curtain comes down on the (in some cases) contrived and unpromising marriages that end this "problem comedy," we are forced to wonder: Is comedy itself a problem? Even in the hands of a Shakespeare, can it contain the stresses of the human condition? x
  • 11
    Richard III—Shakespearean History
    Shakespeare's histories belong to a category of plays that is unfamiliar to us, but which was important and popular in his day. Shakespeare was especially ambitious in this genre, in which he so brilliantly interweaves the "public" and "private" aspects of persons and events. Why does Richard III, of all the history plays, contain such a weight and richness of historical detail? x
  • 12
    Richard III—The Villain's Career
    Despite the length and detail of Richard III, a firm structure dominates. At the heart of the action is the titular villain. His aides amuse us and make us his confidants, sharers in his sense of superiority over his victims. Yet Richard's crimes mount to the point where we no longer can or will identify with him. On his final night their enormity at last hits him, and this master of asides develops a genuine inner voice, a conscience. In the process, the Shakespearean soliloquy begins to take shape. x
  • 13
    Richard II—The Theory of Kingship
    Elizabethan political theory held that the monarch is God's anointed; disobedience and rebellion are grievous sins and invite divine wrath. Richard is the legitimate king, yet Bolingbroke appears to be the abler ruler. What is more to blame for Bolingbroke's challenge to Richard: The former's temerity or the latter's inadequacies? And can a rebel terminate the damage done by an erring (yet lawful) king only at the cost of damaging the realm even further? x
  • 14
    Richard II—The Fall of the King
    Although a crucial character, Bolingbroke is opaque. We cannot be sure when and why he decides to reach for the crown. Richard, on the other hand, is eloquently self-expressive: Shakespeare gives him beautiful and evocative speeches. Where does the power of Richard's language come from? How does it manifest his character? Does it evoke sympathy—or irritation? Does Richard ever move beyond the limits of self-dramatization toward true self-knowledge? x
  • 15
    Henry IV—All the King's Men
    The two plays named after Henry IV constitute the most diverse accomplishment by any Western playwright in the staging of history. This lecture summarizes the political narrative of the plays, and stresses how the triangle of King Henry, Hotspur, and Falstaff provide a context for the central figure of Prince Hal, the heir to the throne. x
  • 16
    Henry IV—The Life of Falstaff
    This lecture traces the theatrical "ancestry" of Falstaff, who in Shakespeare's version becomes the bringer of holiday, the prime subverter of the conventional, serious view of things. Against him is set his friend Prince Hal, the ruler-to-be who must decide what to do about Falstaff, the lord of misrule. x
  • 17
    Henry V—The Death of Falstaff
    This scene in Act 2 of Henry V echoes with an amazingly rich array of emotional resonances and allusions. Shakespeare imagined a finely detailed scene full of mixed and complex feelings, any one of which can reasonably be highlighted in a particular production on reading. Shakespeare does with words what Michelangelo did with paint on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. x
  • 18
    Henry V—The King Victorious
    The contemporary response to Henry V has both continued an earlier celebratory tradition and paired it with a modern distrust of war and politicians. The play offers some support for both of these opposed interpretations, but such a binary view is too simple. x
  • 19
    Romeo and Juliet—Shakespearean Tragedy
    In Shakespeare's time, the word "tragedy" was used loosely to mean any story about calamity, especially a fall from a high place. Shakespeare creates many kinds of tragic effects and leaves his characters free to seek the meaning of their own lives. The special characteristic of Romeo and Juliet lies in the derivation of a situation usually used in comedy: young lovers attempting to escape the barriers put up by unsympathetic parents and a hostile society. x
  • 20
    Romeo and Juliet—Public Violence and Private Bliss
    Romeo and Juliet is especially remarkable for its structure and its poetry. The story is organized around three large scenes, and moves at a pace that matches the violence of the actions and emotions. With a special form of lyric poetry, Shakespeare creates for his young lovers a space set apart from quarrelling Verona and dedicated to an ideal love. x
  • 21
    Troilus and Cressida—Ancient Epic in a New Mode
    Handling source material from Homer and the Middle Ages, Shakespeare sharply qualifies its heroism and romance with bleak realism, and even flippant cynicism. We examine the speeches of Ulysses, the posturing of Achilles, the scurrilousness of Therisites, and the brief but telling presentation of Helen of Troy. x
  • 22
    Troilus and Cressida—Heroic Aspirations
