Shakespeare's Hamlet: Text, performance and culture

Course Type
MOOC, Postgraduate, Module

Shakespeare’s Hamlet – A Short Introduction

This course provides an online introductory course about Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the most famous and much-discussed play ever written.

On this course you will learn from academics from the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon, assisted by actors from the Royal Shakespeare Company, as they introduce you to different aspects of this extraordinary text, its original Elizabethan context, and its subsequent career as book, play, and film.

What is a MOOC?

A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course - these are free, open, online courses designed to offer a taste of higher education to learners from across the UK and the world. The University of Birmingham is delivering new MOOCs in partnership with Futurelearn, the UK’s first MOOCs provider established by the Open University.

Delivered by world-class academics from the University of Birmingham, the courses enable learners worldwide to sample high-quality academic content via a interactive web-based platform from a leading global University, increasing access to higher education for a whole new cohort of learners.

The courses have been developed by senior academic staff and their content is quality-assured in line with our other programmes. The courses do not offer credits towards admission to the University of Birmingham.

Course knowledge requirements

No previous knowledge necessary and whilst it would help if students had already read the text of the play, a text will be supplied with the course if they haven’t.

Course duration and week by week content

  • Week 1: introduction, and Hamlet as a book: a short examination of its sources and publication history. What constitutes a copy of Hamlet?
  • Week 2: Hamlet as a revenge tragedy: what other Elizabethan plays lie behind Shakespeare’s?
  • Week 3: Hamlet and melancholy: how might Shakespeare’s audience have understood the symptoms displayed by Hamlet and Ophelia?
  • Week 4: Hamlet in performance: actors and directors compare notes at Elsinore Castle. Why is this play so much performed and so much adapted worldwide?
  • Week 5: Hamlet as a role: Jonathan Slinger talks about his experience of playing Hamlet in the 2013 RSC production. What is it like to play the Dane?
  • Week 6: Hamlet and gender: Pippa Nixon, Ophelia in the 2013 RSC production, on ‘To be, or not to be.’ Why have women as well as men wanted to play Hamlet, and with what implications for the play’s future?

Lead academic

dobsonProfessor Michael Dobson trained at Oxford, where as an undergraduate he won the Charles Oldham Shakespeare Prize in 1981. He went on to work at some very prestigious universities, including Harvard and the University of Illinois, before returning to Britain in 1996, where he took up a professorship in Renaissance drama at the Roehampton Institute. From there he moved in 2005 to Birkbeck College, University of London, before being appointed to the Directorship of the Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham in 2011.

His career as a teacher of and writer about Shakespeare’s plays and poems has been devoted not just to examining these extraordinary writings in their sixteenth- and seventeenth-century contexts, but to exploring how they have stimulated and enabled the creativity of other people, individually and collectively, across time – whether actors (both professional and amateur), scholars, directors, philosophers, composers, critics, sculptors, poets, or novelists.

Michael is also a founder and board member of the European Shakespeare Research Association and the Academic Dean of the Shakespeare programme at the British-American Drama Academy as well as a regular book and theatre reviewer for the BBC and for the London Review of Books.

How to apply

The next start date for this free online course is currently to be confirmed. Please register your interest in participating at the FutureLearn website.

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