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Shakespeare: The Word and the Action

Prepare to be entertained and informed as you analyze how Shakespeare used the resources of the English language and the Elizabethan theater to scale artistic heights never matched before or since.
Shakespeare: The Word and the Action is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 51.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Understanding For me to explore the background and subtle meanings and allusions of Shakespeare enables me to appreciate the evolution of the written word and the use of theater and it’s impact on civilization. This course helps to fill gaps in my knowledge and understanding.
Date published: 2022-07-02
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointed With the opener Just talking behind an icon of Shakespeare is boring and disappointing. I hope to see the professor and some graphics/pictures. Not up to the level of the other two courses I took.
Date published: 2022-05-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Perennially defective extratextual premise The works attributed to the Bard hold a key place in the history of Western literature, both in the Anglo-sphere and beyond. However, Shakespeare's alleged supremacy in World letters is constantly overstated in the English-speaking world. The abuse of superlatives by Anglo academics can be both excessive and infuriating to the well-informed listener. Indeed, the enthronement of the Bard as the chief man of letters in human history is a cultural myth, a patent fabrication of the British Empire designed to buttress the sense of supremacy of the British and the language used in their colonial and postcolonial domain of influence. If we are to engage in a comparative exercise, Shakespeare's undeniable light will be dimmed considerably under the splendor of Spanish Golden Age giants like Miguel de Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Calderon de la Barca, Garcilaso de la Vega, Quevedo, or Gongora. We must put things in perspective, and with Shakespeare, this never happens.
Date published: 2021-10-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Gift This is a Christmas gift to my wife, so she will not watch then until after December 25th.
Date published: 2021-09-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Appropriate title I never realized how Shakespeare crafted his usage of language to highlight the action on the stage.Actors sometimes mention that the lines must be spoken in a certain way.This course provides a description of this pattern and it’s impact.
Date published: 2021-08-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful introduction to Shakespeare's World I thoroughly enjoyed this course. One feature that seems to have bothered some other reviewers is Saccio's approach to the material. This is not a play by play, scene by scene analysis. For me, this was novel and helped me to a better understanding of all of Shakespeare, and how the plays (and sonnets) relate to each other. His enthusiasm and dramatics might put some off, however, I thought it all added to richness and analysis of this course. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2020-07-15
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Poor quality The video has black-out gaps throughout. At times, the professor does not know where the camera is and is speaking to the side.
Date published: 2020-02-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A single lesson alone is worth the purchase I bought this course t prepare me for a Shakespeare discussion group I've joined. We're covering Cymbeline right now, and "The Plot of Cymbeline" is the only lesson that I've seen/heard right now, It was very, very illuminating.
Date published: 2019-09-22
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Teaching as a trained actor and director as well as a scholar, and assisted by two additional actors, Professor Peter Saccio explores selected works by Shakespeare. You will be entertained and informed as you analyze how Shakespeare used the resources of the English language and the Elizabethan theater to scale artistic heights never matched before or since.


Peter Saccio

Shakespeare found brilliant ways to make the complex inner self speak.


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 Shakespeare's English Kings, which has become a classic in its field. He is also the editor of Thomas Middleton's comedy A Mad World, My Masters, for the Oxford Complete Works of Thomas Middleton.

Professor Saccio is also an accomplished actor and theatrical director. He directed productions of Twelfth Night, Macbeth, and Cymbeline, and devised and directed several programs of scenes from Shakespeare and from modern British drama. His acting credits include the Shakespearean roles of Casca, Angelo, Bassanio, and Henry IV, as well as various parts in the ancient and modern plays.

By This Professor

Shakespeare's Wavelengths

01: 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.

46 min
The Multiple Actions of A Midsummer Night's Dream

02: 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.

42 min
The Form of Shakespeare's Sonnets

03: 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.

41 min
Love in Shakespeare's Sonnets

04: 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.

45 min
Love and Artifice in Love's Labor's Lost and Much Ado About Nothing

05: 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.

43 min
As You Like It

06: 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.

44 min
The Battles of Henry VI

07: 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.

42 min
Richard III and the Renaissance

08: 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.

41 min
History and Family in Henry IV

09: 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.

45 min
Action in Hamlet

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.

46 min
Coriolanus—The Hero Alone

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.

46 min
Change in Antony and Cleopatra

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.

46 min
The Plot of Cymbeline

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.

45 min
Nature and Art in The Winter's Tale

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.

45 min
Three Kinds of Tempest

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.

45 min
History and Henry VIII

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.

48 min