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Approaching Shakespeare by Emma Smith

Approaching Shakespeare

by Emma Smith

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In this ongoing course presented by Oxford, Professor Emma Smith takes on one Shakespeare play at a time, asking a specific question on each that will hopefully shed fresh light on his work as a whole. For instance, what is the significance of Othello’s race? Did Macbeth’s bloody rise come about as a result of supernatural intervention or was he simply insane? Is the Tempest meant to be Shakespeare’s final self portrait at the end of his career? And why are the lovers so interchangeable in Midsummer Night’s Dream? By framing the discussion this way with her students, Smith hones in on what makes Shakespeare so enduring and still vital to modern audiences.


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  • The Two Gentlemen of Verona
    Fri, Dec 15, 2017


    Professor Emma Smith gives the last of her 2017 Shakespeare lectures on his early comedy, Two Gentlemen of Verona.

  • Henry VI, Part 2
    Thu, Nov 09, 2017


    Professor Emma Smith continues her Approaching Shakespeare series with a 2017 lecture on the early history play, Henry VI, Part 2.

  • The Merry Wives of Windsor
    Wed, Oct 25, 2017


    Professor Emma Smith lectures on Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor.

  • All's Well That Ends Well
    Wed, Oct 25, 2017


    Professor Emma Smith lectures on Shakespeare’s comedy All's Well That Ends Well.

  • Cymbeline
    Wed, Oct 25, 2017


    Professor Emma Smith continues her Approaching Shakespeare series with a lecture on one of Shakespeare’s later plays, Cymbeline.

  • Timon of Athens
    Tue, Jun 23, 2015


    Emma Smith finishes her Approaching Shakespeare series with a lecture on the play Timon of Athens.

  • Love's Labour's Lost
    Wed, May 27, 2015


    Emma Smith continues her Approaching Shakespeare series with a lecture on the play Love's Labour's Lost.

  • Julius Caesar
    Mon, May 18, 2015


    This lecture on Julius Caesar discusses structure, tone, and politics by focusing on the cameo scene with Cinna the Poet.

  • Romeo and Juliet
    Tue, May 05, 2015


    This lecture on Romeo and Juliet tackles the issue of the spoiler-chorus, in an already-too-familiar play. This podcast is suitable for school and college students.

  • Coriolanus
    Tue, May 05, 2015


    This lecture takes up a detail from Shakespeare’s late Roman tragedy Coriolanus to ask about the representation of character, the use of sources and the genre of tragedy. This podcast is suitable for school and college students.

  • Othello
    Mon, Oct 18, 2010


    First in Emma Smith's Approaching Shakespeare lecture series; looking at the central question of race and its significance in the play.

  • Henry V
    Wed, Oct 20, 2010


    The second lecture in the Approaching Shakespeare series looks at King Henry V, and asks whether his presentation in the play is entirely positive.

  • Measure for Measure
    Tue, Oct 26, 2010


    The third Approaching Shakespeare lecture, on Measure for Measure, focuses on the vexed question of this uncomic comedy's genre.

  • Macbeth
    Tue, Nov 02, 2010


    In this fourth Approaching Shakespeare lecture the question is one of agency: who or what makes happen the things that happen in Macbeth?

  • The Winter's Tale
    Tue, Nov 09, 2010


    How we can make sense of a play that veers from tragedy to comedy and stretches credulity in its conclusion? That's the topic for this fifth Approaching Shakespeare lecture on The Winter's Tale.

  • Titus Andronicus
    Wed, Oct 19, 2011


    Focusing in detail on one particular scene, and on critical responses to it, this sixth Approaching Shakespeare lecture on Titus Andronicus deals with violence, rhetoric, and the nature of dramatic sensationalism.

  • Twelfth Night
    Thu, Oct 20, 2011


    The seventh Approaching Shakespeare lecture takes a minor character in Twelfth Night- Antonio - and uses his presence to open up questions of sexuality, desire and the nature of romantic comedy.

  • Richard II
    Tue, Nov 01, 2011


    Lecture eight in the Approaching Shakespeare series asks the question that structures Richard II: does the play suggest Henry Bolingbroke's overthrow of the king was justified?

  • Antony and Cleopatra
    Thu, Nov 10, 2011


    What kind of tragedy is this play, with its two central figures rather than a singular hero? The ninth lecture in the Approaching Shakespeare series tries to find out.

  • The Tempest
    Mon, Nov 14, 2011


    That the character of Prospero is a Shakespearean self-portrait is a common reading of The Tempest: this tenth Approaching Shakespeare lecture asks whether that is a useful reading of the play.

  • Henry IV part 1
    Wed, Nov 16, 2011


    Like generations of theatre-goers, this lecture concentrates on the (large) figure of Sir John Falstaff and investigates his role in Henry IV part 1. Lecture 11 in the Approaching Shakespeare series.

  • The Comedy of Errors
    Mon, Jan 23, 2012


    Lecture 12 in the Approaching Shakespeare series asks how seriously we can take the farcical exploits of Comedy of Errors, drawing out the play's serious concerns with identity and selfhood.

  • Richard III
    Wed, Jan 25, 2012


    In this thirteenth lecture in the Approaching Shakespeare series the focus is on the inevitability of the ending of Richard III: does the play endorse Richmond's final victory?

  • Pericles, Prince of Tyre
    Wed, Feb 01, 2012


    Pericles has been on the margins of the Shakespearean canon: this fourteenth lecture in the Approaching Shakespeare series shows some of its self-conscious artistry and contemporary popularity. This podcast has been re-recorded due to technical problems with the original recording. There is no accompanying eBook for this lecture as Pericles is not included in the First Folio.

  • King John
    Fri, Feb 10, 2012


    At the heart of King John is the death of his rival Arthur: this fifteenth lecture in the Approaching Shakespeare series looks at the ways history and legitimacy are complicated in this plotline.

  • King Lear
    Wed, Feb 22, 2012


    Showing how generations of critics - and Shakespeare himself - have rewritten the ending of King Lear, this sixteenth Approaching Shakespeare lecture engages with the question of tragedy and why it gives pleasure.

  • As You Like It
    Tue, Oct 23, 2012


    Asking 'what happens in As You Like It', this lecture considers the play's dramatic structure and its ambiguous use of pastoral, drawing on performance history, genre theory, and eco-critical approaches.

  • Hamlet
    Tue, Oct 23, 2012


    The fact that father and son share the same name in Hamlet is used to investigate the play's nostalgia, drawing on biographical criticism and the religious and political history of early modern England.

  • Much Ado About Nothing
    Tue, Oct 30, 2012


    Emma Smith asks why the characters are so quick to believe the self-proclaimed villain Don John, drawing on gender and performance criticism to think about male bonding, the genre of comedy, and the impulses of modern performance.

  • A Midsummer Night's Dream
    Mon, Nov 05, 2012


    This lecture on A Midsummer Night's Dream uses modern and early modern understandings of dreams to uncover a play less concerned with marriage and more with sexual desire.

  • Taming of the Shrew
    Fri, Nov 09, 2012


    Emma Smith uses evidence of early reception and from more recent productions to discuss the question of whether Katherine is tamed at the end of the play.

  • The Merchant of Venice
    Tue, Nov 20, 2012


    This lecture on The Merchant of Venice discusses the ways the play's personal relationships are shaped by models of financial transaction, using the casket scenes as a central example.

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