By Sarah Wright
I Was a Teenage Shakespeare Hater
I'll level with you here. When I was in high school, I fancied myself a bit of a rebel. If it was popular, I didn't like it. That's not too rare for kids at that age, but I took it further than your average dislike of popular culture. Even though I was a good student, particularly in arts and humanities subjects, I decided I hated famous authors by default. Jane Austen? Boring. Charles Dickens? When will that dude shut up? Shakespeare? Overrated! People are too different, I thought, for anything to be as popular and revered as Shakespeare.
As a college student, I'd become more open minded about a lot of things, but I still had an 'I hate Shakespeare even though I've never really read him' chip on my shoulder. However, some friends and my roommate ended up taking a Shakespeare class, and my attitude started to change. The professor for that class assigned movies as part of the course syllabus to go along with the reading. My friends and roommate watched all of these movies at my house, so I ended up watching most of them. They were actually really good! Slowly, I began to believe the hype.
I decided to take the Shakespeare class (English 401) on Saylor.org for a couple of reasons. First, I genuinely miss school. That's right, I said it. I have been doing plenty of learning on my own since graduating from college, but there's something almost comforting about the path set out by a syllabus. Taking classes at a local college is an option, but it's an expensive one, and the classes on Saylor.org are free. The English class offerings on Saylor.org were appealing, so I decided to try my luck at one of those classes.
There were a few different English classes to choose from, but the Shakespeare course stuck out for me. Lingering shame from my teenage flippancy combined with the interest peaked by my friends' movie watching sealed it. Can I redeem myself? Maybe not. But I'll end up learning something!
Week One Observations
The syllabus for the course is very clearly laid out, and has some time estimates for how long it will take to complete the assignments. On the whole, though, I didn't find these estimates to be accurate. Some of the estimates were a little too generous, while others were dramatically conservative (it took me far more than one hour to read Thomas Moore's Utopia, though that's all the time the syllabus allotted for that assignment). Still, the course itself is well organized and pretty convenient. All of the assigned readings were either linked to or provided in PDF format, making it easy to do the work.
So far, I've read some essays that give contextualizing historical and biographical information about Shakespeare and Elizabethan England. It's interesting stuff, but I have to say that I'm disappointed that I have yet to read any actual works by Shakespeare as part of the syllabus. I was very happy, however, that watching film adaptations of Shakespearean plays were part of the syllabus, though optional. I took full advantage of this option and watched an adaptation of Hamlet that was produced in 2000 - parts of the film seemed terribly dated, but that helped to create a contrast that showed how timeless Shakespeare's narratives are. I'm starting to see why he is held in such high regard.
To read the firsthand account of another online learner, check out Eric Garneau's music student diary.