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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Reviews

Shakespeare: Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 83.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best of all the Great Courses' Shakespeare courses I'm a bit of a Shakespeare wacko, so I've bought all the courses offered by TGC about Shakespeare, and this is certainly the best of the bunch. Saccio is a great lecturer who doesn't waste time on summary, but makes the most of his 30 minutes. Very interesting, even for those who already know a good deal about Shakespeare
Date published: 2017-06-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I purchased this course after Prof. Sacco's course Shakespeare:The Word and the Action which I enjoyed very much, wanting more elaboration.
Date published: 2017-06-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Makes Shakespeare's insights come alive! I wish I'd had this kind of teacher in high school, and I wish I'd been as insightful as a teacher myself! I have always loved Shakespeare's plays because so many of the characters are real people, even the minor ones. You could pluck any number of them right out of the 16th or any other century and put them down in the 21st and they would belong just as well. The older I get (and I'm 78 now) the more I appreciate how relevant to the times and the morals his characters really are. The Professor does a terrific job explicating not only what the poet was up to in writing certain plays, but how he saw the dangerous world people lived in during his lifetime. I dare say the world is turning very much in the same ways now.
Date published: 2016-12-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Desert I'm not going to try to write "brainy" or give a "super intellect critic" opinion to try to impress you. This course is cheesecake on top of chocolate mouse with a truffle and strawberries on top of whip cream washed down with a smooth desert wine. If you don't get that your probably smarter than me and will find some tart words to override this. It's not for snobs...it's for anyone who loves Shakespeare (or chocolate) and could never get tired of the million ways to ingest it.
Date published: 2016-10-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb These lectures are superb. Each and every one is a masterpiece. There is nothing more to say. I don’t go to a performance now without re-listening to the corresponding lectures from this class. More Saccio please, and quickly. Personally, I would love to see a set of lectures focused on the Classical references in Shakespeare – one is hard pressed to find any references, if at all, in Wadsworth, Arden, Norton; i.e., is Merry Wives a satyr play coupled with Richard II/Henry IV/V; likewise, is the framework for The Tempest inspired at all by Euripides’ Cyclops; even more discussion on ancient Roman archetypes (does Shylock in any way index Euclio, from Aulularia), etc.
Date published: 2016-07-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Abundance AUDIO: CDs This is my first TC course with Professor Saccio and I really enjoyed it. He is not only a well-qualified academic, but also has extensive experience as an actor in and director of Shakespeare’s plays. While Professor Saccio repeatedly and justifiably uses the term “abundance” in reference to Shakespeare’s plays, I believe the term can be easily used about these lectures as well. Although I have read/attended a number of Shakespearean plays over the years, and even took a university course on Shakespeare several decades ago, I came to this TC course familiar with less than half the plays treated by Professor Saccio. This might be considered a limitation on my part as Professor Saccio does not provide play summaries, focusing rather on selected key matters or topics. But I did not find it that difficult to follow the lectures. When I felt the need, I just checked Wikipedia for plot outlines/summaries. Though the course lecture sequence by play would appear to lend it to cherry-picking, I think it best to work one’s way through the course, because much is woven into each lecture. Some examples are Shakespeare’s life and development as a playwright; prevailing social, religious, literary and political ideas and conditions; how Shakespeare strained the boundaries of the conventional comedy/history/tragedy categories (often referencing earlier and later plays); and discussions about various productions, including film adaptations, and actors. This 1999 course will be a useful resource as I re-read old favorites and take up other Shakespeare plays for the first time. The course guidebooks (3 parts) are quite good, with an annotated list of films and videos of Shakespeare’s plays.
Date published: 2016-06-15
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Shakespere prof no more than a wanna be This professor came across as so taken with himself that he takes both sides of a scene. His manner and approach was so immediately farcical that I decided then and there that I would return the course.
Date published: 2016-06-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This course illuminates Shakespeare In this course, Professor Peter Saccio illuminates the plays of Shakespeare in a clear, comprehensive manner. I think it will increase anyone's enjoyment of the plays when they are performed and help one understand the many levels of meaning in the plays. I bought the transcript book for this course because I wanted to spend more time on what Professor Saccio had said. The CD's are well paced and very enjoyable. Shakespeare's plays help us know what it is to be human and in this course, Professor Saccio shows us how brilliantly Shakespeare did this. For example, Shylock is a very complex character. Professor Saccio points out how Shylock's "Do We not Bleed" speech "works like a trap" where we sympathize and then are taken aback by Shylock's conclusion. But, Professor Saccio also points out how we have to see ourselves in Shylock. This aspect is indeed part of this speech but one that I had not noticed before listening to this course. It has been four hundred years since Shakespeare died. The Folger Library in Washington, DC is sending one of the First Folios to every state of the union this year, to commemorate Shakespeare's death. This course illuminates many of the plays in the First Folio. Listening to this course, seeing the First Folio, going to Shakespeare plays are all excellent ways to mark this year.
