Shakespeare: The Word and the Action

Course No. 273
Professor Peter Saccio, Ph.D.
Dartmouth College
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Course No. 273
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Course Overview

Shakespeare is the leading playwright, and probably the leading writer, in Western civilization. His works are one of the greatest achievements of the human mind and spirit. And yet, for many of us they remain a closed book. Why? Too often, we were force-fed Shakespeare as adolescents—when our own dramas were all-consuming. The language of Shakespeare is 400 years old: even as adults, reading or seeing a play may seem like listening to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and missing half the notes.

The crowds that filled the Globe to witness his plays in Elizabethan times enjoyed his words easily. Perhaps we've forgotten how to listen to his language, and we approach his works unaware of the larger cultural, political, and spiritual context that give them their full, rich meaning. Professor Peter Saccio is well suited to bring you back into Shakespeare's world, and tune you into what he calls "Shakespeare's wavelength."

The Teacher and His Plan

Teaching both as a lecturer and as a trained actor and director, and assisted by two Shakespearean actors, Professor Saccio brings the Bard's sonnets and plays to life with astute and passionate performances. As you hear him effortlessly deliver Elizabethan language with the proper meter, emphasis, intonation, and emotion, you'll experience the pleasure that comes with true mastery.

Professor Saccio also prepares you to read or watch the plays by orienting you to Shakespeare's use of multiple plots, lines of action, and the sometimes outmoded forms of human behavior—such as courtship in Elizabethan England—that arise in the plays.

Pure Language, Pure Feeling

Professor Saccio devotes two of his lectures to Shakespeare's sonnets, fusing an understanding of their technical elements (meter, rhyme, alliteration, pacing) with an appreciation for the torrent of variegated feeling that underlies them.

The sonnets are often misunderstood to be an autobiographical narrative of Shakespeare's personal life. Actually, they are something much greater than that. John Keats praised Shakespeare for his "negative capability," his capacity to inhabit and explore multiple moods, emotions, and perspectives, without committing to one. Only someone of his level of sensitivity and imagination could write on one occasion:

Kind is my love today, tomorrow kind,
Still constant in a wondrous excellence

... and then fume in another sonnet:

Th'expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjur'd, murd'rous, bloody, full of blame.

Love's Language

Shakespeare had much more to say about love than could be contained in the space of a sonnet. Professor Saccio shows how he used comedies, romances, and even tragedies to reflect on love's every facet:

  • In A Midsummer Night's Dream, the characters' speeches reveal love as absurd, irrational, changeable, wonderful, and dangerous. The characters woo in a distant forest, away from society, lest their foibles undo the conventions of society. Amid piquant barbs on sexual politics, we find farcical spectacle, as the goddess Titania pledges undying love to the peasant Bottom, who is transformed into a donkey!
  • The Winter's Taleexplores the dark side of our passions, as irrational affection becomes unreasoning jealousy and rage. King Leontes destroys his family with rash accusations of infidelity. Repentant, he must seek the love that expresses itself in forgiveness, and that contains a touch of magic.
  • As You Like It is a study of lovers themselves, and the different kinds that make the world go round. You'll meet the earthy Touchstone and Audrey, the witty and erotically charged Celia and Oliver, the Petrarchan formalists Phebe and Silvius, and our heroes Rosalind and Orlando, who know love is madness, but embrace the sweet nonsense nonetheless.
Action and the Meaning of History

Shakespeare was acutely aware of the importance of history, and not just of events but of ideas. His tragedies and histories are meditations on the changing world around him, and of the eternal issues of character and human nature. Professor Saccio closely examines this world where actions and ideas intersect, and raises profound and unexpected questions:

  • Richard III is a classic villain, but somewhat disturbingly, also a Renaissance figure. Schooled in Machiavellian tactics of self-promotion, deception, and betrayal, he is a cautionary example of what it means to be a "self-made" man. Yet he says he is "determinate" to be a villain. Is this a Calvinist nod to the limits of free will and responsibility?
  • Henry V is often seen as the anti-Hamlet, a man of action and a military leader. But is he, or any king, really capable of making his own history? The son of a usurper, he is oppressed by the weight of history, of expectation, and by his own overwhelming sense of responsibility. In a famous scene he tries on the crown of his dying father—but is this ambition or an attempt to wrestle with his own inexorable fate?
  • Can a man be a hero without a cause or a country? In Coriolanus, Shakespeare takes the great ideal of the action hero—and complicates it. Spurned by Rome, Coriolanus turns against it, then comes to realize that there is no victory for a man outside his polis. He yields to his mother's plea to spare Rome, knowing that its enemies will punish his weakness. "O my mother," he cries, "You have won a happy victory to Rome; But for your son—believe it, O, believe it, Most dangerously you have with him prevail'd."
Of His Time, Ahead of His Time

One of the great rewards of reading Shakespeare is the discovery of his relevance to our times. Throughout the course, Professor Saccio offers startling and novel analyses of the plays, in addition to explicating more traditional views.

