Shakespeare's Tragedies

Course No. 2752
Professor Clare R. Kinney, Ph.D.
University of Virginia
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Course Overview

Shakespeare's contributions to stage and language are unequaled. In what Professor Clare R. Kinney calls the "power and audacity of his poetry and stagecraft," Shakespeare has left audiences breathless these past four centuries.

His artistry is as evident in moments of insensate rage, as when King Lear dares Nature to do her worst—

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drenched our steeples,
drowned the cocks!

as it is in moments of heartbreaking tenderness, as when Othello steals a few last kisses from the sleeping and innocent wife he is about to murder for the adultery he imagines—

Ah balmy breath, that doth almost persuade
Justice to break her sword! One more, one more. …

But beyond his astonishing feats of language and dramatic impact, Shakespeare also left us a legacy, crafted from his experiences and explorations, of suffering and transgression in his six great mature tragedies: Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus.

Questions and Dilemmas of Tragedy

Experienced students of Shakespeare, those new to his work, and those who may be returning after many years away, will all find it makes an optimal addition to their libraries of books and of other Teaching Company literature courses.

Professor Kinney's aim is to take you deep within each play. You'll observe Shakespeare's protagonists struggling to make choices in the face of competing social, moral, and psychological pressures and "clawing [from] their pain and horror," as she puts it, "a kind of insight."

Professor Kinney supplies a series of insights that teach a nuanced understanding of each play's meaning—a gift that will increase the dramatic impact of every Shakespearean tragedy you see on the stage or screen, or visualize as you read them, as well as enhance your ability to form insights on your own with each reading or performance.

As Professor Kinney works through the plays, you'll see how Shakespeare returns again and again to a set of themes that resonate through his work.

What can happen when the desires of an individual are at odds with the constraints or demands of the society around him? How do love, hatred, and ambition sever loyalties in what would today be called a "dysfunctional family"?

How is power used and felt, whether it be political and erotic power, the power of language and imagination, or even the power of theater itself, as in Hamlet's "play within the play," or in the kind of public theatrics required of, and rejected by, the title character of Coriolanus?

These are only some of the themes Professor Kinney explores in Shakespeare's Tragedies, a 24-lecture look at the astonishing body of work produced by Shakespeare from 1600–1608. It is a body of work made all the more astonishing by considering that it was not written to be the timeless dramatic art it has become, but as commercial theater in a competitive marketplace that placed excessive demands on its writers and performers.

While today's greatest hits run for months, perhaps even years, the theatrical world of Shakespeare's time was very different.

A Theatrical Reality Far Different from Today's

With theaters closed only on church holidays, in bad weather, or in time of plague, theater companies had to have enormous repertories, and a very long run lasted only 10 days. Professor Kinney talks about one theater company, for instance, whose records from the 1594–95 season have survived. The records show 38 plays performed—21 of them newly written—which indicates that a new play was added about every two weeks.

Yet even working under those conditions, Shakespeare was able to produce works that probed the human condition with extraordinary perception.

Moving from play to play, following Shakespeare's recurring themes, Professor Kinney also devotes particular focus to two themes that surface repeatedly in his tragedies.

The first of these issues, that of agency, concerns those who actually get to make choices about the roles they take in their own lives, acting freely, and confronting the consequences of their actions.

Is Macbeth, for example, acting on his own by murdering Duncan to ascend to the throne? Is he responding to half-suppressed forces of ambition that have been unleashed by Lady Macbeth? Or is he the witches' pawn, acting out the tragic script that they have set in motion? The play suggests all of these things, and learning to see and evaluate the evidence for diverse interpretations of a complex drama is one of the many intellectual pleasures offered by these lectures.

A second topic that echoes through these plays is that of transgression, when characters—especially women—make a choice that is perceived as violating a social or moral boundary.

When Desdemona marries the Moor, Othello, for example, she has crossed a racial barrier, committing what her father calls an "unnatural" act. And when she crosses the boundary that demands a wife's silence and submission, she transgresses yet again, daring to dispute her husband's allegations with a denial that earns her his wrathful epithet, "strumpet."

Women as Tragic Protagonists

Professor Kinney plays close attention to the roles of women in these tragedies, considering whether women can indeed be tragic protagonists—all but one of these plays are named after males. She addresses the significance of just who, in a play, gives the soliloquies that make the audience privy to their reflections on their feelings or actions.

But she also looks at the ways women can and do exercise power in the plays, as in the example of Coriolanus's mother, Volumnia, whose belief system has shaped her son's psyche and whose climactic re-enactment of the control she wields over him destroys him.

One of the extra delights of the course comes from the sheer pleasure of hearing Professor Kinney present it. British by birth, she is also an occasional actress, reading not only Shakespeare's lines with emotion and understanding, but also imbuing her own statements during the lectures with high dramatic impact.