    Troilus and Cressida continues with a detailed examination of Cressida and Hector. Cressida loves Troilus and wishes to be faithful to him; circumstances also make her reliant upon men and the power of men for her value. Hector, Troy's main defender, is thoughtful about the values at stake in the war, and caught in some of the inner contradictions of chivalry. The play might end with a conventional tragic close, but the epilogue of Pandarus shifts the tone radically. x
  • 23
    Julius Caesar—The Matter of Rome
    This play holds a special place in modern culture because of its frequent assignment in schools. It also had a special status for Shakespeare, both because of its timing in his career and because of the prestige ancient Rome held for the Renaissance. His chief source, Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, was a work he handled with respect. x
  • 24
    Julius Caesar—Heroes of History
    The characters in Julius Caesar see themselves as actors in history, and often speak and behave in an appropriate lofty and ceremonial fashion. The ceremonies, however, are sometimes qualified by other deceremonializing effects. Caesar, Cassius, and Brutus each display a complex mixture of traits that make him uniquely admirable—and uniquely flawed. x
  • 25
    Hamlet—The Abundance of the Play
    What makes Hamlet a classic? Is it the mixture of familiarity and strangeness that makes us see an "old thing made new"? Is it the range of characters and actions, the variety of the hero's traits, or the cunning articulation of events within the narrative? Is it the way Hamlet calls up "thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls"? x
  • 26
    Hamlet—The Causes of Tragedy
    The characters in Hamlet are remarkably thoughtful. Indeed, Hamlet himself is the only Shakespearean hero whose university we know, and he himself explores theories about the causes of tragedy posed, respectively, by Aristotle, Boethius, and the prophet Isaiah. x
  • 27
    Hamlet—The Protestant Hero
    Hamlet is a compellingly abundant figure. He unforgettably embodies the perennial variety and problems of young manhood as well as the wit, attainments, and lofty ideals embraced by the Renaissance. And as if that were not enough, he also dramatizes the profound spiritual and intellectual problems raised by the Protestant Reformation. x
  • 28
    Othello—The Design of the Tragedy
    What makes Othello unique among Shakespeare's tragedies? For one thing, it's almost two plays in one—a romantic comedy that turns into a tragedy. Certainly this cannot be said of Hamlet, Lear, or Macbeth! We see Shakespeare at work here with his usual abundant genius, transforming genre to achieve dramatic effect. x
  • 29
    Othello—“O Villainy!”
    What motivates Iago? Is he rational or irrational? Does his wickedness somehow transcend all its possible motives? Shakespeare is a dramatist, not a solver of abstract intellectual puzzles. But what we see makes us wonder: What is the cause of evil? x
  • 30
    Othello—“The Noble Moor”
    Othello differs from the other great tragedies in many ways, not least in its lead character. Comparing Othello with Hamlet is highly revealing, as is asking why Othello deserves his sobriquet as "the noble Moor." x
  • 31
    King Lear—“This Is the Worst”
    Lear is a towering work, a tragedy in any sense of the word, a moving—even brutal—experience to read or watch. It is a complex play, with double plots, intrigue, psychological depth, and physical and emotional horror. It is a play about disintegration, about human lives and worlds coming apart—socially, psychologically, emotionally, physically. x
  • 32
    King Lear—Wisdom Through Suffering
    The title of this lecture derives from The Agamemnon of Aeschylus. There is immense suffering in both plays, and from this comes wisdom for the characters and the spectators as well. Thus we turn from "disintegration" to "coping" and particularly coping that leads to insight and self-recognition. x
  • 33
    King Lear—“Then We Go On”
    By the middle of the play, the characters have, to borrow a phrase from Samuel Beckett, fallen "far from help." How do they face adversity? As an unparalleled play of the human condition, Lear provides us with the full panoply of situations, emotions, and lessons. x
  • 34
    Macbeth—“Fair Is Foul”
    Like Shakespeare's other great tragedies, Macbeth explores timeless themes such as cosmic and human order and the nature of good and evil. There are also questions of religious significance (for example, free will versus predestination) embedded in the play, as we would expect in the post-Reformation world in which Shakespeare worked. x
  • 35
    Macbeth—Musing on Murder
    Macbeth's soliloquy or interior monologue on the idea of murdering King Duncan puts us inside Macbeth's thoughts. Through this and other uses of the soliloquy, Shakespeare is able to develop several perspectives for his audience to consider as the play progresses. x
  • 36
    Macbeth—“Enter Two Murderers”
    In this final lecture, we continue with Lady Macbeth, whose case is every bit as interesting, complex, and compelling as her husband's—if not more so. We explore the sexual undercurrents and overtones of their relationship and look into the realm of "imagination" as we analyze this most searching Shakespearean portrayal of human self-destructiveness. x

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Your professor

Peter Saccio

About Your Professor

Peter Saccio, Ph.D.
