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Understanding Literature and Life: Drama, Poetry, Narrative

Dive into the themes and techniques of great literature and discover both the power and limitations of several different analytic tools in assisting our understanding of great literature that highlight these monuments of the human spirit.
Understanding Literature and Life: Drama, Poetry and Narrative is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 31.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Challenging Intermediate Literature Course I bought the out-of-print DVD version of this product. This really is an intermediate to advanced literature course. As an example the first lecture recommends reading a challenging political philosophy text Civilization and Its Discontents as an introduction to the course. This shows you how advanced it intends to be. It also is a collection of 3 courses, it seems. One Plays, one Poetry, and one Literature (called "Narrative"), each about 20 lectures long. The big deal, and why I give it 5 stars is that its taught well and includes texts that I never heard of before, and I have a lot of Great Courses on literature. For a beginner though, I recommend "Classics of X Literature" to start with. I do have to mention the audio issues. There seems to be a loud mic on his lapel and there's a lot of lip-smacking and such on the audio. Since I have the out-of-print video version, I am more able to focus on the lecturer and forgive the audio, but trying to focus on the audio it might be incredibly annoying. In my DVD version the video is very 90s-looking, it's not much to write about, but I enjoy a video version over the audio anyway.
Date published: 2022-06-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fundamental Course in Literature Education The course is essential to education about literature and life itself through literature. The content is easily understood yet insightful and informative. The professor is truly someone who understands the subject and knows how to teach. ONE PROBLEM: I cannot understand how Audio Engineers allowed the production of this course without either filtering the distracting sounds or telling the professor to stop making them. The professor has a habit of smacking his tongue inside his mouth as though he had a dry mouth. It is tantamount to listening someone who chews gum loudly, and in some places in his delivery, it is difficult to concentrate on the ideas being exposed, as the mouth sounds are distracting and annoying. I tried to use audio equalizer to minimize the sounds, but you cannot eliminate them. Still, the course is so great, I am will to suffer through to learn from this wonderful professor.
Date published: 2022-04-28
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Poor audio quality The prof is fine, the lectures are fine. The problem is the recording--every sip of water (and there are many), every swallow, every lip smack is as loud as the words. If you have misophonia especially, these sounds are extremely distracting and disagreeable. Is there any way of eliminating them, or re-recording? The Great Courses really require a sound engineer who knows about this problem and can avoid it.
Date published: 2019-01-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Splendid Teacher of Literature Arnold Weinstein is a superb professor. He has a great love and feel for literature and a superb way of conveying why. He makes great literature come alive, and offers many insights even for works I know well. I've enjoyed all of his courses here.
Date published: 2017-05-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Treasure, in both content and presentation Although I fancied myself familiar with many, if not all, of the works discussed by Professor Weinstein, I nonetheless found that every lecture presented me with profoundly new ways to see and understand them. Since every text he discussed was treated over two to three lectures, he was able to explore themes, language used, and less obvious areas of content quite thoroughly, almost as if he were holding before our eyes a multi-faceted jewel which, as he slowly turned it, revealed new dimensions of meaning. One of the things I most appreciated about this course was the way in which the professor introduced "women" -- their culturally fixed life's choices, their stories, and even -- in more recent centuries -- their voices unfiltered by male authors -- into even the most ancient works. For instance, in his discussion of Oedipus Rex he not only presented the familiar story of Oedipus in interesting ways -- as, for example, raising the issue of how frightening was the concept of living in a world where the oracle's prediction was always correct, effectively questioning the actual role of one's presumed "free will" -- but he also showed how much the male writer portrayed Jocasta's own suffering and horror when she realized who Oedipus actually was. Then, many lectures on, when he was discussing the much more recent of literature featuring women's real voices unfiltered by men, he returned to the figure of Jocasta at mused about how the play's tragedy could be understood -- even told -- from her point of view. Wonderful stuff! Two additional comments: First, I was fortunate to be able to view this course in a video format (apparently, no longer available) as I had purchased it a few years ago and only came around to watching it this year. I appreciate being able to watch a lecturer as I find there is much additional information -- and joy -- that one can gain from a presenter's face and mannerisms. In this instance, I enjoyed the frequent occasions when Professor Weinstein's face would break into a modest grin or even an occasional laugh. Secondly, this is the only course (out of the 100 or so I have taken so far) in which I am certain there was an audience for these lectures. As those who have taken other Great Courses know, while there is often the appearance of a small audience at the introductory segment of the course, it seems uncertain (even unlikely) that they are also there for every lecture. In this series, however, you can frequently hear others chuckling in response to comments by Professor Weinstein which I felt made the whole classroom-like setting feel more "real." In any case, for all who love the art of using words to convey meaning and understanding -- as well as to probe vital questions -- I believe you will find this course a rich and fulfilling experience. You will also enjoy the exquisite ways in which Professor Weinstein uses language to convey his insights into the many poems, plays, and stories that make up this lecture series. For what it is worth, while sixty-four lectures may strike one as a demanding commitment of your time, I found them to fly by all too swiftly.