Date published: 2016-01-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome!! The professor is very passionate about Shakespeare and the stage. He provides outstanding insights which make reading the plays more enjoyable. His acting experience adds a great deal to the course. His dramatic readings are very effective and I enjoyed his personal anecdotes both with regard to performing Shakespeare on stage as well as commenting on various performances he has seen. Would recommend TedEd on YouTube "Why Shakespeare loved iambic pentameter" as an adjunct to this or any Shakespeare course. Am looking forward to listening to Professor Saccio's other course on Shakespeare. Thank you Professor Saccio. If you are ever performing near Boston, please let me know.
Date published: 2016-01-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good introduction Course is very valuable to me since I'd never studied Shakespeare before. The professor tells enough to let me know the main course of the play without simply providing an outline and he tell what the characterized of the character are so that I could better follow the plays what I read them after hearing the lectures on the specific courses. I would listen to relevant lectures then listen and read the corresponding play on iPad "free books" it was very useful to me.
Date published: 2016-01-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent I listen to these courses on my MP3 while I am at work as a gardener. I enjoyed this course so much that I couldn't wait to get to work to start listening to it and I couldn't wait to get home again to watch the plays on Youtube.
Date published: 2015-05-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A great explanation of Shakespeare's style I started this course, have had Shakespeare forced on me at school. I wanted to understand why he considered by many as the greatest playwright and why his plays are still performed today. Prof Saccio explores specific aspects of the plots and Shakespeare's use of language. If you are like and had poor experiences of Shakespeare at school but want to understanding his plays this course will achieve it.
Date published: 2015-01-23
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Bad, Bad, BAD Professor organized Course poorly and his presentation was very bad. Of the dozens of Courses I had watched this was one of the worst. Very disappointing.
Date published: 2014-12-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating and enjoyable I've read most of Shakespeare and seen a few performances. I loved the new insights I got from this course. Sacchio is well organized, thought provoking, and extremely good at Shakespeare. He comes at it from the written word, the dramatic presentation, and the historical context. In some lectures he follows the thread of a theme or highlights the big ideas in a play; in others he focuses on what makes the play particularly interesting. I especially enjoyed his comments about how this or that production emphasized this or that aspect of a character or setting. I also quite enjoyed Sacchio's dramatic readings. I highly recommend this course to those who have read or seen productions of most of the plays, even if years and years ago.
Date published: 2014-11-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Shakespeare: A detailed survey Comedies, Histories and Trajedies is a fantastic course. I purchased the audio version and listened over headset while walking my dog. Professor Saccio really does a fantastic job of going through many of the plays from the different categories. He does seem to effect a bit of east coast university snobbishness but don't let that disuade you from the course. He is a true expert in the material and presents it in an interesing and engaging fasion. If you are new to Shakespeare, as I was, having only studied Hamlet in college, and just touched upon Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, and MacBeth, I would recommend that you take a different Shakespeare course first. I recommend highly the somewhat shorter course by Marc Conner, called "How to Read and Understand Shakespeare". By taking this course first, I believe you will enjoy and get more out of the course by Sacco. At least I did. I also went through courses on the Iliad, Odessy, the Aeneid, Dante, Old Testiment and New Tesitment, prior to Shakespeare. A course in the high Middle ages and the English Dynasties is also recommended prior, if possible. In any event, you should be very satisfied with this purchase.
Date published: 2014-10-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Sagacious Guide to Shakespeare Having listened to this course three times, I highly recommend it. It can serve as an introduction to Shakespeare's plays, but it will also be of interest to those well acquainted with the subject. My only disappointment is to find that Professor Saccio is close-minded about the fascinating authorship question. He typifies those excellent Shakespeare scholars who are so certain there is no evidence to disprove their theory of who wrote the works that they are woefully uninformed about this evidence. Relatively speaking, that's still a small matter, and is greatly outweighed by the excellence of his course.
Date published: 2014-04-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Shakespeare in depth Let me start by saying that I have zero background in literature, I bought this class because I decided I wanted to read Shakespeare. Because of a sale I also bought a Shakespeare course by Prof Conner. If you do not know the plots or characters of the plays, an introductory course (Prof Conner) was most helpful. But after I read the play, I would listen to this course, and get a completely different point of view and analysis of the play. Professor Peter Saccio is a great lecturer if you are familiar with the plays, and want a deeper understanding. If you were like me and are a newbie, other courses would be more apprpriate.
