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Approaching Shakespeare

Each lecture in this series focuses on a single play by Shakespeare, and employs a range of different approaches to try to understand a central critical question about it. Rather than providing overarching readings or interpretations, the series aims to show the variety of different ways we might understand Shakespeare, the kinds of evidence that might be used to strengthen our critical analysis, and, above all, the enjoyable and unavoidable fact that Shakespeare's plays tend to generate our questions rather than answer them.

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King Lear

Showing how generations of critics - and Shakespeare himself - have rewritten the ending of King Lear, this sixteenth Approaching Shakespeare lecture engages with the question of tragedy and why it gives pleasure.


22 Feb 2012

Rank #1

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The fact that father and son share the same name in Hamlet is used to investigate the play's nostalgia, drawing on biographical criticism and the religious and political history of early modern England.


23 Oct 2012

Rank #2

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Twelfth Night

The seventh Approaching Shakespeare lecture takes a minor character in Twelfth Night - Antonio - and uses his presence to open up questions of sexuality, desire and the nature of romantic comedy.


20 Oct 2011

Rank #3

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Measure for Measure

The third Approaching Shakespeare lecture, on Measure for Measure, focuses on the vexed question of this uncomic comedy's genre.


26 Oct 2010

Rank #4

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Julius Caesar

This lecture on Julius Caesar discusses structure, tone, and politics by focusing on the cameo scene with Cinna the Poet.


18 May 2015

Rank #5

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A Midsummer Night's Dream

This lecture on A Midsummer Night's Dream uses modern and early modern understandings of dreams to uncover a play less concerned with marriage and more with sexual desire.


5 Nov 2012

Rank #6

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The Merchant of Venice

This lecture on The Merchant of Venice discusses the ways the play's personal relationships are shaped by models of financial transaction, using the casket scenes as a central example.


20 Nov 2012

Rank #7

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Richard II

Lecture eight in the Approaching Shakespeare series asks the question that structures Richard II: does the play suggest Henry Bolingbroke's overthrow of the king was justified?


1 Nov 2011

Rank #8

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Richard III

In this thirteenth lecture in the Approaching Shakespeare series the focus is on the inevitability of the ending of Richard III: does the play endorse Richmond's final victory?


25 Jan 2012

Rank #9

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Henry IV part 1

Like generations of theatre-goers, this lecture concentrates on the (large) figure of Sir John Falstaff and investigates his role in Henry IV part 1. Lecture 11 in the Approaching Shakespeare series.


16 Nov 2011

Rank #10

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The Winter's Tale

How we can make sense of a play that veers from tragedy to comedy and stretches credulity in its conclusion? That's the topic for this fifth Approaching Shakespeare lecture on The Winter's Tale.


9 Nov 2010

Rank #11

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The Tempest

That the character of Prospero is a Shakespearean self-portrait is a common reading of The Tempest: this tenth Approaching Shakespeare lecture asks whether that is a useful reading of the play.


14 Nov 2011

Rank #12

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Taming of the Shrew

Emma Smith uses evidence of early reception and from more recent productions to discuss the question of whether Katherine is tamed at the end of the play.


9 Nov 2012

Rank #13

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Much Ado About Nothing

Emma Smith asks why the characters are so quick to believe the self-proclaimed villain Don John, drawing on gender and performance criticism to think about male bonding, the genre of comedy, and the impulses of modern performance.


30 Oct 2012

Rank #14

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King John

At the heart of King John is the death of his rival Arthur: this fifteenth lecture in the Approaching Shakespeare series looks at the ways history and legitimacy are complicated in this plotline.


10 Feb 2012

Rank #15