Date published: 2017-03-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from NARROW TITLE TO A MOST AMAZING COURSE. I HAVE NOT YET COMPLETED LISTENING TO THE COURSE IN ITS ENTIRETY AS OF YET PARTIALLY DUE TO THE FACT THAT I LISTENED TO THE 4 LECTURES ON GODOT AT LEAST 3 TIMES. I HAVE A NEED TO SAY THIS NOW, THAT PROF. WEINSTEIN IS AN AMAZING CAPTIVATING PRESENTER, WHO BRINGS ALL THE CHOICE LITERATURE TO LIFE. I HAVE LEARNED SO MUCH. THANKS, AND NOW TO THE REST OF THE LECTURES.
Date published: 2016-07-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Teaching how not to enjoy literature Having enjoyed over 100 courses by the Teaching Company, I have revelled in excellent courses and presentations and experienced a few disappointments. To me personally, this course falls into the latter category. I do not doubt Professor Weinstein's love of literature or his competence. However, he kept losing me when jumping to conclusions and interpretations that may be valid, but are not warranted by the arguments he puts forth. I have studied English and American literature and love reading, but I enjoyed only a few separate lessons from this long course, such as those about Robert Frost or Othello. Repeatedly I found it difficult to accept Professor Weinstein's presentation of plots and storylines that are never clearly outlined, but mentioned haphazardly when specific scenes are used and analyzed. I can understand this when a lecture is about a classic, but the very first set of lectures (Oedipus) would profit greatly from starting with a brief plot summary rather than leaving parts of the story to the reader's imagination while hinting at others 3 or 4 times. The course kept giving me the feeling "I am supposed to know that, but I don't" and "I cannot reach the same conclusion as the lecturer - either he is much cleverer than I am, or he knows SO much more!" Making the audience feel stupid is a way of appearing more ingenious as a lecturer, but it does not inspire love of the subject and trust in one's own abilities to deal with the subject matter. Finally, the professor's voice posed an additional obstacle to me: he speaks in a relatively low, "breathy" voice, that I could get used to after a while, but that tended to sound monotonous and uninteresting. THEN, at the end of each lecture, the Teaching Company's Theme song cut in painfully loud, making me literally jump more than once. Rather than endure the final 10 lectures, I chose to delete the files and relax with a good book (not accidentally one that was NOT covered by this course).
Date published: 2015-01-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Rich & Rewarding AUDIO DOWNLOAD This is my fourth TC literature course with Professor Weinstein. I have never been disappointed in him, and frequently go back to his lectures for refreshment and insight. This course is no exception and, in some respects, towers over the others. It is hard to believe that it was produced in 1995. The sticking point for me, however, was the length. Could I stay with 64 lectures even if delivered by such a thoughtful and engaging presenter as Professor Weinstein? As it turned out, no problem at all! The most attractive aspect of this course is that Professor Weinstein devotes considerable attention, usually three lectures each, to the works he has selected. This provides the scope needed not only for overview and context, but also to explore the works’ relation to real life and how they facilitate our understanding of and/or grappling with such matters as the nature of reality, self-identity, God, death, hypocrisy, and class, race, and gender issues. Along the way, Professor Weinstein introduces us to the development of the three literary formats into which this course is divided: drama, poetry, and narrative. I came away from the course much better informed on drama and poetry, weak spots in my forays into literature. I also have a desire to explore them further. In all three areas, Professor Weinstein introduced me to authors and their works that I had either not known previously or knew in a very sketchy fashion; he expanded my understanding of the well-known ones with which I thought I had a good familiarity. It is mind-expanding listening to Professor Weinstein’s reflections on the works, adding unexpected depths of meaning and significance. It is now hard to think about Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations’ without remembering the psychological depth sketched by Professor Weinstein, or to read Robert Frost without thinking about the unexpected dark side of his poetry. There is some overlap with Professor Weinstein’s other TC courses on a number of literary figures (notably, for instance, Daniel Defoe, Charles Baudelaire, Emily Dickinson, and Walt Whitman), but the treatments here wonderfully complement those in the other courses. In all of those courses, as well as throughout this one, Professor Weinstein manages to weave in mention of Sophocles’ ‘Oedipus’, and here I finally found out why it is so high in his estimation. Though one could cherry-pick lectures to listen to, this course is best appreciated by going straight through from beginning to end. Professor Weinstein weaves in additional comments on a work well after the designated lectures to show how it relates to and or had an impact on the authors of other treated works or more broadly within literature, even outside its own literary form. You will lose a lot if you just drop in here and there. Finally, this exceptional course also brings home how necessary careful reading of literature is for full appreciation of these and other works. There is much more to be mined than can be accomplished by proceeding in bucket list fashion. Helpful tips and pointers abound. In this regard, I think this would be a fine complement to Timothy Spurgin’s more technical ‘Art of Reading’ TC course. Very highly recommended!
Date published: 2014-10-02
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Overview