Date published: 2014-02-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A brilliant, thoughtful course I purchased this audiobook and started listening to it on the way to work. It's a brilliant, brilliant class and is teaching me so much about the nuances of Shakespeare's work. I don't know if I can express how thought provoking this class is and how well Professor Saccio explains this abundance. Top marks.
Date published: 2013-12-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best of the Best I've listened to a number of "the great courses." Some courses have been excellent, while others have been merely passable. This course, on the other hand, is outstanding. Prerequisites include a familiarity with all of Shakespeare's plays and an interest in both Shakespeare and how his literature is situated within the Western tradition. If you have those characteristics, Saccio should not disappoint. She's a practiced Shakespearean actor and literature expert; so you'll find his delivery both theatrical and linguistically precise. He provides a level of well-balanced insight well beyond what you'll come across in your cheap cliffs notes version of Shakespearean analysis.
Date published: 2013-05-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Pretty Well Done The content of this course is excellent. Professor Saccio is very knowledgeable and provides appropriate historical background material and useful character/plot/theme discussions. Unfortunately, he seems to be reading most of his presentation. He has a habit of keeping his left hand on the lectern. I suspect he is marking his place in his notes so he doesn't get lost as he reads.
Date published: 2013-04-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good, but long and slow Worth seeing, but sure drags at times. Dr Saccio of course quite expert, engaging. Much better course if 30% shorter. I prefer Clare Kinney's Shakespeare course from TGC; which I rate 5 star.
Date published: 2013-01-23
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Only good if you've already read the plays I bought this hoping to use it as a jumping-off point for reading Shakespeare's plays. I found that if you didn't already know the play, there was no way to follow any of the lectures. Too bad. (Also, the lecture looked like it was filmed in 1973, and the professor was a little bit odd - in case that would bother you).
Date published: 2013-01-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Top-grade Lecturing There clearly is no dearth of opinions in regard to the Shakespeare lectures presented by Drs. Kinney and Saccio. Both, in my view, present very well-designed and, within their intended scopes, comprehensive courses. For the most, however, I find Dr. Saccio's social and historical insights and over-all content, more fluid, more rounded, and so, more engaging. And his warmer outwardness, as well, falls generally more into line with my perception of top-grade lecturing.
Date published: 2012-08-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A bit high on himself rather than the Bard The course is a useful and occasionally entertaining introduction to some of Shakespeare's plays. But Saccio is in love with his own presentation, voice and views, as opposed to Shakespeare's brilliance. It's worth buying at a discount but you'll need to get past a professor whose tone is a tad too saelf-indulgent at times and that mars the presentation.
Date published: 2012-07-06
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Content Undermined by Presentation I was disappointed with Peter Saccio's course in Shakespeare. I know that most likely responses I will get for posting a negative review is to get numerous "unhelpful" flags, but the real reason I'm posting a review in the first place is precisely to give feedback that I wish I had in making this purchase. I am an extremely avid fan of Shakespeare. I've taken 4-5 different courses devoted to him, and read many critical essays of his works. In fact, I'm fascinated by Shakespeare scholarship and scholarly criticism of his plays. First off, I didn't learn much new in this course. There seem to be two schools of literary education: those that dig deeply into the text and unlock the mysteries of language, detail, syntax, and other literary devices, and those that discuss the work as a product of its environment. In other words, some professors teach a work as timeless and intrinsically valuable, and others focus on literature as a quasi-history lesson. My preference is for the first type, the professors who delve into the thematic and textual nuts and bolts of the work. Saccio is the other type of professor. Granted, all professors inevitably address both sides of this educational dichotomy, but Saccio is light on the textual devices and heavy on the social and historical context. A consequence of his seeming preference for the contextual over the textual, is that he often sounds more like an actor than a professor. He glosses of Romeo and Juliet rather quickly, mentioning about the world of poetry they create for themselves, but he doesn't mention how they change poetry: how the play begins with a chorus and the lovers meet with a sonnet, but that they abandon these rhyming couplets and Petrarchan poetic constructs and begin to speak a new sophisticated poetry in a new form of blank verse, while other characters in the play (especially Paris) are stuck in an archaic form of love poetry of rhyming couplets. He mentions that Juliet is compared to the light-giving sun, but he never mentions how many times she is compared rather to the earth, and the goddess Persephone (and the intense mythology that she carries). He spends more time talking about how actors play the roles than finding instances of textual brilliance. His lectures are not completely without value; he presents a few ideas that are new to me and insightful. But he falls far short of my own Shakespeare professors from my college days or Marjorie Garber's free online course (or her even better book). Lastly, readers of his reviews will notice a number of negative reviewers lamenting his vocal mannerisms. He speaks in the style of someone who is in love with his own voice. I feel juvenile even mentioning this, but he is constantly modulating pitch, over-enunciating, and stretching or speeding words in a very artificial, affected manner. And this is just when he's speaking in his own words. It's important to ask yourself how long you can deal with someone talking in this manner, and how it might distract your learning process. When he quotes the text, he insists on doing character voices and delivering lines as an actor would (probably a bad actor at that), by which I mean rushing and mumbling certain words and then heavily articulating others. We've all been to Shakespeare performances like this before, where actors know their lines so well they forget to care about how easily modern audiences will receive them. They get more caught up with their own interpretation than they do with conveying the meaning of the words to a post-modern audience. And how inappropriate is that for a professor? A professor quotes passages where he wants his students to pay strict attention to those particular words. So why speak in distracting voices and speed up your delivery in some of the very passages you want to articulate? It's just foolish. A better professor would deliver lines clearly and distinctly. I come away with the sad belief that he's more concerned with impressing us with his acting skills than his literary scholarship. And neither of them were all that impressive to me.