Dartmouth College
Dr. Peter Saccio is Leon D. Black Professor of Shakespearean Studies and Professor of English Emeritus at Dartmouth College. He also served as a visiting professor at Wesleyan University and at University College in London. He earned his Ph.D. from Princeton University. At Dartmouth, Professor Saccio was honored with the J. Kenneth Huntington Memorial Award for Outstanding Teaching. Professor Saccio is the author of...
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Shakespeare: Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 83.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent This is a first-rate course. I recommend it highly.
Date published: 2012-03-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Prof. Thoroughly enjoyable lectures. Easily accessible if one is apprehensive of the Bard. Prof. Saccio is brilliant, commanding--and I daresay funny. Only issue with this and the other course was we need subtitles to better follow the speech
Date published: 2012-02-21
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Too much! I suppose the content is okay, but Saccio's presentation is like fingernails on a blackboard. Listening to even 30 minutes of his overblown Shakespearing affectation is just too much. It's exactly what I didn't want in an introduction to Shakespeare.
Date published: 2012-02-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor Saccio Makes Shakespeare Accessible Professor Peter Saccio has an engaging manner and pleasing voice, giving an eloquent presentation of otherwise intimidating material. After listening to these lectures, I have become inspired to plow through even the ten history plays by William Shakespeare! I really enjoyed listening and re-listening to these lectures. Professor Saccio's enthusiasm is infectious.
Date published: 2012-01-29
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disapointed! I have recently taken Professor Saccio’s course entitled, “Shakespeare: Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies. There is no way to sugar coat my review! I am disappointed. My reason for taking the course was to round out my general knowledge of liberal arts topics having attended engineering college in the late fifties into the sixties with a purely technical. After working some 50 years in the computer industry and now retired I am eager to understand some the subjects I never had the time to study. After reading the course description I thought I would be taking Shakespeare 101 but found that while Professor Saccio’s analyses are profound they fall upon deaf ears to one who has no working knowledge of the plays. If I were a college student taking this course I would wonder how I missed the prerequisite course. There should be a warning label in the course description: “The student will gain greatest benefit if he or she has read the plays and/or has a working knowledge of the plots, stories, and characters therein”. In addition, I found the professor’s demeanor and attitude rather condescending and sometimes halting, He frequently lapsed into role playing some of the scenes and all I can say is that he is no Richard Burton. As a constructive suggestion it would be very helpful if the course guide spent more time summarizing the individual plays to help all of us, especially those of us unfamiliar with Shakespeare and the language in use so that we can all take advantage of the professor's knowledge.
Date published: 2012-01-24
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Good content spoiled by lecturer The quality of the content of the lectures is very good, especially for those who know the plays; however, when you are choosing one authority from the entire English-speaking world it does seem to me you might be able to find a much much better lecturer than Dr. Saccio who in reading his lectures stumbles, corrects himself, "ers" and "uhs" to distraction, has an unpleasant voice and when he chooses to act the lines disappoints terribly. Had the Great Courses producers found a professor the quality of Dr. Robert Greenberg whose lectures on music are absolutely wonderful and listenable, we would all have been better served. To reiterate, the content is good. It is helpful and informative. One reviewer asked what Saccio would think about the film "ANONYMOUS" which has been roundly criticized and dismissed. In his first lecture he properly addresses the matter of the anti-Stratfordians. I doubt that his opinion (or that of anyone else) would have been changed by that pretty but fictional film which makes an almost totally unsupported argument. I am embarrassed for the often great Derek Jacobi that he endorses or subscribes to the theory.