Discover an introduction to the major texts of Western culture, from antiquity onward. It stresses the uniqueness of literary language, the formal and generic conventions of writing, the position that literature occupies as a site for historical and ideological conflicts, and the continuing human significance of the great works of the past and present.

About

Arnold Weinstein

Literature is not information-driven. Instead, it offers us a unique opportunity to see, even to experience, the subjectivity of others. This adds to our own stock.

INSTITUTION

Brown University

Dr. Arnold Weinstein is the Edna and Richard Salomon Distinguished Professor at Brown University, where he has been teaching for over 35 years. He earned his undergraduate degree in Romance Languages from Princeton University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Harvard University. Among his many academic honors, research grants, and fellowships is the Younger Humanist Award from the National Endowment for the Humanities, a Fulbright Senior Lecturer Award as a visiting professor at Stockholm University, Brown University's award as best teacher in the humanities, Professeur InvitÈ in American Literature at the Ecole Normale SupÈrieure in Paris, and a Fellowship for University Professors from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Professor Weinstein is the author of many books, including Fictions of the Self: 1550-1800 (1981); Nobody's Home: Speech, Self, and Place in American Fiction from Hawthorne to DeLillo (1993); and A Scream Goes Through The House: What Literature Teaches Us About Life (2003). Northern Arts: The Breakthrough of Scandinavian Literature and Art from Ibsen to Bergman (Princeton University Press, 2008), was named one of the 25 Best Books of 2009 by The Atlantic. Professor Weinstein chaired the Advisory Council on Comparative Literature at Princeton University, is the sponsor of Swedish Studies at Brown, and is actively involved in the American Comparative Literature Association.

By This Professor

Why Literature—Civilization and Its Discontents

01: Why Literature—Civilization and Its Discontents

This introductory lecture explains how literature offers us a unique record of culture and crisis.

32 min

02: "Oedipus the King" and the Nature of Greek Tragedy

What are the religious, philosophical, and theatrical elements of Greek tragedy?

30 min
Fate and Free Will—Reading the Signs in Oedipus

03: Fate and Free Will—Reading the Signs in Oedipus

Did Oedipus really have a choice? Do the Greek oracles still exist in other forms?

30 min
Self-making vs. Self-discovery in Oedipus

04: Self-making vs. Self-discovery in Oedipus

How much power did Oedipus really have in his decisions/actions? What kind of knowledge is achieved?

30 min
The Interpretive Afterlife of Oedipus

05: The Interpretive Afterlife of Oedipus

Whose analysis is correct? From Nietzschean to Freudian, is there one particular criticism that stands alone? Does the play illuminate us today?

31 min
Shakespeare's Othello—Tragedy of Marriage and State

06: Shakespeare's Othello—Tragedy of Marriage and State

"Othello" is usually seen as a domestic tragedy; the focus is on marital rather than state interests. Is there a problem with this view?

30 min
Poison in the Ear, or the Dismantling of Othello

07: Poison in the Ear, or the Dismantling of Othello

What events led to the collapse of the character of "Othello"? What role did Iago play?

31 min
Rethinking Othello—Race, Gender and Subjectivity

08: Rethinking Othello—Race, Gender and Subjectivity

Was Shakespeare making a conscious statement about race and gender in "Othello," or are contemporary audiences merely reading into the play?

31 min
French Theater and Moliere's Comedy of Vices

09: French Theater and Moliere's Comedy of Vices

Why is Molière considered the "French Shakespeare"?

30 min
Tartuffe and Varieties of Imposture

10: Tartuffe and Varieties of Imposture

Does "Tartuffe" follow the traditional comic principle?