Her background as a director of student scenes also stands her in excellent stead as she offers perceptive comments about the choices directors must make in intelligently staging these plays. She ensures that dramatic impact is maximized without diluting the compelling intellectual questions that make Shakespeare's plays so rich and that Professor Kinney's lectures so eloquently bring out.

  • In Hamlet, Professor Kinney introduces you to the play's fascination with secrets and disclosure, explores its treatment of the morality of revenge, and examines the emotional violence Hamlet permits himself when the focus of his rage is female instead of male. She asks whether the "unfolding" (laying bare of identity) that one character demands of another in the very first moments of the play ever quite extends to the mysteries that lie at the heart of Hamlet himself.
  • In Othello, you'll encounter the "motiveless malignity" of the villainous Iago's manipulations, the racial and gender barriers its characters violate, and the "poisoned sight" that brings down a character unable to negotiate the demands of his identities as both a warrior and a lover.
  • In King Lear, you'll see the consequences of a rash choice unfold in one of Shakespeare's most harrowing tragedies, wondering, as generations of critics have, where—or whether—consolation can ever be found in its shattering events.
  • In Macbeth, you'll journey through the darkest corridors of ambition, conscience, and self-knowledge, where a strong-willed woman shares with her husband the role of tragic protagonist. Lady Macbeth finds that reshaping her husband's "manliness" ironically splits their partnership apart.
  • In Antony and Cleopatra, you'll meet two protagonists engulfed by the complexities of Rome's imperial history. One is torn between two aspects of his own identity, and the other is determined, even in the face of Rome's armies, to control the means of her death, and to choose the part of her conflicted lover's identity that will survive them.
  • In Coriolanus, you'll meet a war-scarred aristocrat questing for heroic independence in the midst of a world of "politics as usual." Unable to compromise his principles and, as a result, alienated from his own community, he cannot understand what has doomed him.

As Professor Kinney notes, "Shakespeare's tragedies often unfold in geographically distant places, or are set in a far-off past—but they are often shaped and inflected by matters surprisingly close to home." That is no less true of the course itself. Shakespeare's Tragedies, in Professor Kinney's words, persists in asking "what kind of significance we, in the 21st century, might wrest out of Shakespeare's tragic spectacles."

