Shakespeares Villains

Ref: C2227504

We explore Shakespeare’s insights into how “one may smile, and smile, and be a villain”, a scheming ‘Machiavel’, “bloody, bawdy” and eternally fascinating to audiences; consider the origins of Shakespeare’s Machiavellian and Satanic characters; explore the rôles 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 and at the little we know and some of the intelligent speculation that has been produced about Shakespeare’s life and politics, in so far as it may cast some light on the way he presents his ‘villains’.

Additional information about this course

No Lesson in half term 27.10.20

Course aim

Shakespeare, according to Professor Harold Bloom, “invented the human as we continue to know it.” This course examines a number of his remarkable inventions in the field of human villainy.

Do I need any particular skills or experience?

  • You will need your own personal email address so that you’re able to login to the WEA’s digital learning platform: WEA Canvas. You will need to be able to understand how to follow URL links to pages on the internet. If you want to understand more about Canvas please visit:
  • You will need to be able to follow links to join our WEA live video learning platform: WEA Zoom. If you’d like to understand more about our video learning platform, Zoom please visit: and
  • This course is for a group of around 15 students studying in a live video-learning platform conference and an online digital learning environment platform from the comfort of your own home.
  • This course is suitable 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 rôles 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. Note: I hope to cover, in so far as time and the extent of participant discussion allow, the villains in 'Titus Andronicus', 'The Two Gentlemen of Verona', 'Henry VI Part 3' and 'Richard III', 'The Merchant of Venice', 'Much Ado About Nothing', 'As You Like It', 'The Tempest', 'Hamlet', 'Macbeth', 'Measure for Measure', 'Othello' (at least two sessions on Iago) and 'King Lear'.

How will I be taught?

  • The WEA’s digital learning platform, Canvas will be used to provide resources or to support lessons, enable assessment, provide learner feedback and for other activities for individuals away from the course. If you want to understand more about our digital learning platform please visit:
  • The WEA tutor will use a range of different teaching and learning methods and encourage you and the group to be actively involved in your learning

What kind of feedback can I expect?

  • A range of informal activities will be used by the tutor to see what you are learning which may include quizzes, question and answer, small projects and discussion
  • You will have opportunities to discuss your progress with your tutor

What else do I need to know?

  • What you need: You will need an internet connection, speakers, a microphone and a webcam so that you can use our video learning platform, Zoom. If you’d like to understand more Zoom please visit:
  • You will need a personal email address to join the WEA’s digital learning platform, Canvas so that you can receive resources, record your progress and achievement and to work with others and share ideas. If you want to understand more about our digital learning platform please visit:
  • A selection of materials and basic equipment will be provided but you are welcome to bring additional materials with you
  • Note: (1) Text extracts from the scenes to be discussed will be provided by the tutor both by means of email attachments and online in Canvas. (2) DVD clips of the scenes from various performances will also be shown so that different stage and film interpretations can be compared and discussed.

Pre-course work, reading and information sources

  • You will have access to course resources and links to wider learning through the WEA’s digital learning platform, Canvas:
  • No pre reading is required but research on the subject on the internet or in the library may be helpful

What can I do next?

  • Progress to another WEA course
  • Progress to a course with another provider
  • You could progress to Higher Education courses. Follow link to the PEARL website for information

Download full course information sheet

Shakespeares Villains

Enrolment Conditions

As a registered charity, and to meet our funders’ requirements, we need to check a few things with you before you enrol. Please check the details below to ensure you meet the basic eligibility critiera:

  • You are paying the standard fee (with a credit or debit card) or you are on any of the qualifying benefits
  • You have a valid email address so that you can receive confirmation of your booking
  • You have been resident in the UK, EU or EEA for the last 3 years
  • You are aged 19 years or older on 1st September 2020
  • You have read and accept our standard terms and conditions

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