31 min
Religious Hypocrisy—Beyond Comedy

11: Religious Hypocrisy—Beyond Comedy

What happens when the sacred is used as a cover for the profane?

31 min
Georg Büchner—Physician, Revolutionary, Playwright

12: Georg Büchner—Physician, Revolutionary, Playwright

What effect did Buchner's medical background have on his writing?

31 min
Woyzeck the Proletarian Murderer—

13: Woyzeck the Proletarian Murderer—"Unaccommodated Man"

Is society the creator of murder and violence?

31 min
Woyzeck and Visionary Theater

14: Woyzeck and Visionary Theater

Does Buchner's "epic theater" do away with classical structures?

31 min
Strindberg's Father—Patriarchy in Trouble

15: Strindberg's Father—Patriarchy in Trouble

"The Father" is presented as an Oedipal meditation about identity. Why does Strindberg feel the patriarchy is in jeopardy?

30 min
Marriage—Theatrical Agon or Darwinian Struggle?

16: Marriage—Theatrical Agon or Darwinian Struggle?

What happens to married people? We'll take a look at Strindberg's ideas.

31 min
The Father—From Theater of Power to Power of Theater

17: The Father—From Theater of Power to Power of Theater

How are illusion and role-playing central to "The Father"?

31 min
Beckett's Godot—Chaplinesque or Post-nuclear?

18: Beckett's Godot—Chaplinesque or Post-nuclear?

What do vaudeville and the search for God have in common?

31 min
Beckett and the Comedy of Undoing

19: Beckett and the Comedy of Undoing

What exactly makes Beckett's work amusing? Are you laughing?

31 min
Godot Absent—Didi and Gogo Present

20: Godot Absent—Didi and Gogo Present

Two clowns on an empty stage: humanist or absurd?

31 min
Study of Literature—Approaches, Encounters, Departures

21: Study of Literature—Approaches, Encounters, Departures

This introductory lecture offers an analysis of the methods used to study literature, as well as a discussion of what constitutes poetry.

31 min
Shakespeare's Sonnets—The Glory of Poetry

22: Shakespeare's Sonnets—The Glory of Poetry

Dr. Weinstein discusses the theme of poetry as bestower of immortality.

31 min
The Shape of Love and Death in Shakespeare's Sonnets

23: The Shape of Love and Death in Shakespeare's Sonnets

Was Shakespeare considered a Christian poet? Can love survive time?

31 min
Innocence and Experience in William Blake

24: Innocence and Experience in William Blake

Do you think it is possible to read and write innocently?

31 min
Blakean Fables of Desire

25: Blakean Fables of Desire

Is Blake the first counter-cultural poet?

31 min
Blake—Visionary Poet

26: Blake—Visionary Poet

What happens when a visionary looks at our ordinary world?

31 min
Whitman and the Making of an American Bard

27: Whitman and the Making of an American Bard

What is explosively new and American about Whitman?

31 min
Myself as Whitman's Nineteenth-Century American Hero

28: Myself as Whitman's Nineteenth-Century American Hero

Is there a special American view of self?

31 min
Form and Flux, Openness and Anxiety in Whitman's Poetry

29: Form and Flux, Openness and Anxiety in Whitman's Poetry

How does Whitman reconcile his positive program with the insistent reality of doubt and death?

30 min
Emily Dickinson—The Prophetic Voice from the Margins

30: Emily Dickinson—The Prophetic Voice from the Margins

Dickinson's poetry is exceptionally powerful. She herself was a recluse. Is there a connection?

31 min
Dickinson and the Poetry of Consciousness

31: Dickinson and the Poetry of Consciousness

What did consciousness mean for Emily Dickinson's portrayal of nature?

31 min
Dickinson—Death and Beyond

32: Dickinson—Death and Beyond

How could you write from the vantage point of death?

32 min
Baudelaire—The Setting of the Romantic Sun

33: Baudelaire—The Setting of the Romantic Sun

Is the voyage of life the greatest theme in Baudelaire?

30 min
Baudelaire's Poetry of Modernism and Metropolis

34: Baudelaire's Poetry of Modernism and Metropolis

What kind of poetry emerges from the experience of the city?

31 min
Robert Frost—The Wisdom of the People

35: Robert Frost—The Wisdom of the People

Is Frost too glib for his own good?

31 min
Frost—The Darker View

36: Frost—The Darker View

Is Robert Frost less sweet than we think?