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Defining Tragedy
    This lecture explores the persistent popularity of tragic drama. It includes discussions of Shakespeare's interest in the complicated relationships among protagonists, family and community, and the particular challenges and satisfactions offered by his language and idiom. x
  • 2
    Shakespearean Tragedy in Context
    After introducing performance conditions and attitudes toward the theater in Shakespeare's England, this lecture explores two contexts for thinking about Shakespearean tragedy: earlier 16th-century experiments in tragic writing, and the preoccupations and anxieties of the playwright's own historical time. x
  • 3
    Hamlet I—"Stand and unfold yourself"
    Hamlet begins with a sentry's command to "Stand and unfold [identify, disclose] yourself." This lecture addresses the work's fascination with secrets, with disclosure, and with things that cannot be put into words. x
  • 4
    Hamlet II—The Performance of Revenge
    This lecture discusses the multiple perspectives Hamlet offers on the figure of the revenger and analyzes the play's complex exploration of the morality of revenge. It also discusses Shakespeare's interest in the relationship between "heroic" action and acting-as-performance. x
  • 5
    Hamlet III—Difficult Women
    Hamlet is capable of extraordinary emotional violence against his mother and the young woman he claims to have loved. This lecture explores his confrontations with Gertrude and Ophelia and discusses why—although the "transgressions" of the women trigger so much of the action of the play—it is difficult to think of them as being tragic protagonists in their own right. x
  • 6
    Hamlet IV—Uncontainable Hamlet
    Hamlet is at once a sprawling and encyclopedic play, but it is also filled with silences and mysteries. We look at the difficulty of determining what lies at its center and the near impossibility of ever containing its multifarious events within a single interpretation. x
  • 7
    Othello I—Miscegenation and Mixed Messages
    This lecture considers attitudes toward race in the world of the play and Shakespeare's own treatment of the black/white opposition. It analyzes in detail Othello's and Desdemona's defense of their love, Shakespeare's highly nuanced treatment of Desdemona's "errant" marriage, and Othello's uneasy negotiation of his double identity as warrior and lover. x
  • 8
    Othello II—Monstrous Births
    We look at the character Iago, his plots against Othello, and the longstanding mystery of his "motiveless malignity," including his capacity to manipulate other characters through his skillful use of loaded language and his exploitation of the unexamined assumptions and biases of their culture. x
  • 9
    Othello III—"Ocular Proof"
    What aspects of Othello's psyche lead him to choose an unholy alliance with Iago over a resolute belief in his wife's fidelity? We look at the gender dynamics of this play and also analyze Shakespeare's finely nuanced representation of Othello's poisoned sight and corrupted imagination. x
  • 10
    Othello IV—Tragic Knowledge
    This lecture focuses on the play's final act, beginning with a close reading of the soliloquy in which Othello contemplates the murder of his sleeping wife and positions himself as both her judge and her executioner. The lecture goes on to examine his subsequent horrified enlightenment. x
  • 11
    King Lear I—Kingship and Kinship
    We begin our study of King Lear by discussing the love test Lear devises to divide his kingdom among his daughters, moving on to address the implications of the protagonist's double identity as king and father, and of the play's entanglement of political action with family strife in its interweaving of the "Lear Plot" with the "Gloucester Plot." x
  • 12
    King Lear II—"Unaccommodated Man"
    This lecture focuses on Shakespeare's interest in the stripping and refashioning of identities in act 3, exploring the idiosyncratic dramatic juxtapositions and oppositions out of which Shakespeare creates his new society of fools and madmen. x
  • 13
    King Lear III—The Stage of Fools
    We continue to follow the physical and metaphysical journeys taken by Lear and Gloucester, including Gloucester's journey to Dover with his disowned son Edgar, Edgar's thwarting of his father's suicide, and an analysis of the encounter between blind Gloucester and mad Lear on Dover Beach. x
  • 14
    King Lear IV—"Is this the promised end?"
    We discuss the heartbreaking reunion between Lear and his banished daughter, along with the almost immediate shattering of Lear's newfound peace and his subsequent regression into madness. What kinds of catharsis or consolation might an audience find in the play's apocalyptic ending? x
  • 15
    Macbeth I—Desire and Equivocation
    After offering some contexts for Macbeth within early 17th-century English political history, we explore the play's preoccupation with the workings of ambiguous and duplicitous language and the equivocal nature of protagonist Macbeth's own language and desires. x
  • 16
    Macbeth II—"Dispute it like a man"
    This lecture turns its focus to Lady Macbeth, the first female character we have encountered who might be called a tragic protagonist. A consideration of her strategies in manipulating her husband leads to a larger meditation on what manhood might mean in the world of Macbeth. x
  • 17
    Macbeth III—Bloody Babes and Bloody Ends
    Children are at once both utterly vulnerable and supremely powerful in the world of Macbeth. This lecture explores the link between the children (real and metaphorical) of this play and a future that Macbeth cannot ultimately control. x
  • 18
    Antony and Cleopatra I—Epic Desires
    The protagonists of Antony and Cleopatra are power brokers enmeshed in the complexities of imperial history. We look at the historical context in which the play's events unfold, discuss the Romans' fascination with Cleopatra, and consider how the play's leisurely beginning suggests darker things to come. x
  • 19
    Antony and Cleopatra II—Identity Politics
    We look at Antony's crisis of identity as he tries to reconcile his notion of "Roman" honor with his "Egyptian" appetites, and propose that the stoic and martial Roman ideal that Antony is perpetually called on to represent is not as clearly differentiated from "Egyptian" flux and cunning as Rome would believe. x
  • 20
    Antony and Cleopatra III—The Art of Dying
    We continue our discussion of the staging of identity in Antony and Cleopatra, focusing on the protagonists' highly performative suicides, the ironies that complicate Antony's bungled attempt to die a stoic Roman death, and Cleopatra's resurrection of the "heroic Antony" in her eulogy for her lover. x
  • 21
    Coriolanus I—The Loner and the Mob
    Coriolanus focuses on the public life of republican Rome, with most of its major scenes unfolding in the marketplace. We begin by looking at its protagonist's troubled relationship with the social contracts underpinning the relationship among Rome's patricians, plebeians, and tribunes. x
  • 22
    Coriolanus II—The Theater of Politics
    In this lecture, we begin by examining the implications of the protagonist's horror at accommodating himself to his society's public rituals before analyzing the clash between Coriolanus's absolutism and the politically expedient (and theatrical) dissimulation preached by his mother. x
  • 23
    Coriolanus III—Mothers and Killers
    This lecture looks more closely at the relationship between Coriolanus and his mother, examining their traumatic final encounter as it relates to the destructive contradictions that lie within the system of values she nurtured in him. x
  • 24
    Conclusion—Beyond Tragedy?
    In this final lecture, we address the elusiveness of Shakespearean tragedy as a descriptive category, and discuss Shakespeare's most striking preoccupations as a tragic dramatist, concluding with an account of what happens when our playwright moves beyond tragedy in the final works of his career. x

