Following on from my first MOOC with FutureLearn, in which I spent six weeks studying Hamlet, I have moved on to a course that looks at Shakespeare’s life and works in their wider context: Shakespeare and his World organised through FutureLearn by the University of Warwick in association with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (SBT).
Each week we study a different aspect of Shakespeare’s life or his writing themes along with how that aspect is portrayed in one particular place. Different subtopics are illustrated by the use of items from the SBT’s collection of artefacts and by studying related contemporary works. So far, we’ve covered The Merry Wives of Windsor, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Henry V, the first being a completely new play for me, the second one I’d studied at school and the third one I saw performed last year. Most of the upcoming plays are familiar to me one way or another, but I’m still looking forward to seeing at least one performance of each via library DVDs or YouTube.
Shakespeare’s plays are definitely best experienced through performance rather than dry reading, although I enjoy going back to the text to check various passages either after a performance or while discussing the play and its themes. I’ve not yet booked any live performances for this year, but most definitely plan to.
I love the way that each play lends itself to a variety of interpretations in terms of costume choices and setting, and have also become a fan of the graphic novel versions, particularly those produced by Manga Shakespeare. I’m one of those people who wasn’t put off Shakespeare at school (helped by the fact we got to perform more than we read the plays), but anyone who dismisses the Bard through lack of exposure or a bad previous experience should give one of the better known works another try in whatever form best fits their preferred watching or reading genres.