Date published: 2011-12-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Comprehensive Introductory Course (my review is mostly based on the tragedies, and a few of the comedies on the side.) I had contemplated re-reading Shakespeare long before I actually started doing so, and I had an idea of how immensely important he is, just didn't have the faintest idea why. Bad news is, to some extent, I still don't, but I owe a sizable chunk of that much I do know to Prof. Saccio. Saccio's tone can be a bit unusual venturing on irritating at first, not least due to the initial impression that this was one of those dull, dry and dusty academics from a parallel universe of Shakespearean fanatics but I came to appreciate it with the course of time, and by the time the course had reached its zenith - the lectures on Hamlet - I thought it most appropriate and refreshing. His flow and choice of words is wise and informed yet controlled and unpretentious Saccio's lectures are mostly critical and analytic, meaning he does away with recounting each play and going through the text point-by-point and focuses on the underlying themes, literary techniques, allusions, surrounding context, etc. These discussions elicit wonder when they're balanced and incisive (as his analysis of the four major tragedies in general), though he does sometimes wander off (as when he goes ranting on about the word "schoole" in a Macbeth soliloquy in one of the final lectures). I especially appreciated his insightful comments on the different filmed versions of the plays and several critical essays. While Saccio does not shy away from addressing racial and ethnic issues (as in Othello and The Merchant of Venice), his voice is mostly that of caution in interpreting the plays, as he readily dismisses simplistic readings of the more intricate plays. At times however, the laments for "the abundance of Shakespeare" left me (not merely undecided, praising the complex, multi-layered quality of the play, but) confused. I heartily recommend these lectures to anyone just beginning to warm up to Shakespearean criticism.
Date published: 2011-11-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from great Loved every word of Prof. Saccio's lectures... However, I wonder what will prof. Saccio say about this new movie titled Anonymous, as far as the movie trailer allows to understand it gives "anti-Stratfordianism" new powerful arguments against Shakespearean scholars.
Date published: 2011-10-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Slightly disappointed After reading such glowing reviews, I had high expectations of Professor Saccio and his lectures on Shakespeare. The speaker obviously knows his material. His essaies were well conceived and expressed but with the title of the series, I expected a more compresensive treatment of the material rather than essaies on select plays. I agree heartily with the reviewers who mentioned problems with voice and tone of our distinguished lecturer. The uuhs were very distracting.
Date published: 2011-09-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enlightening! This course is well structured and filled with insights which to me are totally original. Professor Saccio proves to be very knowledgeable but by no means pedantic. The only criticism to be made is that he somewhat lacks common courtesy by not greeting his listeners at the start of each lecture and not parting with them at the end, refraining from saying even ‘thank you’ or ‘good-bye’. This is particularly awkward at the end of the last lecture where a conclusion is drawn regarding the material it covers but no wrap-up or parting comment is made with respect to the whole course. The professor just stops talking! Still, this course makes me feel sorry that I only discovered Teach12 some 18 months ago!
Date published: 2011-03-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good to start with This is a good course for those who want to start learning about Shakespeare or just know the basics without reading huge books/plays written in language that might not be easy to understand. The professor doe a good job of making the content understandable, fun and quick. It also gets you thinking about the philosophy and events. I didn't want to pay such high price for cd set, so I went to public library and borrowed the cds. I listened to them when drive, so sometimes i'd have to listen to the lecture twice to understand it better. But overall it is a very good course.
Date published: 2011-03-01
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not so good I purchased this set hoping to get a good introduction to each of the play of Shakespeare similar to what I would get in a college classroom. That isn't what this course is though. Professor Saccio takes an aspect of the play and expounds on it. The experience seems to be aimed at people who know the plays well and in that situation it might work well. However as a review of the plays it comes off poorly. I leave the lectue not knowing much more about the plays compared to when I started and it is an empty experience. Much of what Profesor Saccio seesm to be on a tangent and the actual play is poorly covered if at all.
Date published: 2010-12-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Insights Professor Saccio is a wonderful lecturer and his passion for Shakespeare's plays comes through beautifully and makes these lectures a real pleasure. I've been a Shakespeare scholar and enthusiast for many years, and his lectures showed me fascinating new ways to look at each play he treats. An extremely worthwhile learning experience.