For example, The Tempest is widely remembered as Shakespeare's curtain call, a last display of his poetic magic before leaving the stage, with the wizard Prospero acting as Shakespeare's double. But the play also wrestled with many contemporary issues. It was written at the height of the Age of Exploration, and Shakespeare made use of reports from the Island of Bermuda and the Virginia Colony. It can be seen as a critique of colonization and European rapacity, of modern man's capacity to alter and exploit nature. Prospero's effort to tutor the native Caliban strongly echoes the civilizing mission of many European colonizers.

To read Shakespeare is to take a daunting journey into a perpetually undiscovered country that reinvents itself with every visit. But with Professor Saccio as your guide, it will become a familiar pleasure. To quote Caliban:

Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears ...
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.

 

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16 lectures
 |  Average 43 minutes each
  • 1
    Shakespeare's Wavelengths
    Shakespeare's wavelengths are conventions of speech and action that he used to construct his plays. The first lecture focuses on speech: words and their arrangement. Examples of prose, blank verse, and rhymed verse are drawn from Richard III, The Merchant of Venice, and A Midsummer Night's Dream. The lecture shows how poetic meter and its variations may relate to the subject matter of a given speech or scene or to the feelings expressed by a character. x
  • 2
    The Multiple Actions of A Midsummer Night's Dream
    The lecture discusses A Midsummer Night's Dream, emphasizing plot construction. Analogous actions constitute a primary wavelength in Shakespearean drama. Each of the plot lines in Dream concerns love; each displays aspects of love as personal emotions and powerful forces in society and the universe. The lecture concludes by showing the diversity of Dream organized into binaries of place such as court/forest and sunlight/moonlight; binaries of emotion such as duty/desire and reason/madness; and binaries of existence such as illusion/constancy. x
  • 3
    The Form of Shakespeare's Sonnets
    This lecture introduces Shakespeare's Sonnets as a volume of 154 poems that we may read as a series of lyric meditations on love, representing Shakespeare's most disciplined writing. He maintains the standard English (or "Shakespearean") sonnet form: 14 lines of iambic pentameter verse arranged in three quatrains and a closing couplet. The lecture explores what Shakespeare was able to do within that limited form. x
  • 4
    Love in Shakespeare's Sonnets
    This lecture explores five of Shakespeare's sonnets and asserts that the poet does not have a particular philosophy of love. Sonnet 116 offers a resounding definition of love endorsed by many readers while making most of its assertions in negatives rather than in concrete positives. x
  • 5
    Love and Artifice in Love's Labor's Lost and Much Ado About Nothing
    In this lecture we move from the individual voice of love as expressed in the sonnets to the social words and actions of love in two comedies. The male suitors of Love's Labor's Lost try to break through the artificiality of verbal courtship to something more natural but are outstripped by the larger realities of time, death, and seasonal change. In Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare's characteristic use of multiple plot lines works out the conflict between artifice and nature in two contrasted actions. x
  • 6
    As You Like It
    Another wavelength Shakespeare used repeatedly is the fairy tale. This lecture explains the advantages of fairy tale as a base for dramatic plots. It explores four kinds of response we may have to such material and shows how Shakespeare deliberately prompts them all. x
  • 7
    The Battles of Henry VI
    The three plays named after Henry VI introduce two fresh senses of the word "action": the large patterns of action by which Shakespeare organized a trilogy of plays, and the physicality we see on stage when the plays are performed. This lecture explores thematic patterns: how the actions have been organized to make specific points about politics and warfare in each play. Stage directions that a reader may pass over lightly present graphic images and actions to a theater audience. The lecture closes by contemplating the deformed physique of Richard of Gloucester. x
  • 8
    Richard III and the Renaissance