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Your professor

Clare R. Kinney

About Your Professor

Clare R. Kinney, Ph.D.
University of Virginia
Dr. Clare R. Kinney is Associate Professor of English at the University of Virginia. She earned her B.A. in English at Cambridge University. Under a Paul W. Mellon Fellowship, she attended Yale University, where she earned her Ph.D. Professor Kinney served as Director of Undergraduate Studies in the UVA English Department and is in charge of its Distinguished Majors Program. In 2007 Professor Kinney was the recipient of a...
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Reviews

Shakespeare's Tragedies is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 78.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thoroughly enjoyed. Shakespeare is a gap in my learning. This course, tragedies, filled an important part of that gap. Prof Kinney spoke with passion and kept me interested and looking forward to my next walk (when I listen to my downloads).
Date published: 2017-11-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Nice synopsis Nice synopsis of shakespearian tragedies. I only read a few while in school and this course filled me in on the rest
Date published: 2017-11-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Solid Entry Into a Deep Topic I have read many of Shakespeare's works and always been drawn to his tragedies for their complex characters, plots, stories and meanings. In this series Prof. Kinney is offering her interpretation of Shakespeare's tragedies and it is important you know this going in to the series because these are her views, opinions and understandings. This is not to say I agreed or disagreed with all of her opinions but it is to remind the listener this is less about history and more about "reading in-between the lines" literally. I found this series to be very thoughtful, well-researched and fair. Of course there are a few biases and assumptions that bleed into the presentation from time to time; but on a topic such as this it would be almost impossible to not present the material with some type of bias and personal opinion. As far as the professors choices in what she decided to address, focus on and analyze I felt she had a thoughtful approach to these tragedies and most of all gave the listener a some deeper topics to consider as the re-read or watch these works.
Date published: 2017-11-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Shakespeare's Tragedies This is the fourth "great conversation" that I have purchased on audio and it is wonderful - even for a novice like me. It informed, inspired, and entertained. Bravo!
Date published: 2017-09-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This course got me to read and watch Shakespeare This is a wonderful presentation of the tragedies. I got the audio version and I loved listening to it. It made me dust off my Riverside Shakespeare and read each play as she discussed it. I was so inspired that last night drove to the movie house to watch a simulcast of The Royal Shakespeare Company production of Titus Andronicus (not one she discussed but she deepened my appreciation of that play too). I hope she does another course about the Late Plays (The Tempest, The Winters Tale, etc)
Date published: 2017-09-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Left Me Wanting More Other than the obligatory high school studies of Julius Caesar and Macbeth I never took a course on Shakespeare, as I studied science. Of course I have seen the usual plays and perhaps read another ten or so, but not in any structured fashion. So I anticipated this course, expecting to get insights into plays that I loved, but which I really knew had subtleties and meanings that had escaped me. And in this Professor Kinney does not disappoint. In each of the tragedies that she discusses, I learned things about the plays, characters and their speeches that I had never considered. Further Professor Kinney spends some time giving a bit of background about the times when the plays were written and how that informed much of the structure of the plays. She also (especially in Anthony and Cleopatra) details some of the background of the times and places in which the plays are set and the Elizabethan English understanding of those times and places which further inform the plays. Looking at the reviews, some love Dr. Kinney’s speaking style while others either dislike or outright despise it. For me, she spoke distinctly, certainly with an English accent, something to be expected. And when she is reciting excerpts from the plays, she does so in a dramatic fashion, something I find appropriate and not off-putting. After all Shakespeare wrote in blank verse so we should expect recitations in a poetic style. Professor Kinney, professional though she is, often comments of the difficulties she has in reading and watching some of these tragedies, mentioning King Lear and Othello. This I think leads to some of her clear emotion when discussing elements of these plays. This I find to be a good thing. As an example one can hear this when she is reading and discussing Othello’s lines before killing Desdemona: “To put out the light and then put out the light”. Who among us would not be moved by these lines in this scene? Well done, Professor Kinney. Now I will be a bit more able to hold my own with my English major wife and son.
Date published: 2017-08-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant course A joy to listen to and learn from. First, Clare Kinney is a wonderful lecturer with a perfect voice and not a sentence out of place. She gives the plays a modern reading without descending into post-modern gibberish; in fact just the opposite. She makes the plays come alive in a fresh way that is truly impressive. I also love her occasional references to modern film interpretations of the plays as well, in particular the way Polanski ended his version of Macbeth.
Date published: 2017-08-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Held my attention Her lectures bring to light so many aspects of the characters and of the plots that I hadn't recognized before. I listened whenever I got the chance. Now I'm watching the plays again after listening to her lectures. So much richer an experience
