Saturday, May 31, 2014

FutureLearn: Shakespeare and His World

A few days before my May road trip I finished a 10-week FutureLearn online course, "Shakespeare and His World," taught by Jonathan Bate (University of Warwick) and featuring objects owned by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-Upon-Avon.

I absolutely loved it! The idea was to study one play each week and Professor Bateman delivers mini-lectures (between 3 and 12 minutes) on different facets of the play that illuminated life in Shakespeare's time and world.  The plays we studied were:

  • The Merry Wives of Windsor  - focus was on Shakespeare's Stratford (Falstaff's Windsor was remarkably similar)
  • A Midsummer's Night Dream - focus was on the birth of theatre, the origins of popular theatre and the rise of professional theatre
  • Henry V - focus was on Shakespeare's understanding of a world at war--fighting with the French in the 15th century had some parallels to fighting with Spain and the campaigns in Ireland in the late 16th century.
  • The Merchant of Venice - Venice in the play mirrors London during Shakespeare's day from a monetary and commerical point of view
  • Macbeth An introduction to old and new strands of thought; witchcraft debates, herbal medicines and new ideas about psychology.
  • Othello - Focus was on the links Shakespeare makes between Christendom and the Islamic world. 
  • Anthony and Cleopatra - In-depth discussion of how the classical world and culture permeated thought and ideals of the Elizabethan world.
  • The Tempest -Focus was on travel exploration, other cultures and origins of empire. 

At the conclusion of every week, there was an online test, which I found a bit tricky at times.  You really did have to pay attention to the lectures.  The good news is that you got three tries at each answer, with 3 points for getting it correct on the first try, 2 points on the second try, and 1 point on the third try.  I only got 100% one week, but passed all the tests.  I didn't opt for the certificate of completion--having it shipped to the U.S. would have made the already-pricey piece of paper ridiculously expensive, but I wouldn't mind have an badge to add to my website (hint, hint).

While I had read all of the plays before the course and studied some of them in high school and college and seen all but Anthony and Cleopatra on the stage at least once, I learned such an incredible amount about each one and have much greater appreciation for the depth of the individual plays and renewed amazement at the gift we have in the collected works.  Professor Bate is an excellent instructor--his knowledge and demeanor (i.e., scholarly enthusiasm) was perfect for me.

The next course I'm taking--it starts June 30--is "England in the Time of Richard the Third."  Here's the blurb:
Explore 15th century England through archaeology, history and literature against the backdrop of the excavation of Richard III.
Sounds fantastic, right?


  1. That sounds so fun! The list also looks great since it's a mix of plays I've read and studied in class, and ones that I haven't actually read yet.

  2. It sounds so good that I am jealous!

    The list of topics sound absolutely delectable. I took a couple of good classes on Shakespeare back in collage but noon had such an interesting curriculum. I did take a Shakespeare and History class which actually had a big impression in me and that I remember enjoying a lot.

    Have fun with the history class.

  3. Fascinating - so many plays! I haven't read The Merry Wives of Windsor. Have you found a copy of Shakespeare's Restless World yet? It would go so well with this course, I imagine.

    I'm very tempted to take the Richard III course - just not sure I have the time ...