    This lecture explores Shakespeare's characterization of Richard III as marking important aspects of the early modern era. Shakespeare's greatest innovation in the received account of Richard was to make him a conscious actor or role-player who constantly refashions himself to accomplish his political goals. We relate this discovery of the player-king to new political theories by Niccolo Machiavelli, to Renaissance ideas about human freedom, and to the breakdown of ideas about fixed order. x
  • 9
    History and Family in Henry IV
    We delve further into the workings of human action in history. Is Richard's decision to be a villain a free choice or a Calvinistically predestined event? Similarly, Henry IV, Part II asks whether history and the consequences of prior action deprive men of free choice. The first three acts of the play lack action: four major characters appear trapped by their own pasts. The lecture then examines three of these men in the Shakespearean wavelength of parallel scenes. The play thus highlights relationships between fathers and sons. x
  • 10
    Action in Hamlet
    This lecture plumbs Hamlet on the matter of action. It investigates five aspects of the play's action, each one demonstrating a characteristic Shakespearean skill. The action is vivid; it explores alternatives: Ophelia and Laertes, like Hamlet, act in response to the death of a beloved father. The action can be suddenly and mysteriously arrested, and it can be utterly ambiguous, as in the confrontation of Hamlet with his mother. The action can also be conclusive—witness the exciting and satisfying releases of energy in the final scene. x
  • 11
    Coriolanus—The Hero Alone
    Coriolanus offers an experience different from other tragedies and requires getting on a new wavelength. The hero is a direct and uncomplicated man living in a relatively primitive Rome; his tragic flaw (pride) leads to a tragic fall. The simplicity of the play leads to an especially powerful effect. The play also raises the question of whether a man can remain human when he is cut off from society. x
  • 12
    Change in Antony and Cleopatra
    In words and actions, Shakespeare creates an unusual world in Antony and Cleopatra, a fluid world in which nearly everything changes shape and place. This lecture tallies the unusually high number of events that change the appearance of the stage. The language of the play stresses contradiction, transformation, paradox, shape-changing, longing, and other forms of mutability. In all this flux, only two things reach stability at the end: Normally mutable Fortune becomes constant in favor of Octavius Caesar. Cleopatra herself becomes constant—in death. x
  • 13
    The Plot of Cymbeline
    Cymbeline adds to our sense of what Shakespearean action can be by providing the most extravagant and complicated plot Shakespeare ever created. Some have found the story ridiculous, but it is nonetheless constructed with extraordinary skill. The action is always clear to the audience, the bizarre development provides a roller coaster of emotional opportunities, and the final scene ties up all the threads. A detailed pattern of early virtue, sin, symbolic death, repentance, and rebirth proves, on different scales, to be a repeating pattern in the play and give the audience the experience of life in a providential world. x
  • 14
    Nature and Art in The Winter's Tale
    This lecture introduces the genre of romance, which include Cymbeline and The Winter's Tale; it is a capacious genre that can combine actions characteristic of comedy, history, and tragedy. We explore the rich relationship of nature and art in The Winter's Tale. Nature provides the means by which humans create art and civilization; art in turn extends, fulfills, and preserves worthy things in nature. x
  • 15
    Three Kinds of Tempest
    The Tempest, a romance like Cymbeline and The Winter's Tale, strips down the constituent actions to great simplicity; the leading character has godlike powers; and Caliban is a semihuman creature. These circumstances lead playgoers and scholars to strenuous efforts of interpretation: The play may deal with the imperialist or colonialist movement of early modern Europe; it may explore the possibilities for magical or protoscientific power; it may be a Christian comedy of forgiveness. x
  • 16
    History and Henry VIII
    This play demonstrates Shakespeare's continuous experimentalism with, at the end of his career, yet another mode of dramatic action. Henry VIII combines history with the patterns of romance. It is spectacular history in which the title character is a godlike personage with a mostly inaccessible mind. The more interesting characters, Buckingham, Katherine, and the defeated Wolsey, are interesting precisely when they split from history. x

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 96-page printed course guidebook
  • Selected poems
  • English rulers to the time of William Shakespeare
  • Suggested readings