Date published: 2017-05-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from unexplored Shakespeare It is a great DVD for those people who have not been exposed to some of the Bard's tragedies. I have just started it and I like what I see.
Date published: 2017-03-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Inspiring, captivating review I had a good working knowledge of these tragedies before this course, particularly Hamlet. But the professor explored new facets I'd never considered/heard of, and did so cogently and with great enthusiasm. Her voice and lecturing style are perfectly suited to this topic, a shame she doesn't have more courses (I agree with other reviewers, she could have been an actress herself!). She's passionate about Shakespeare, even breaking into tears during the final lecture's conclusion. Would highly recommend.
Date published: 2017-02-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Insert Shakespeare Quote Here I enjoyed listening to these talks about Shakespeare's tragedies. For some reason, it took me a long time to finish this course, but that's only because I listened to the lectures while driving or while cooking fancy meals, so it's no reflection on the course itself. I thought the quality of this particular course very good. I might even say very, very good. I probably wouldn't say very, very, very good, but only because I think it's awkward to use the same adjective three times in a row. I listened to audio. I don't think video is necessary, but I could be wrong. Since I didn't watch the video, I can hardly comment on it. Maybe the video was great, and I just missed out on it. Still, I thought the audio gave me what I needed to hear. The professor has an accent that, to me, sounds like Northern England. I could be wrong about that, though. At any rate, she speaks clearly and with precision. And her readings of Shakespeare are marvelous. I think she could be an actor if she wanted to. Of the analysis of the plays, I thought she was strongest on Hamlet, Macbeth, and Coriolanus. Her final lectures about politics and the crowd seemed timely, but maybe that's just Shakespeare. He always seems timely. Unlike my watch, which broke while I was writing this review. Now I'm going to be late for my dentist's appointment.
Date published: 2016-12-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course to amplify one's appreciation Shakespeare created the tragedies discussed in this course to be performed rather than to be read. From him the largely illiterate group of theatregoers who were his audience expected intense drama, passion, action, and intrigue. In turn Shakespeare expected them to ignore the implausibilities inherent in some of his creations, such as the premise of King Lear and the transformation of the character of Othello. Author and audience happily fulfilled each other’s expectations. As a result, a superlative body of literature was preserved and has been renowned through the ages. Professor Kinney does a superb job in exploring why this literature is superlative. She offers keen insights into the psychology of the protagonists, the power of the plays' descriptive poetry, the characterizations of women in these tragedies, the historical context in which each play is set, as well as the nuances of language that would be apparent to a 17th century theatregoer but not to a 21st century reader. This is a course well worth taking. I certainly recommend it. Please note that Professor Kinney emphasizes that this course is not meant to be a substitute for reading the plays. I would add that, if possible, one should actually see these plays being performed, for that is why Shakespeare wrote them.
Date published: 2016-11-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from It's a tragedy that you haven't seen this series! Professor Kinney does an excellent job of providing deep insights into the characters and plots of Shakespeare's major tragedies. She is a good presenter - no worries there. She knows her stuff - rarely fiddling with notes or place. What I enjoyed most was the passion which she brought to the characters in each play. You really felt like you were struggling to be Antony or Hamlet. Recommended for anyone interested in going beyond high school Shakespeare!
Date published: 2016-04-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Dazzling. Prof. Kinney's obvious delight in Shakespeare's characters and their speech is infectious, but never gets difficult to understand. She approaches the tragedies from a variety of perspectives, and her lectures on Coriolanus introduced me to a play I'd never encountered before. Her insights were surprising, but well-argued, and her engaging voice and manner kept me interested on my commute. Highly recommend.
Date published: 2016-01-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Stellar beyond stellar This course is my very favourite. Her delivery and analysis make Shakespeare come alive emotionally in a way I had never experienced. She had me nearly in tears several times. What a teacher.
Date published: 2015-12-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Definitely a great course, but the best? No.... Prof. Kinney's course on Shakespeare's tragedies is excellent, no doubt about it. I'm torn, though, between four and five stars. It probably should be five stars, but I just can't bring myself to rate the course that highly when I found Prof. Kinney's delivery difficult to listen to. However, content-wise, the lectures are an absolute five-star product. Buy it! Listen to it! Enjoy it! There are definitely two camps among the reviewers: those who love Prof. Kinney's delivery, and those who hate it. One reviewer described it as "histrionic". That definitely goes too far. (Prof. Sacchio's style: histrionic, Prof. Kinney's: perhaps a bit dramatized, but not terribly so.) However, I did not find Prof. Kinney's accent to be pleasant. It seemed to waver among upper-class Home Counties, East End, and a bit of the North of England thrown in for good measure. That having been said, if I hadn't been distracted by trying to place her accent, it probably wouldn't have bothered me. When she does readings from the plays, I did find the dramatic style to be