Date published: 2012-07-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Only one thing wrong with this set It stops short of Pericles and a few others. I would suspect a course by Peter with 6 lectures per play and covering the entire known opus would sell and sell well. I have used this course for fun recreation and also to take notes while studying 4th year BA English. A classic but honestly TC give us more
Date published: 2012-05-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Recommended for All Professor Saccio has a very vivid, fluid style which assists his fine presentation greatly. To take on the subject of all of Shakespeare's plays in one 36-lecture series is a major, challenging undertaking; happily, the course is successful, with many highlights throughout. For anyone not familiar with the Bard's plays, this is an outstanding introductory course. For those who know many, but not all, of the plays, this course serves as a refresher AND a study of the "other" plays, particularly the lesser known plays (some of which are among my personal favourites). Even for those with a highly-seasoned knowledge of all plays, the course is still very useful as Professor Saccio makes many important, significant points concerning aspects of the plays and the meanings of specific speeches, drawing on historical, social and philosophical references. After initial background material, the meat of the plays is soon tackled which I especially appreciated, just having viewed a couple of other courses in which far too much background matter was presented in the first several lectures. I feel this lecturer covered his ground strongly -- perhaps not with the emphasis some might have preferred on certain plays, but within the framework of 36 half-hours, this is a valuable course, definitely recommended for all.
Date published: 2012-05-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engaging, Insightful This is a first-rate general introduction to Shakespeare. I'm inclined to give it perhaps a 4.8 because it didn't grip quite as much as my superfaves, but this may bespeak no more than that I knew a bit about the subject going in. Still, high marks for a presenter who is able to convey his enthusiasm with conviction, and to offer something everything about virtually every play. I particularly liked his integrated account of the Hal/Henry series.
Date published: 2012-04-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Introduction to a Challenging Topic audio version This course is challenging for an instructor as Shakespeare and Shakespeare's plays are one of the most discussed and researched secular topic in western culture. Because of Shakespeare's popularity, there are approximately 50,000 (a totally unscientific estimate) ways of covering Shakespeare in an introductory course. No matter how the instructor covers the material, a lot of people are going to think the instructor should have done it in a different manner. That being said, I thought Prof. Saccio did a nice job with the material. I thought his plays included a lot of the "biggies" (Hamlet, Richard III, etc.) as well as some lesser known ones (Troilus, Measure for Measure). I enjoyed his delivery -- especially when he lapsed into character. He provides numerous insights into the plays which helped me see their place in history as well as their place in humanity. He provided a nice bibliography. I read a few of Shakespeare's plays in school and this course certainly helped round out my knowledge of the Bard. I am very happy with this course as an introduction to Shakespeare and his plays. In response to other reviewer's comments, it's difficult for me to imagine getting much out of a literature course without reading the books -- kind of like expecting to learn calculus without doing the problems. Thank you for this Great Course.
Date published: 2012-04-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Incredible Course Several years ago, his was the first Great Course I purchased. It is still my favorite. The lectures are very well-organized, thought-provoking, and profound. They go beyond simply introducing us to the works of Shakespeare and offer interesting, wide-ranging insight into the plays. Saccio is clearly in charge of his subject matter and speaks with authority. Unlike some other reviewers, I considered his presentation style to be engaging and fairly easy to listen to. I found myself considering the questions he raises throughout my week and discussing them with others. Truly a spectacular experience.
Date published: 2012-04-07
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