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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: The Word and the Action is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 42.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Shakespeare the word and the action Intimidated by Shakespeare? Not after this course. It is wonderful; play it often.
Date published: 2014-06-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting but uneven Almost every lecture left me wanting to see the play under discussion, which is certainly a good thing. However, I found Dr. Saccio's presentation off-putting for two main reasons. First, his indeterminate accent fluctuated between British and American, without ever being identifiably either. The question "where is this guy from, actually?" was a constant distraction. Second, the good professor was all too ready to chuckle at his rather lame attempts at humor. This is not to say that these lectures are not a good introduction to the Shakespeare plays. But having been introduced to The Great Courses by several of Robert Greenberg's lectures on classical music, I was expecting better.
Date published: 2014-04-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Much better Quite prefer this to Dr Saccio other course (Shakespeare: comedies, histories etc. Maybe the 45 min format suits him better than the other course's 30 min lectures. Certainly the short readings; that he and two of his students do are not a positive factor and are largely abandoned as the course progresses. I believe the strength of the course is his excellent analysis of the the plays. Richard The Third as a renaissance man, the very complicated plot of Cymbeline, The Tempest and colonialism. Well worth the cost.
Date published: 2013-05-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Excellent Introduction Prof. Saccio provides a nice introduction to the works of Shakespeare. In the first third of the course, he provides a discussion of the language of Shakespeare (the "word"), and, in the last two-thirds, he covers the Bard's plot and staging (the "action"). Prof. Saccio clearly loves this material. His enthusiasm shows throughout his lectures. He is a bit quirky, and, sometimes, I think he stretches his points a bit. However, there were several times when he made the light bulb go on inside my head -- which was wonderful. A prime example was his discussion of Cymbeline as a resurrection story. I particularly enjoyed his dramatic expertise with Shakespeare. I thought this expertise brought an element to this course that could not be provided by someone who was looking only at Shakespeare's work as literary work. While I certainly cannot tell another student how best to study, I think this course works best when one is familiar with the works. I found that I got more out of the lectures by reading the works before I listened to the lectures. Overall, an excellent course that I recommend to any student of western civilization.
Date published: 2013-04-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Helpful Intro to Shakespeare I viewed this as an absolute neophyte regarding Shakespeare. I wanted to have some introduction before taking a grad class on Shakespearean drama. This course provided key interpretive strategies for understanding Shakespeare. If you had a good undergrad course in Shakespeare, this may be too introductory unless you just love to learn everything you can about Elizabethan drama. But if you are just getting your feet wet, the instructor does a great job making it accessible and interesting. Some reviewers do not like his dramatic presentation style, but the instructor is a thespian, and this is Shakespeare -- Shakespearean drama was not meant to be read silently, but to be performed. So, I found this aspect of his presentation invaluable.
Date published: 2013-02-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from British scholar sure loves Shakespeare ! DVD REVIEW: Interesting to hear audience reaction in this 1999 course of 16 45-minute lectures by an outstanding British scholar and expert on Shakespeare's plays and sonnets. This is an ideal course to analyse Shakespeare broadly, to give an overview, to provide, as it were, some tools whereby you might appreciate and understand the Bard more easily, to help cut through the natural difficulties that literature and poetry from 400 years ago present. It is essential to pay close attention; this is not casual lecturing. The course does not comprise detailed studies; there is another excellent Great Courses series by Dr Saccio that deals with the plays in depth: "Shakespeare: Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies ", also highly-recommended. Professor Saccio's love affair with Shakespeare resounds clearly through all his talks. His enthusiasm is infectious; it is serious but relieved with humour and asides where appropriate. While you do not need to be deeply familiar with Shakespeare's works, it will decidedy help if you come to the course with some knowledge of the plays considered. Saccio, btw, is the author of the highly-respected book "Shakespeare's English Kings: History, Chronicle, and Drama". Young actors in studio are used in these lectures to read some excerpts. The professor himself is a seasoned actor and participates a little. Seeing and hearing these bits'n'pieces actually "performed" greatly enhances the value and impact of this course. Shakespeare's plays were never intended to be read only. Several reviews here indicate that Dr Saccio is not everyone's "cup of tea" as a lecturing professor. His style is a little austere, perhaps aloof to North American ears (or "haughty" as one reviewer says), but you should be able to override this if it bothers you at first, as you concentrate on what he is saying. Saccio's explanations are so lucid, e.g. how iambic pentameter works. A strongly-recommended course.