distracting. When pieces are taken out of context like this, I find them to be more clear when delivered in an undramatized style, but that's just me. Your response may be more like the majority of the reviewers who found her delivery to be an asset, not a distraction. As far as content goes, it is outstanding. I was an English Lit major in college (oh so many years ago) and had my concentration in Shakespeare. I have seen and read all the plays she discusses and felt well-grounded in all these plays. However, with each play, I found her to deliver new nuances and insights that opened up each play in new ways. I did think that Macbeth was the weakest discussion in this regard, though even here, she brought new insights into the play that I hadn't considered. (Her third lecture on the role of children and childhood was fresh and interesting). Her lectures on Hamlet were particularly strong. Although I had read about each of the topics she discusses, she brings new insights with respect to each idea. I thought it was excellent. Her approach to all the plays is definitely informed by a feminist perspective. I won't complain about this, because every interpretation has to come from some perspective. However, several reviewers seemed to be put off by this. Feminist criticism is not only a common approach to Shakespeare. It is one that is well grounded and well justified in the text. And she does a good job of grounding each of her comments in the text. She also does not neglect many other critical perspectives. She covers a broad array of ideas and does each of them justice, so, if this is a feminist heavy perspective, it is only slightly weighted that way. One complaint: she does not cover any historical/political critical analysis. For me, this is a shame, since I love the political/historical approach. This was particularly disappointing with respect to Antony and Cleopatra. She leans over the edge of political Shakespeare when she talks about the Roman view of the world vs. the Egyptian view of the world and how the Roman view of themselves is undermined by their own actions. But she fails to bring it home and discuss how this would have related to the Elizabethan world-view. This is a particularly egregious oversight since the play could be viewed as a back-handed (and subtle) indictment of King James (Octavian) relative to the good-old-days of QE1 (Cleopatra), who had a much less monarchical view of the monarchy. That's a particularly ironic view, given that Shakespeare's company was The King's Men. (The play was probably first performed in 1608, seven years after King James came to the throne.) Granted, political Shakespeare is much more speculative than many other critical schools, and of limited modern resonance except as a matter of historical interest. That may be why she neglected it. But it's so much FUN! Overall, a high recommendation, but come prepared for a bit of an accent and a focus on the feminist critical perspective.
Date published: 2015-10-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant and Wonderful. A Great Course. There is not much to add, so I'll keep this short. This is as fine and rewarding a course as I've ever taken. Professor Kinney's presentation and analysis of Shakespeare's tragedies is broad and deep, complex, and often profoundly insightful. I have long loved Shakespeare, and taken a number of courses on his work as an adult continuing education student, but this course added substantially to my appreciation and understanding. And our professor's lecture style is outstanding - eloquent, focused, organized, deeply felt, and a pleasure to listen to. Obviously, my highest recommendation.
Date published: 2015-08-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Shakespeare Enlightened and Enacted What a fine course on Shakespeare and lecturer in Professor Kinney. Her readings opened up compelling themes and issues in these six mature tragedies: their dramatic treatment of choice and knowledge, their tragic worlds compiicating the responses of their protagonists, the complex relationships between and contrasting depictions of male and female characters. Professor KInney also has a marvelous performing voice when citing from the plays. As she works through each play, she uses Shakespeare's language and the tragic action to give a special intensity to the themes and issues she discusses. She is a special teacher, and I was enlightened and moved by her intellectual and her emotional responses to the plays
Date published: 2015-06-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Captivating and Thought Provoking! First, I will admit I was not a huge fan of tragedy, so I was not sure if I would like this course. But I had taken the GC's 'How to Read and Understand Shakespeare' (excellent!!) which provoked my interest in exploring more, even if it was not the lighthearted stuff. I am glad I did. I really, REALLY enjoyed this course! Professor Kinney is stunning as a presentor and it was wonderful to learn more about these tragic dramas. My book club was reading Hamlet at the time I began the course. Professor Kinney devotes much time to it. Her insights are perpective, especially in the complicated characters of Ophelia and Gertrude. I see that some reviewers have complained about Professor Kinney's accent. I thought she was great! Stark, dramatic and not at all hard to understand. I am an American Midwesterner, and I greatly enjoyed her deep and soulful renditions of these beautiful lines, My one -- very small -- complaint was that Romeo and Juliet was not included. I understand that the play is possibly way overdone -- but R & J is still one of my favorites, so I would have loved to explore it in this context. However, now i am learning more about the less popular tragedies as well, which is quite intresting. Overall, this is an excellent course and i would highly rec for anyone who wants to better understand elements of tragedy and the beloved Bard.
Date published: 2015-05-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb! I was impressed with the professor Kinney's style, wonderful diction, and- what for me is more important- her always clear in depth analysis. Although I have dipped in and out of Shakespeare through reading, watching the occasional play, and so forth over the decades since high school and college, I found myself happily entranced with the course and learned a great deal more in the process. Very refreshing indeed!
