Student Diary: The Marriage Plot

It's our third week of self-guided class with's free, open online Shakespeare course. This week, the work was reading-intensive once again. But we've finally moved on to reading Shakespeare's work for the first time, starting with his comedy 'All's Well That Ends Well'.

By Sarah Wright

Moving Into Unit 2

As of last week, I was done with most, but not all, of Unit 1 of's English 401: Shakespeare course. This week, I finished up that remaining material and moved on to the second unit of the course, which focuses on Shakespeare's comedies. The first assigned play is All's Well That Ends Well, a 'marriage plot' comedy. I was eager to get started with the first major assignment in the unit, which finally brings me to the reason I opted to take this class in the first place - reading Shakespeare's major works.

Marriage Plot

I was so eager, in fact, that I skipped ahead a bit, passing over some foundational information like dramatic terms and information about the genre of theatrical comedy. Instead of reading All's Well in the provided e-book format, I went to my local bookstore and bought a used paperback copy for a few dollars. This should help me overcome the discomfort I discussed last week, though I'm still reading the secondary source articles online.

All's Well

There are a few factors that make Shakespeare particularly hard to read. Not only are plays a bit more difficult to follow than novels, with the stage directions and structural delineation between character speech, but Shakespeare's language can be hard to comprehend. Though it is English, it's essentially a different language. This always tripped me up when reading his works for assignments in high school, and though my desire to read the plays is making it a bit easier, there's still a challenging aspect.

My copy of the play has a lot of footnotes, but stopping to read them actually makes it more difficult. I'm not all the way through the play yet, but I think it will start to get easier as I get in the habit of reading an older English dialect.

Pros and Cons of Online Learning

I was feeling this a bit in previous weeks, but now that I've started actually reading Shakespeare's plays, it's becoming increasingly clear to me that I tend to want the guidance of classmates and an instructor as I work through a class. I'm often unsure whether my interpretation of events and characters is reasonable, and I like being able to discuss that with others. However, I think it's educationally beneficial for me to have to go it alone in this sense.

I'm learning in a much more independent way than I ever have before. This is forcing me to be more confident and to pay closer attention to detail than I might if I just assumed that a teacher would point out fine details during a lecture. However, there are still some points that I'd like clarification on, like a bit in a reading about Greek drama that I don't think the author spelled out with enough detail.

So, I'm finding that learning online is a balance. I'm gaining skills in independent study that I hadn't gotten in about 16 years of classroom learning, and I'm having fun following a course syllabus without the scheduling pressure and academic stress of a traditional class that would count for a grade. But I do often feel that there are gaps in information that could be filled in by engaging with the same material in a classroom setting.

Catch up with our progress through's Shakespeare course by reading last week's student diary entry.

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