30 min
Wallace Stevens and the Modernist Movement

37: Wallace Stevens and the Modernist Movement

Why is Wallace Stevens dubbed the "priest of the imagination"?

31 min
Stevens and the Post-Romantic Imagination

38: Stevens and the Post-Romantic Imagination

What does Stevens think about metaphor and nature?

31 min
Adrienne Rich and the Poetry of Protest

39: Adrienne Rich and the Poetry of Protest

Can you make poetry out of social protest?

31 min
Rich's Project—Diving into the Wreck of Western Culture

40: Rich's Project—Diving into the Wreck of Western Culture

How does Rich make us rethink the nature of Western culture?

32 min
The Lives of the Word—Reading Today

41: The Lives of the Word—Reading Today

Is reading a form of mind travel?

31 min
Chretien de Troyes' Yvain—Growing Up in the Middle Ages

42: Chretien de Troyes' Yvain—Growing Up in the Middle Ages

What was the status of knighthood in the 12th century? What does a good knight do?

32 min
Yvain's Theme—Ignorant Armies Clash By Night

43: Yvain's Theme—Ignorant Armies Clash By Night

Why is blindness a central condition of "Yvain"?

32 min
The Picaresque Novel—Satire, Filth and Hustling

44: The Picaresque Novel—Satire, Filth and Hustling

Why narrate from the margins? Can beauty be found in filth?

31 min
Francisco Quevedo's Swindler—The Word on the Street

45: Francisco Quevedo's Swindler—The Word on the Street

What kind of rivalry is there between words and matter?

31 min
Daniel Defoe's Plain Style and the New World Order

46: Daniel Defoe's Plain Style and the New World Order

Is there a relation between Defoe's style and the "Protestant work ethic"?

30 min
Moll Flanders and the Self-made Woman

47: Moll Flanders and the Self-made Woman

What is the significance of a woman hustler?

31 min
Matter and Spirit in Defoe

48: Matter and Spirit in Defoe

Do you find anything spiritual in this story of a courtesan thief?

30 min
Dickens—The Novel as Moral Institution

49: Dickens—The Novel as Moral Institution

What could the novel teach in the 19th century? What today?

31 min
Pip's Progress—From Blacksmith to Snob and Back

50: Pip's Progress—From Blacksmith to Snob and Back

What are the lectures of Pip's life?

31 min
Riddles of Identity in Great Expectations

51: Riddles of Identity in Great Expectations

Is there something nasty under the surface in Dickens?

31 min
Charlotte Brontë and the Bildungsroman

52: Charlotte Brontë and the Bildungsroman

What is the "Bildungsroman"? Can it tell the story of girls as well as boys?

31 min
Jane Eyre—Victorian Bad Girl Makes Good

53: Jane Eyre—Victorian Bad Girl Makes Good

What was the Victorian establishment's response to "Jane Eyre"?

30 min
The Madwoman in the Attic—19th Century Bills Coming Due

54: The Madwoman in the Attic—19th Century Bills Coming Due

Is patriarchy responsible for the madwoman?

30 min
Melville's

55: Melville's "Bartleby" and the Genesis of Character

Who is the "real" Bartleby? Are characters real?

32 min

56: "Bartleby"—Christ on Wall Street?

What is Melville trying to say about society and its notions of "business as usual"?

31 min
Franz Kafka's

57: Franz Kafka's "Metamorphosis"—Sacrifice or Power Game?

What is the bug symbolic of? Is the story a sacrificial parable?

31 min
Kafka's

58: Kafka's "In the Penal Colony"—The Writing Machine

Is Kafka's machine designed to open the self? Is that bad or good?

32 min
Faulkner's

59: Faulkner's "The Bear"—Stories of White and Black

Is Faulkner able to narrate white and black relations equally well?

31 min
The Bear—American Myth or American History?

60: The Bear—American Myth or American History?

What does the reality of death and time have to do with Faulkner's writing?

31 min
Tracking the Bear, or Learning to Read

61: Tracking the Bear, or Learning to Read

What parallels are there between bear tracking and reading?

31 min
Alice Walker's Celie—The Untold Story

62: Alice Walker's Celie—The Untold Story

How is Walker different from Faulkner? What changes here in the depiction of sexism and racism?

32 min
Ideology as Vision in The Color Purple

63: Ideology as Vision in The Color Purple

What are the different ways we can see God? Are we free agents here?

31 min
Reconceiving Center and Margin

64: Reconceiving Center and Margin

How does "The Color Purple" challenge or invert much of what we've read in this course?

32 min