Shakespeare's Villains

Ref: C2228650

An exploration of Shakespeare's insights into how "one may smile, and smile, and be a villain" (Hamlet on Claudius), a scheming 'Machiavel', "bloody, bawdy" and eternally fascinating to audiences. We shall consider the origins of Shakespeare's Machiavellian and Satanic characters, explore the roles of political intrigue, ambition, warfare, sibling rivalry, jealousy, obsession and the impulse to revenge in unleashing violence and cruelty in the plays; relate Shakespeare's psychological insights to our own; attempt to see if there is sufficient pattern and coherence in Shakespeare's presentation of villainy to establish a Shakespearian 'philosophy of evil'; and explore what these constructs still have to say to our own age. We shall look briefly at earlier developments in the history of mischief-making and villainy on stage. How might some of the little we know and some of the intelligent speculation that has been produced about Shakespeare's life, politics, religion, cast some light?

Course aim

Shakespeare, according to Professor Harold Bloom, "invented the human as we continue to know it." This course explores a number of hios remarkable inventions in the field of human villainy.

Do I need any particular skills or experience?

  • This course is for beginners and improvers

By the end of the course I should be able to:

  • approach any Shakespeare play on stage or screen and in print with greater confidence and enjoyment
  • analyse in a little more depth Shakespeare's skills and techniques in crafting character
  • recognise and discuss the roles of some of Shakespeare's villains in the development of plot and ideas in the various plays
  • evaluate Shakespeare's understanding of motivation and his perception of the causes and results of evil actions
  • discuss in an informed way the value of experiencing and studying Shakespeare in our own age.

How will I be taught?

What kind of feedback can I expect?

What else do I need to know?

Prior knowledge of the specific texts and their background is by no means essential, though any such background knowledge, including some previous experience of Shakespeare in the theatre and on the printed page, will of course help to promote useful discussion. Text extracts &video clips provided.

Pre-course work, reading and information sources

What can I do next?

View full course information sheet

Shakespeare's Villains

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This course has been cancelled.


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  • You are aged 19 years or older on 1st September 2021
  • You declare that the address you provide is correct and that you will provide evidence of this and your eligibility to live and work in the UK
  • You have read and accept our standard terms and conditions

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