Date published: 2010-09-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Idiosyncratic But Worthwhile The careful listener will note that Saccio returns constantly to the theme of the "abundance" to be found in Shakespeare's writings. This is no accident, as he originally entitled this series "The Abundance of Shakespeare." Unfortunately, TTC marketers had polled the course based on the boring and pedestrian title that it now bears, so that's the name it was given. For each of the plays he treats, Saccio's method is to zero in on one element -- for instance, one emblematic speech, a particular character, or a related social theme (e.g., courtship and marriage customs in early modern Italy) -- and examine the play through that lens. I found this approach to be engaging and effective, but it helps if one has already read the play or is at least somewhat familar with it. I've read a few of the plays discussed in this course relatively recently, but others I haven't read since college 30 years ago, and some of them I haven't yet gotten to. Listening to Saccio's lectures is no substitute for actually reading to plays. My only problems with the course have to do with Saccio's over-emphasis of details of stagecraft and performance, his affected manner of speech (his intermittent faux-Brit accent sounds no more convincing than Madonna's), and his overwrought and precious recitations of some of the speeches. Especially when he's reciting dialogue written for old men or women, he reminds me of Eric Idle or Terry Gilliam doing Monty Python.
Date published: 2010-08-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Prof Saccio does an excellent job. He zeroes in on what's most important and interesting about each play. The themes presented in each lecture are entertaining and enlightening. And he has an encyclopedic knowledge of Elizabethan theater that helps you understand the background that a Shakespeare audience would have brought with them. This is one of the best TTC courses I've ever listened to. Based on my experience with this course, I am going to listen to The Word and the Action next. The only warning I will provide is that you must have read or watched the plays beforehand. The presentation is not introductory; he definitely assumes you have at least some familiarity with the plays. If you know the plays, this class will definitely enhance your understanding and enjoyment of the Bard.
Date published: 2010-08-25
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Substantive but poorly presented One of the other reviewers said that he found Saccio's recitations of lines from the plays to be "affected, overwrought, and effeminate." I agree. While the substance of the material is thoughtful and excellent--totally worthwhile--the presentation suffers. He speaks knowledgeably about Elizabethan theater and competently explains what is important and interesting about each play he covers, but he is tied to his notes, and I would think that someone as experienced as he would have more confidence in his ability to present the material without referring constantly to his notes. Or at least he could be comfortable with them. He seems really nervous about what he's doing. And his acting voice is inarticulate and appallingly bad. He should get some tips from Professor Greenberg, who does the Great Music series--that's a man who knows how to present a lecture!
Date published: 2010-06-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Here's a plan for you! Shakespeare is a real strength of the Teaching Company. With both Saccio and Kinney, someone in the company has truly excelled in bringing us outstanding professors in the field. Hurray. Here's the plan for those of you who would like to immerse yourselves in Shakespeare for a few months. Get this course with Saccio and the one with Kinney. Buy, rent, or get from a library the beautiful BBC films of the plays you're studying in these courses. Then read the play in sync with the video of the production of the play and the applicable lesson from these fine professors. I did this for some 15 of the plays, and it was an absolutely remarkable experience. I finally felt redeemed from the remorse for missing a particularly fine course that was taught by one of the great British Shakespeare scholars teaching when I was in college.
Date published: 2009-10-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding This course was wonderful. Several years ago, I set the goal of seeing all of Shakespeare's plays performed. Each time I go, I review Professor Saccio's lectures for an enhanced experience.
Date published: 2009-08-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Solid, but TTC has better Shakespeare offerings This course succeeds at a sweeping coverage of most all Shakespeare's plays. But as with some other TTC survey courses endeavoring to cover a huge body of work, I was challenged to follow lectures on material with which I had no prior familiarity. A whopping 14 (by my count) plays, some of them minor, are covered in just 36 lectures. If you're like me you'll find that you must read or see the play under discussion to be rewarded by Saccio's lectures. Fortunately, the treatment of each play stands on its own. If I had to do the course again I'd avoid the lectures on plays that I hadn't seen, and look forward to viewing those lectures individually in the future as I experienced a play for the first time. Clearly, Saccio knows how to teach Shakespeare at the introductory level and has obviously been refining these same lectures over many years. The lectures are clear, well-organized, and entertaining. Having read all his glowing reviews on this site, I find myself in the minority when saying that Saccio's presentation style didn't agree with me. In particular, I found his acting affected, overwrought, and effeminate. The more I saw of him Saccio struck me as trying harder to draw attention to himself than to Shakespeare. But, again, judging by his reviews, I'm obviously in the minority on this count. I would recommend this course with only small reservation had I not also taken TTC's "Shakespeare's Tragedies" by Claire Kinney. If you enjoy Shakespeare or want to understand why others do so much then run -- don't walk -- to Kinney's course. Where Saccio is a very good lecturer, Kinney is a virtuoso. Moreover, Kinney's course focuses on the small set of Shakespeare's best plays, giving you more opportunity to read or view the subject of all the lectures. Having taken Kinney's as your first course in Shakespeare, if you have the appetite you can move on to Saccio's wider but less deep coverage. Summary: 4.5 stars; recommended, but not as first course in Shakespeare
Date published: 2009-07-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Resonates one year later Watched this course last summer and still remember almost every lecture as if it were today. If you give Saccio and Shakespeare a chance you will be richly rewarded. I sensed that the professor has a soft spot for Richard II (my speculation) and now that I'm an old man I do too. When you read this play early in life the meaning and visceral reaction is completely different compared to reading it now. Now I find it hits too close to home as we personally evaluate the question--have I done enough? Now for me the most compelling, haunting and memorable line in the play is as Richard says, "I wasted time and now time wastes me (or words to that effect)."
