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Saylor.org Student Diary: My Kingdom for a Course

In this week's Saylor.org student diary, Sarah talks about her experiences reading Shakespearean historical fiction. How does it stack up against other historical fiction? Keep reading to find out!

By Sarah Wright

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Richard III, Fact and Fiction

This week, I've moved on from tragedies and am immersing myself in the world of Shakespeare's history plays. I had some vague familiarity with Richard III, mostly due to having seen a film adaptation a few years ago. Have you ever heard someone say 'A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!' (or something like that)? That's a line from Richard III, and it's spoken in a critical moment when the title character (spoiler alert) loses his horse in battle, and is killed by his political rival, who then becomes King Henry VII.

The historical play is an interesting concept for me, and especially in this context. See, I think it's kind of funny when people get all up in arms about historical inaccuracies in fictionalized histories. So what if a big-budget Hollywood historical fiction gets some details wrong? Fictional media should be allowed to take some poetic license. Certainly Shakespeare's historical plays are well respected, and I've yet to hear criticism of them for their lack of documentary quality. I'm not an expert on British history, but it seems to me that in Richard III, he's done a good job staying true to historical fact while still embellishing it enough to make a good, dramatic story.

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Secondary Readings

The secondary readings that supplemented the play for this week were pretty helpful, though I would have enjoyed reading a more thorough non-fictional history of the Richard III story. A short blurb from the BBC was as in-depth as the readings got in that area, though that blurb did point out that some of the more theatrical aspects of Richard III's characterization, including the lame arm and hunchback, are likely embellished. Those physical attributes have become central to the fictional characterization of Richard III, and yet historical record seems to indicate that those attributes are the stuff of legend, not fact.

Rounding the Home Stretch

At this point, I'm more than halfway done with Unit 4, which is the second-to-last unit in this class. At this point I definitely do feel like I have a more thorough understanding of Shakespeare's work, and I've enjoyed the freedom and relaxed approach I've been able to take toward this class. I do still wish I had a trusted community of academic colleagues with which to discuss what I've read, though.

That's something I'll always value about classroom learning, but I think that might be something particular to those with the same learning style as me. I've always been much more of a social learner than a solitary one. I was always the kid asking questions and speaking up in class. I don't think it's necessarily going to be something that all students who take online classes in this format are going to feel. Overall, I think this is something everyone should try. Saylor.org is such a great resource, you really have nothing to lose in using it to enrich your intellectual life (and no, they're not paying and/or asking me to say that).


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