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Develop deep knowledge

XSeries Program in
Shakespeare's Life, Work, and Characters

What you will learn

  • Foundational knowledge on the cultural significance of Shakespeare’s plays.
  • How Shakespeare’s work was considered in his own time and in the present, in his own country and around the world.
  • Appreciate Shakespearean dramaturgy and language.
  • Identify historical contexts that illuminate Shakespeare’s artistic choices.
  • Explore the implications of different theatrical and performance interpretations.

Join us for an exploration of Shakespeare! From a biographical history of the playwright and his time to a review of his notable’s “outsider” characters: the disturbing and uncanny “others” whose presence at the margins of society is both celebrated and contested. From lectures filmed on-location in Venice, London, and Stratford-upon-Avon to conversations with artists, academics, and librarians at Harvard, you will have unprecedented access to a range of resources for unlocking Shakespeare's classic plays. You will also be invited to share your own theatrical interpretations and to consider how the meaning of a work of art changes depending on the time, context, and culture.

In Shakespeare’s Life and Work, learn how to read William Shakespeare's plays through his biography, Elizabethan and Jacobean history, and modern performance. Moving between the world in which Shakespeare lived and the present day, this course will introduce different kinds of literary analysis that you can use when reading Shakespeare.

In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the ghost of the dead King of Denmark appears to his son, setting off a chain of events that culminates in the play’s notoriously bloody finale. But how would this mysterious figure have been understood in Shakespeare’s world? You’ll learn the narrative sources of Hamlet, the religious convictions that shaped how people in Renaissance England understood the afterlife, and the ways that Shakespeare’s Ghost would have thrilled and challenged its original audience.

In William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, the Jewish moneylender Shylock proposes a “merry sport” to the merchant Antonio: he will lend Antonio the money he needs if Antonio agrees to let Shylock take a pound of his flesh should he default. But what does Shylock want from the bond, and how merry does the play ultimately prove? In this section, you’ll be introduced to Jewish history in Venice and in England, to the ways in which Shakespeare’s own audience might have responded to the play and its genre, and to the history of the play’s production through the twenty-first century.

In William Shakespeare’s Othello, the Venetian general Othello represents himself to Desdemona and to the Venetian Senate through fantastic tales. Othello’s stories — about himself, to himself, and to others — sets in motion a tragic romance. You’ll learn the ways in which Shakespeare's characters tell stories within the play; how actors, directors, composers, and other artists tell stories through Othello in performance; and how the play grapples with larger issues including power, identity, and the boundary between fact and fiction.

Expert instruction
4 high-quality courses
Progress at your own speed
4 months
5 - 7 hours per week
Discounted price: $536.40
Pre-discounted price: $596USD
For the full program experience

Courses in this program

  1. HarvardX's Shakespeare's Life, Work, and Characters XSeries Program

  2. 5–7 hours per week, for 4 weeks

    Learn how to read William Shakespeare's plays through his biography, Elizabethan and Jacobean history, and modern performance.

  3. 5–7 hours per week, for 4 weeks

    Explore the haunting figure at the heart of one of William Shakespeare’s most famous plays.

  4. 5–7 hours per week, for 4 weeks

    An exploration of the magnetic and ambivalent character of Shylock in William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.

  5. 5–7 hours per week, for 4 weeks

    Explore acts of storytelling in Shakespeare's Othello alongside world-class artists who interpret Othello's story in new forms and contexts today.

Meet your instructors
from Harvard University (HarvardX)

Stephen Greenblatt
Cogan University Professor of the Humanities
Harvard University
Bailey Sincox
Teaching Assistant
Harvard University

Experts from HarvardX committed to teaching online learning

Enrolling Now

Discounted price: $536.40
Pre-discounted price: $596USD
4 courses in 4 months
Pursue the Program

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