Approaching Shakespearean tragedy can be daunting. Even as individual texts, Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello and King Lear can seem impenetrable worlds unto themselves. This online series of classes is about providing "on-ramps" to these great plays. For what at first glance might seem an overwhelming prospect - studying the four tragedies alongside each other - in fact holds the key to appreciating them as individual masterpieces. The seminars will ask: How do the character flaws of each main protagonist compare? How different or similar are the spiritual worlds of each play? What were the differing historical contexts for the tragedies? What do the respective endings show Shakespeare to be saying about the human condition?
Participants can join for the whole course or join on a session-by-session basis. When joining any class participants will receive access to a video recording of previous sessions in the series.
Introductory Class Outline
Shakespeare would have been the greatest playwright in British history if he had written only one of his great tragedies. In fact he wrote several. How did this prodigiously talented Elizabethan and Jacobean writer manage this? And where exactly does his genius lie? This seminar will look at Shakespeare's audacious efforts to innovate in the genre of tragedy; explore the stunning psychological realism of his portraits of his heroes and their famous tragic flaws - concentrating mainly on Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, King Lear. The aim will be to understand both how Shakespeare in his own context as well as asking how he transcended his own times to speak to ours.
Full Course Outline
Shakespearean tragedy is about everything: Paralysis and procrastination, deadly ambition, forbidden love, catastrophic foolishness, all-consuming jealousy, racism, ageing, suicide, deception, violence and villainy, heroism and virtue, responsibility and fate, the plague and marvel of self-consciousness. The classes will explore how Shakespeare explores all these themes. To understand Shakespearean tragedy is to understand Shakespeare's time as well as how he transcended it to speak to ours. Thus the classes will unearth the historical context necessary to understanding Shaekspearean's innovations with the genre before focusing on his four mature tragedies - Macbeth, Hamlet, King Lear and Othello.
- Class 1 - What exactly is tragedy?
- Class 2 - How did Hamlet reinvent revenge tragedy?
- Class 3 - Who's to blame in Macbeth?
- Class 4 - Is Othello a racist play?
- Class 5 - What do Shakespeare's heroes learn?
- Class 6 - What is Shakespeare up to in The Roman plays?
- Class 7 - Is King Lear the bleakest tragedy of them all?
- Class 8 - Concluding lecture
The course will be led by James Mumford, who graduated with a double-first in English from Oxford University before becoming one of two Oxbridge students to receive a Henry Fellowship to Yale. After Yale he returned to Oxford to study new subjects at graduate level - Theology, Ethics and Political Philosophy. His PhD was published by Oxford University Press.
- Format: Live online group classes
- Maximum Class Size: Class sizes are kept deliberately small, ensuring participants have the opportunity to interact with the course teacher through Q&A discussions within each session
- Platform: Lessons will take place on Zoom. All sessions are recorded and made available to participants, allowing you to review material or catch up on any missed sessions.