Date published: 2013-01-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enthusiastic Informed Shakespeare Professor Saccio provides a fine analysis of a selected collection of Shakespeare’s plays – some well known and often performed (Hamlet, The Tempest, Richard III, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Much Ado About Nothing) and others less so (Cymbeline, Love’s Labor's Lost, Henry IV, Henry VI, and Henry VIII). Saccio clearly enjoys his Shakespeare and transmits his enthusiasm and knowledge throughout the sixteen lectures. He freely offers his interpretations, some of which seem a bit of a stretch to me (but I am no expert here). However, the lectures did force me to read the text of the plays more carefully and think more critically about the issues raised. The course begins with a discussion of Shakespeare’s “wavelengths”. This exposition on the use Shakespeare makes of prose, blank verse, and rhymed verse was quite helpful. Professor Saccio uses examples from a Midsummer Night’s Dream to illustrate the different forms and meter used by different social classes of the many characters of this play. My eventual recognition of these wavelengths allowed an even greater appreciation of the devices of Shakespeare to communicate the action. I enjoyed performances by the actors, even in the CD version. The actors were often much better at delivery of their lines than Professor Saccio himself when he took to dramatic presentation. The lectures were most enjoyable when I had both read the play and watched a dramatic presentation, either live or recorded. I did not do this for each of the plays discussed but certainly appreciated the lectures more when I did. This is an excellent set of talks for one, like me, who is far from an experienced Shakespeare critic. I look forward to other courses from Professor Saccio.
Date published: 2012-09-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Lectures by a modern-day Shakespeare, himself Seldom does one see such lecturing prowess combined with such eloquent speech and eloquent analysis. Professor Saccio provides smooth-as-butter analysis of the words, stage direction and staged actions of a wide range of The Bard's works. Not only did I get the obligatory overdose of Elizabethan English but it was delivered with clarifying explanations, wit, humor and entertainment, but most of all, it was packed with novel insights which were new to me; in other words packed with learning. I rate this course, and especially this professor, very highly. I am so enthralled with what I've seen, I will order more such courses from this erudite and eloquent professor. If you want Shakespeare delivered from new and refreshingly different perspectives, you can do no better than this professor and this course.
Date published: 2012-06-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Saccio Wins Again! I thoroughly enjoyed professor Saccio's course on Modern British Drama so I thought I would give his Shakespeare lectures a try. Excellent!! Once again the fact that a Shakespeare scholar takes an active stance that these are plays and are meant to be seen, not read won me over. His discussion of the actions on the stage in relationship to the words in these plays is superb.
Date published: 2010-11-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding I listened to this course because I was so impressed with Prof Saccio's Comedies, Histories & Tragedies. It did not disappoint. In each lecture, Prof Saccio zeroes in on what's most important and interesting. The lectures are both entertaining and enlightening. The overall theme of the course (word and action) provides an overall coherence to what would otherwise be a set of lectures on disparate topics and raises the course from good to excellent (much as the "abundance of Shakespeare" theme does with the CH&T course). As with CH&T, you really must have read or watched the plays (and sonnets, to which he dedicates a couple of lectures) beforehand. The presentation is not introductory; he definitely assumes you have at least some familiarity with the texts.
Date published: 2010-10-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course Saccio is a great lecturer, and you can tell from the beginning that he really enjoys Shakespeare. He's got a cute sense of humor, too. After listening to some of his courses for the TC, I got his book on Shakespeare's English Kings, which was SOOOO helpful, too! In this particular course, Saccio chooses "The Word and Action" (cf. Hamlet) to provide the theme for his course. This course is a themed introduction to how Shakespeare works, really. In other words, Saccio isn't trying to provide you with definitive interpretations of every single play, but rather he's helping you to acquire the tools with which to begin understanding Shakespeare so that you can interpret on your own. Very helpful! P. S. Saccio uses actors to present some parts of the plays. I actually listened to the course on mp3, and just listening totally worked, too.
Date published: 2010-06-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Well Done Course, But ... ... I'm still not a fan of Shakespeare. This lectures moved me closer to appreciating Shakespeare's astounding genius, but I will continue to resist reading/attending his plays. I sense there's a gourmet feast waiting for me, someday, but I am too easily seduced by the charm, simplicity, and velocity of more easily understood literature.
Date published: 2009-05-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from sometimes wacky; always of value saccio is odd, provocative, sometimes wrong, but almost always of real value. if you're engaged in studying shakespeare, buy both kinney and saccio. the teaching company has two strong professors to assist in this magnificent journey. she is more profound and brilliant. he is quirky, insightful, and strong. they both will open your mind.
