Shakespeare's plays - whether a comedy like A Midsummer Night's Dream, a history like Henry IV, or a tragedy like Hamlet - are treasure troves of insight into our very humanity. These 36 lectures introduce you to Shakespeare's major plays from each of these three genres and explain the achievement that makes him the leading playwright in Western civilization.
As you'll see, the key to Shakespeare's massive achievement is his "abundance," according to Professor Saccio; not only in the number and length of his plays but in the variety of experiences they depict, the multitude of actions and characters they contain, the combination of public and private life they deal with, and the richness of feelings they express.
All the major plays are here for you to dive into, explore, and enjoy: The Taming of the Shrew (with its realistic look at bourgeois marriage customs), Measure for Measure (which shows Shakespeare breaking out of comic conventions), Richard III (the source of one of the Bard's most entertaining and frightening historical villains), Henry V (which raises questions about the morality of warfare), Macbeth (with its piercing look into the consciousness of a man hungry for power), and more. As the richness of each of these and other plays is revealed, you'll also touch upon the far-ranging philosophical and theological implications behind them. By the last lecture, you'll have a true understanding of why these comedies, histories, and tragedies endure even to this very day.
PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.
©1999 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)1999 The Great Courses
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Mark Kelly on 15-08-17

Excellent insights to the Shakespearean world

loved this book. The narrator is excellent and his Shakespearean acting skills really come across.

If you want more than the plots this is an excellent listen. You get a real feel for all the plays.

The balance was great on how much time was spent on each play. Though the author could have talked longer and I could easily have listed much longer.

keep teaching :)

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3 out of 5 stars
By Conrad on 02-12-14

Good details.

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

Not really sure. I think so, but the guy reading stutters and makes mistakes over and over again.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Not really suited to this book. Hamlet.

How did the narrator detract from the book?

He stuttered and stammered the whole time. It was quite distracting.

If this book were a film would you go see it?


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1 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Kristi R on 01-07-16

“If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle.."

“If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?” Shylock in Merchant of Venice

1 Shakespeare Then and Now

2 The Nature of Shakespeare's Plays

3 Twelfth Night—Shakespearean Comedy

4 Twelfth Night—Malvolio in Love

5 The Taming of the Shrew—Getting Married in the 1590s

6 The Taming of the Shrew—Farce and Romance

7 The Merchant of Venice—Courting the Heiress

8 The Merchant of Venice—Shylock

9 Measure for Measure—Sex in Society

10 Measure for Measure—Justice and Comedy

11 Richard III—Shakespearean History

12 Richard III—The Villain's Career

13 Richard II—The Theory of Kingship

14 Richard II—The Fall of the King

15 Henry IV—All the King's Men

16 Henry IV—The Life of Falstaff

17 Henry V—The Death of Falstaff

18 Henry V—The King Victorious

19 Romeo and Juliet—Shakespearean Tragedy

20 Romeo and Juliet—Public Violence and Private Bliss

21 Troilus and Cressida—Ancient Epic in a New Mode

22 Troilus and Cressida—Heroic Aspirations

23 Julius Caesar—The Matter of Rome

24 Julius Caesar—Heroes of History

25 Hamlet—The Abundance of the Play

26 Hamlet—The Causes of Tragedy

27 Hamlet—The Protestant Hero

28 Othello—The Design of the Tragedy

29 Othello—“O Villainy!”

30 Othello—“The Noble Moor”

31 King Lear—“This Is the Worst”

32 King Lear—Wisdom Through Suffering

33 King Lear—“Then We Go On”

34 Macbeth—“Fair Is Foul”

35 Macbeth—Musing on Murder

36 Macbeth—“Enter Two Murderers”

I love Shakespeare. At the age of 9 I had read all of his plays by acting them out with my sisters because we had a complete set of his plays. That is what you did when you didn’t have hundreds of television channels or computers and it was raining outside. I am not a Shakespearean expert but more of an aficionado. When this Great Course came up on my Audible membership, I just had to get it.

The Course is a series of 36 half hour lectures by Prof. Peter Saccio Ph.D. from Dartmouth College. It is not merely a reading and dissecting each play, but more of an overview of the themes of Shakespeare’s plays and what we should learn from them.

I especially loved when the Professor pooh-poohed those ideas that Shakespeare didn’t write his own works as class bias and prejudice. I also enjoyed the modern takes on plays like “Taming of the Shrew” and “Merchant of Venice”.

I know that this course has set more goals for me in retirement. I would like to see all of Shakespeare’s plays either live or on dvd/video. I have already seen the version of “Richard II” on Amazon Prime this month.

This is what a great teacher will do for you. Challenge you to further your research and enjoyment by pursuing experiences that will continue your brain’s capacities.

Thank you Professor Peter Saccio for inspiring me.

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37 of 39 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By SRdto on 19-09-14


What made the experience of listening to William Shakespeare: Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies the most enjoyable?

Professor Saccio is mesmerizing as he delivers his towering, balanced scholarship and insight. He rolls through the boring pedants and conceited 'critics' of Shakespeare with a superb intellect and deep understanding of how the theater works from the inside.

What did you like best about this story?

The analysis and exposition are simply the best I've ever experienced in any audiobook on any subject. Professor Saccio illuminates the Bard and his work from all perspectives in an even-handed and completely non-ideological way.

What about Professor Peter Saccio’s performance did you like?

As an actor, Professor Saccio makes the illustrative passages that he quotes truly come alive. As a scholar, he surrounds those bits with a rock-solid context. His performance is truly a tour de force.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Before listening to this course, I was, as the professor terms it, an anti-Stratfordian, favoring the Earl of Oxford as the true author of Shakespeare's work. Professor Saccio demolishes the anti-Stratfordian blather and atomizes their arguments in ten minutes or so. Bravo!

Any additional comments?

As a result of Professor Saccio's course, I will get a dozen times more out of any performance of a Shakespeare play than I ever have before. If you have any interest in Shakespeare at all, listen to this course!

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21 of 22 people found this review helpful

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