Date published: 2009-07-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from First Class AUDIO VERSION: Most TTC course a very good, a small minority don't make the grade (see my other reviews) and some are absolutely excellent. This course falls in the latter category. Prof. Saccio reveals more hidden layers in Shakespeare's plays than most people, I think, could ever imagine being there - something referred to by Saccio as "the abundance of Shakespeare". These lecture's accompany the body of work wonderfully, and reveal depth upon depth to the poet's genius. Prof. Saccio doesn't waste time relating the plot - he rightly assumes the student will put in the work in reading/seeing the play. He discusses alternate interpretations of the play when appropriate, but doesn't go to the ridiculous extremes one sometimes sees with academics desperately trying to put an original spin on things. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2009-06-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from As good as it gets. It would be an understatement to suggest that Professor Saccio is comfortable in his own skin. Information flows from this man as smoothly as silk. Aside from learning a great deal about Shakespeare from a great professor, which is the whole point, these lectures are also as therapeutic as an hour of reflexology.
Date published: 2009-06-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Transformative Professor Saccio's lectures have opened our minds to the wonders and complexities of Shakespeare's plays. We could not recommend them more highly.
Date published: 2009-06-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My First Purchase and Still Among the Best An overwhelming sadness overtook me upon the completion of this course. I wanted more but it was over. Sure, there was Saccio's other Shakespearean course "Words and Action" and that did placate my hunger but only briefly. Saccio gave me a wonderful gift that has inspired me to pursue my Master's Degree in English and write my thesis on Shakespeare. His knowledgeable presentation made me insatiable for Shakespeare. Since listening to these lectures I have read Shakespeare, attended plays, watched movies and listened to other lectures by other professors including Harold Bloom of Yale, who though good, lacks the rich textured presentation Saccio offers. You will learn different interpretations of the plays he covers (for example, you will hear some interesting theories for the motives behind Iago's deception of Othello, including a Freudian one that Olivier used to shape his performance of the great Shakespearean villain) as well as methods of reading the plays that will enhance your enjoyment of them. I have listened to these lectures numerous times and they remain among my favorites from the Teaching Company.
Date published: 2009-04-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from excellent intro to Shakespeare We formed a book group to read Shakespeare using the Saccio tapes as well as other secondary sources. Saccio is excellent. While you will enjoy simply watching the DVD as a series, I recommend watching them one at a time along with a book like Marjorie Garber's Shakespeare after all to enjoy the plays to the fullest. Be sure to take Saccio's modern drama series as well
Date published: 2009-04-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good analysis of the Bard, but where is Hank VI? I like this course. I am a big fan of Shakespeare, and am also fond of Prof. Saccio. His analysis and presentation are sound, I think. The Merchant of Venice is my favourite Shakespeare play (a tragedy?), indeed one of my favourite plays in all of drama. Shylock is my favourite character in all of drama, and Prof. Saccio's lecture on him is truly excellent. I love it. I have the audio version, and I have no issues with Prof. Saccio's presentation. I like his subtle, nuanced, academic style. Some historical recordings and excerpts might be in order, if the rights can be acquired. But my favourite Shakespeare history plays, the Henry VI trilogy, are analyzed not at all here. Surely that is a mistake. They are key historical plays, and include Jean d'Arc, as well as Shakespeare's presentation of the beginning of the wars of the roses between the Yorkists (ir is it the Plantaganets?) and the Lancastrians. Each of the trilogy deserves its own lecture, IMHO. (Perhaps a separate [short!] course on the Henry VI plays is in order.) And I think most of Shakespeare's tragedies should be discussed in, at most, one lecture. But on the whole, a good course. Respectfully submitted, mulligan452002.