Date published: 2009-05-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thoroughly enjoyed it This was an interesting lecture set on Shakespeare - both well organized and presented. I have to say that I was in slight disagreement with some of the interpretations but that's the whole idea of lectures like this - to learn something new, something different or a new way of looking at ideas. None of his positions were easily refutable (unlike other lectures I've lisened to) which added a lot to the experience. The use of actors for the parts was a nice touch and one area I wish he'd have expanded upon in a few lectures, especially near the end The one bad thing is at he mentions a lecture set done on Shakespeare by himself and another professor which isn't offered (anymore?). Would love to have that one to go with this and the others.
Date published: 2009-05-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of our early courses Who doesn't want to know more about Shakespeare's plays? I really had not been exposed to the plays in school, guess I was too busy with band. I LOVED the dramatizations! Not everyone has had the opportunity to see stage productions so I felt the dramatizations made me more familiar with the characters. Professor Saccio is entertaining and I like hearing his personal comments. Since watching/listening to these lectures we have watched many of the best movie versions available and I have read a whole book on Shakespeare. Living and learning is what life is about.
Date published: 2009-04-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Abundance of Shakespeare Perhaps it’s a matter of personal taste. Despite what other reviewers have written, I believe this course to be one of the best that the teaching company has to offer. Indeed, Professor Saccio’s Shakespeare courses are the first Teaching Company courses that graced my bookshelves, enchanted my mind and spurred me to purchasing more than 50 more courses. Saccio contends that in order to fully appreciate Shakespeare you must hear it performed. It is not enough to read it or have it read to you. Two of Saccio’s students are used to flesh out the words on the page – admittedly some performances are better than others – nevertheless, the exercise proves useful. Saccio will then dissect the passages providing invaluable insights to the text focusing on small passages to show how rich they are with meaning. I’m currently pursuing a Master of Arts degree in English at Trinity College and the material Saccio taught gave me a rich array of information to use in class and in my research paper. This is a course worth hearing again and again.
Date published: 2009-04-19
Rated 2 out of 5 by from The Prof Leaves No Room for Shakespeare This is the only course I ever returned to the TC. The professor is so enamored of himself that he distracted me at every turn. And I did not like the dramatizations. We've all seen Shakespearean plays performed by great actors. That has spoiled us. These dramatizations are mediocre at best. And the prof is just so offputting. I adore Shakespeare but not this course.
Date published: 2009-01-25
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good content, but... This course was rich in content, but lacking in presentation. I found some of the professor's personal interpretations, which go against commonly accepted explanations, interesting and thought provoking. Having actors read particular scenes was a piquant touch as well. However, personally I found the professor's presentation less than satisfactory. Call me a prude if you wish, but I found the language inappropriate and his attitude haughty. With that caveat, I would still recommend the course.
Date published: 2009-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific overivew of Shakespeare! 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 Saccio 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 Essential Having actors read the lines is the best thing anyone could do for presenting Shakespeare. I wish they could do all the plays. Prof. Saccio is the King of Shakespeare. I will be forever thankful to him. I have always wanted to learn Shakespeare or at least understand a bit of it. Now I do.
Date published: 2008-11-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course Saccio is very excellent, sometimes his performances are a bit too edgy, but his enthusiasm is very, very infectious. I own all of his teaching co. courses (as well as his book on English kings, which is a bit less fun) and have enjoyed them all. In this course I especially benefitted from his lectures on the Sonnets, which were less accessible to me than the plays until I took this course. Enjoy.
Date published: 2008-10-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Peter Saccio is the shakespeare professors' professor!
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dr. Saccio was wonderful. I loved listening to his voice and his knowledge of Shakespeare is truly remarkable.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great source of pleasure. I've barely been able to concentrate on Christmas preparations. A marvelous life long gift to the self.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I have 3 of Dr. Saccio's courses on Shakespeare's plays. I have replayed the tapes and reread the plays many times, each time finding more meaning and more enjoyment. He is a wonderful teacher.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The course was excellent and I'm quite satisfied with the investment of moeny and time. I will order other courses. This is a treasure for a lifelong learner.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Advanced my understanding of Shakespeare.. Particularly the less frequently performed plays.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Based on Shakespeare, The Word and the Action, I have ordered & received Dr. Saccio's WS: Comedies, Histories & Tragedies and it is really engaging so far.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Less is more. this is difficult material to absorb from listening to a CD. the professor seemed to rush through this courses.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An excellent course for understanding, appreciating, interpretting, and translating Shakespeare.
Date published: 2008-10-17
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