In the first act of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the Ghost of the dead King of Denmark appears to his son, setting off a chain of events that culminates in the play’s notoriously bloody finale. But how would this mysterious figure have been understood in Shakespeare’s world?
Harvard professor Stephen Greenblatt (John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities) guides learners through an exploration of the Ghost in Hamlet, considering both its uncanny theatrical power and the historical contexts from which it emerged. Learners will be introduced to the narrative sources of Hamlet, the religious convictions that shaped how people in Renaissance England understood the afterlife, and the ways that Shakespeare’s Ghost would have thrilled and challenged its original audience. Learners will also be invited to share their own theatrical interpretations of Hamlet and to consider how the themes of death, mourning, and memory shape Shakespeare’s play as well as their own lives.
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Part I. The Ghost in Act One
Introduction to the story of Hamlet and Shakespeare’s dramatic artistry; the play’s narrative sources; the importance of directorial and performance decisions.
Part II. Ideas of the Afterlife in Shakespeare’s World
Introduction to Hamlet’s historical context; Renaissance conceptions of heaven, hell, and purgatory; Shakespeare’s appropriation of ideas of the afterlife.
Part III. Beyond Act One
Self-guided reading and reflection; introduction to textual studies.
Helgacompleted this course, spending 3 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be easy.
Professor Greenblatt has an incredible wealth of knowledge, of not only Shakespeare's plays, but of Shakespeare himself, and the life and times in which he existed. Learning more about the environment that the playwright lived in, helped to enhance my appreciation of the play.