Date published: 2009-02-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from what you didn't learn in school This was my very first lecture set watched and kept me wanting more. Prof Saccio does a great job in giving us the details within some of the greatest plays ever written - what's really going on beneath the words and actions. A great addition to anyone's library of lectures and a must for those who love watching the Bard's works.
Date published: 2009-01-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic survey of the greatest writer! If you ever thought that Shakespeare was A) boring, B) incomprehensible, or C) irrelevant, two courses by Peter Saccio of Dartmouth University are the perfect antidote to get you to see these universal plays in a new light. Comedies, Histories & Tragedies and Shakespeare: The Word and the Action bring to life the amazing “abundance” (as Saccio frequently terms it) of most of the greatest plays of the 38 that survive. You’ll come away really ‘getting’ the self-destructive spirals of Macbeth, Hamlet and Lear, as well as the light and witty brilliance of Rosalind in As You Like It, and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. In one delightfully playful example that Saccio points out, the lead in Love’s Labour’s Lost gives a long speech denouncing the artifice of love poetry, but ironically does so by speaking in a complete sonnet. Personally, I could never really follow Shakespeare well enough to enjoy it as much as teachers told me I should until I started going to see the plays performed. All the suffering they inflicted in high school to make students memorize a speech or spend a whole semester on one play felt like forcing movie fans to sit down and read the script of Star Wars without ever being able to see it on the screen. Granted, that’s my own limitation and not everyone’s, but Saccio’s two courses bring an academic’s all-encompassing knowledge of the subject together with an actor-director’s love and enthusiasm for the material. Saccio brings out so many of the numerous levels that Shakespeare is working on (his “wavelengths” as described in several lectures) that the effect is like putting the glasses on half-way through a 3-D movie. You knew before that there was more going on than what you could pick up, but it just wasn’t clear. Then with the right lens, the amazing richness of the whole work comes into focus. Ever been frustrated trying to figure out what Hamlet is all about? In one sentence he wraps it up: “The tragedy of Hamlet:Prince of Denmark is the drama of the protestant conscience led into doubt by the puzzlements of the world and the self, trying to amend that doubt with all of the learning that antiquity and humanism can offer, and arriving heroically at his own convictions – and then acting on them.” Every one of Shakespeare’s plays operates in at least 3 different time periods: the time of the plot, (i.e. ancient Greece or Rome for A Midsummer Night’s Dream or Julius Caesar) the time of the play’s writing & first performance (late 16th-early 17th century England) and our own time when we now read and view them. On top of this, nearly every play has anywhere from two to four separate plots going simultaneously – and several such as Hamlet, or the Dream have a doubled play-within-a-play. Finally, there really has hardly been a fresh word uttered in the last 500 years that Shakespeare didn’t already anticipate on love, hate, ambition, friendship, greed, jealously, pride, madness, temptation, joy or sorrow. If it has to do with human nature, he probably covered it. The critic Harold Bloom goes so far as to credit Shakespeare with “The Invention of the Human”, that is, giving us the vocabulary and the insight to become the modern selves that we are today. Maybe you won’t be prepared to go that far after listening to Saccio’s Comedies, Histories & Tragedies or Shakespeare: The Word and the Action. But if not, you will at least have a fresh way to look at and understand not only the writer who had probably the single greatest influence on our culture of any, but all those who followed after him as well.
Date published: 2009-01-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Worth repeated listening Professor Saccio brings an actor's ear to his lectures. His presentation skills are superb and his insights thoughtful. I treasure his comments about playing Henvy IV. This is one for Shakespeare lovers as well as students new to the genre.
Date published: 2008-12-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Because of you, I now appreciate Shakespeare I have seen the Globe, been to Stratford-upon-Avon, see Love's Labor Lost, Macbeth, and Twelfth Night all in one year. I continually see Shakespeare in everyday life. Thank you Prof. Saccio for bringing it alive, even though I already know it is already "alive." Prof. Saccio is amazing and funny. If you are afraid of Shakespeare, then take this course.
Date published: 2008-11-01
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