Date published: 2015-03-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from She makes Shakespeare Better, If That's Possible I felt that I had gained the full value of this course on the first lesson. This course is not just a classroom exercise, but a tool. I was able to view her lectures as I read each play. The lectures drew me into the plays more than ever before. She adds depth that I was missing. A good teacher is a guide, not teaching you what to think, but steering you toward knowing how to look at what you are seeing. As new material is encountered, she doesn't just add to and correct your previous impressions, but hones your thinking skills by pointing out aspects you may have missed for material you already know. She doesn't just enlarge your knowledge base, but can introduce a titillating uncertainty into material you already know, giving you tools for reflection. I found Dr. Kinney's exposition on the roles of the women in Shakespeare's tragedies especially insightful. In Othello, for instance, I do have to admit that before Dr. Kinney's discussion of the roles of Desdemona and Emilia in Othello, I had viewed them merely as hapless dupes of Iago without giving them credit for their uprightness and courage. That causes me to wonder what else I may have overlooked. Her scholarship warms your heart. I was gladdened by Dr. Kinney's revelation that, in other editions of King Lear, Cordelia's armies win, and Regan and Goneril get their just deserts. We do have to accept that the final edit of King Lear is what it is, but there is an ingrained streak of humanity that seeks justice to see rotten kids get what they deserve and what might have been if all was truly right in the world. This Review is not just to thank Dr. Kinney, but to express my appreciation for several of the Professors serving us through the Great Courses. I would like to thank Dr. Kinney, of course, for this absorbing trip through the tragedies. Also thanks to Dr. Weinstein for his discourse on Othello, really raising my interest in those tragedies in his discussion of narrative in “Understanding Literature and Life: Drama, Poetry and Narrative“, and Dr. Armstrong for her discussion of the Bard's Sonnets in Her course on “Analysis and Critique” and causing me to look for more of his work. Thank you all for motivating me in this study. It does make life better. And after listening to Dr. Kinney's lectures, seeing her command presence, reading of her experience with the BlackFriar Theatre Company, and knowing of other successful Shakespearian actors that have advanced along other paths, one can easily imagine her as a Starship Captain. That is, if she ever wants to take another career path.
Date published: 2014-09-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from More Clare Kinney! This is a Great Course indeed. Clare Kinney's lectures are rigorously constructed, coherently and clearly presently and expertly delivered. I cannot begin to imagine the amount of scholarship and preparation that went into the making of this course - I feel very privileged to have benefitted from it. On the experience of this course alone, I would have bought up anything and everything authored by Clare Kinney. But where is it? More Clare Kinney!
Date published: 2014-08-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Shakespear's Tragedies My wife and I are elderly and have trouble understanding British accents. However, Dr. Kinney speaks very crisply (except when delivering dialogue from the play). Unlike many speakers she does not drop the final sounds of words. She is obviously well versed in her subject and interesting as a guide. It would be very helpful if a section of the guidebook gave meaning for some of the archaic language used.
Date published: 2014-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Intermediate to Advanced Level Shakespeare These 24 lectures from Professor Kinney are a great complement to other Teaching Company Shakespeare offerings from Professor Saccio and Professor Conner. Three to four lectures are dedicated to each of the six major Shakespearean tragedies: Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus. The two opening lectures provide a general context for the discussions to come, and a final lecture provides some general closing thoughts on tragedy and transgression. This is an intermediate to advanced course on Shakespeare, in my estimation. The course lectures do not provide plot summaries of these plays. To get the most out of this course it is highly recommended that one read each play using a well-annotated edition (like the Arden editions). Optimally one might want to also watch a live performance or a movie version of each play. Shakespeare really comes to life in performance. Some lectures deal with finer points of understanding which will be missed without some broad conception of how the action unfolds in each tragedy. I learned a great deal from Professor Kinney. She taught me to think more deeply about the idea of “tragedy” and read more carefully as I move through the action of each of these great plays.
Date published: 2013-10-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Rough intro for a techie So, I managed to make it through high school, college, and grad school without reading a word of the Bard. This was a rough introduction...but that's not a reflection on the instructor. It was interesting enough but just not my cup of tea. Who knew Othello was black?!!!
Date published: 2013-10-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing These lectures are phenomenal. This Clare Kinney is so witty, a fantastic actress, and her general brilliance and sincere care for the texts shines through as she highlights the central themes and exciting character insights that make revisiting the plays infinitely richer! For instance, the way she describes Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as "17th century frat boys" is a hoot. Or she gave new meaning to Othello's plight (for me) by describing Desdemona's father and his posse as a lynch mob. I can't say enough wonderful things about these lectures. You are in for a real treat! I wish she would cover all the plays!
Date published: 2013-04-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very Informative I found the insights and background information very useful. I was taught Shakespeare at school but badly. The lecturer sometimes faded a word in a sentence; some I still could not get even after repeating with the volume up. Otherwise I appreciated her confident and forthright if somewhat histrionic style. If I were in her class I would be afraid to contradict her in case she eloquently tore me off a strip for not only being wrong but also for being a man. I would like to give 5 stars but it required concentration to keep up with the lectures and the faded words were a hindrance so 4.5 stars would be my more accurate rating.
Date published: 2013-02-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful study of 6 tragedies by sharp professor! What a super professor! This course is so much more than I anticiated. Professor Kinney sure knows her stuff and how to get the message across. It concerns me that when I wrote this review, only 85% of reviewers recommended the course ~~ I don't understand the 15%. I noted criticism of the lecturer's accent in some reviews, but it is a fairly light British accent with slight influence of Northern English regional pronunciation. She does not speak quickly: this is appropriate I feel, not a disadvantage, for this is a course that could not be taught competently in a quick manner, but Dr Kinney's presentation is particularly moderately-paced, agreed. I would add that Dr Kinney's many readings from the plays are strong, finely interpretive, whether of a male or female part. The first two lectures comprise a perfect prologue to the selected six "mature" tragedies. Dr Kinney explains carefully why she made those choices and why she omitted the other tragedies. Although Romeo & Juliet and Titus Andronicus are two of my favourites, I understood her logical reasoning for leaving them out ~~ but perhaps the omissions are a real problem for some reviewers. A suggestion: if you are not familiar with some of the plays, it will benefit you hugely to read or view the play/s before running the lecture/s. I needed to refresh myself re the complicated play Coriolanus (the great soldier hero of Rome, primary source Plutarch's The Lives of Noble Grecians and Romans). The four lectures on the mighty work Hamlet prove what a masterful command Dr Kinney has over the material. The professor explains word usage, most helpful, noting, for example, that "nunnery" meant "brothel" in Elizabethan slang; this puts a rather different spin on "Get thee to a nunnery" than many people think. It is resoundingly clear how deeply the lecturer loves and appreciates Shakespeare: I found that newly-inspiring ~~ and I've adored and read the Bard since I was a young school lad, even have a DVD set of all of Shakespeare's plays. I share Professor Kinney's feelings about Othello. I loved her expression that Othello had "a foot in two cultural camps". The lecturer's excellent, sensitive and insightful treatment of the remaining four plays selected continues at an admirably high level. Worth mentioning that she gives special attention to a study of the women in all these tragedies. This is a prized course, a "keeper" which should form a permanent part of your library I submit. Thank you Clare Kinney, you're a gem.
Date published: 2012-09-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well Done! Bravo! Even if you are a scholar of Shakespeare, the theories and insights Professor Clare Kinney brings to this subject are well worth the course. I recommend that you read the plays together with the lectures.
Date published: 2012-01-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Shakespeare's Tragedies I listened to this in parallel with prof. Saccio's content-wise more extensive but less focused main course on Shakespeare and listening to them side-by-side was particularly fruitful. That said, I'll proceed with my review point by point: 1. Like Saccio's, and unlike what many other reviewers have said, I thought prof. Kinney's presentation was heartlfelt and poignant (she's genuinely in tears in the final lecture). 2. Kinney gives a set of interesting facts and trivia about Shakespeare's context prior to embarking on the analysis of the major tragedies. This includes important (but all-too-short) discussions ranging from the place and meaning of the theater in Shakespeare's time, to a passing analysis of the contemporary playwrights of Shakespeare. Obviously, being a prof. of medieval English literature, Kinney has a lot to offer, and it shows and I hope she'll find space to do so. 3. Kinney discusses both Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus (Saccio does not talk about either in his course) and I particularly liked her intelligent reading of the former. 4. Her analysis of Hamlet and Macbeth had things to offer, but was less than earth-shattering. For the other plays, Saccio had pretty much covered the same ground (or more) for me, so it was a tad redundant. 5. My major complaint concerns Kinney's somewhat annoying method of going through the text of the play point-by-point. Actually, since she claimed otherwise in the opening lectures, but was disillusioned later on. This bothered me all the more in cases where I could imagine she'd have been able to carry her discussion much further had she focused on the bigger picture. 6. While I'm complaining, I should mention that the final lecture (titled "conclusion") could've been summarized by the last 3-4 minutes of it. She only scratches the surface where there is a possibility unifying (or varying) themes, underlying theories or worldviews pertaining to the plays. 7. This relates to anything I've read on Shakespeare and it still baffles me; there does not seem to be a single flaw in any of his plays that are discussed, or at least these scholars claim so. Is this literary criticism at its best though? ...I recommend this to people who are interested in Shakespeare studies, but have only just begun (like me) especially if you want to focus on the tragedies only.
Date published: 2011-12-03
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