Your Shakespeare, My Shakespeare: The Bard's Plays Through Time

Shakespeare’s texts were meant to be performed; actors were to breathe life into the characters. Over the centuries actors, directors and critics have reshaped the Bard’s characters and plot lines. Many current representations of Hamlet, for example, are more influenced by what the Romantics and Freud wrote about the brooding youth, and by how Olivier or Branagh portrayed him, than by how Shakespeare himself might have envisioned the character.

We will explore how film and stage adaptations and interpretations, as well as new theoretical approaches, have changed Shakespeare’s oeuvre through time. This course is offered in association with Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, and we’ll draw examples from the plays performed at Bard on the Beach in 2019, ensuring that the course will enrich your experience of this summer’s program.

A $62 discount will be applied automatically for adults 55+.

Moya O’Connell, Coriolanus (2019)
Photo & Image Design: Emily Cooper. Courtesy of Bard on the Beach Festival

Currently not available for registration.

Schedule clarification: Online courses begin on the first date listed and end six days after the last date listed. The interim dates/times are not your actual online class times.

What will I learn?

Week 1: Shakespeare was always Shakespearean

Our introduction to the ideas of adaptation in Shakespeare start with a consideration of the instability of Shakespeare’s texts, as well as his tendency to borrow from older sources. This kind of investigation will help us relinquish the idea that there is an original text against which to test adaptations and then proclaim them more or less authentic. This look to the past will allow us to appreciate the adaptation as an artistic creation in its own right.

Week 2: Adaptations and interpretations of Shakespeare throughout history

We look to the future, and explore how Shakespeare’s oeuvre has survived and morphed over the centuries. We will specifically consider the example of Hamlet, and look at some of the ways the play and its title character have been reshaped by critics such as Freud, and actors such as Sir Laurence Olivier.

Week 3: All’s Well That Ends Well

This week, we continue the theme of Week 2 with another play in which gender dynamics are highly problematic for the 21st-century viewer. What are some of the options available to update this play? And why might some directors decide not to alter the seemingly abusive marriage between Helena and Bertram?

Week 4: Coriolanus

Shakespeare’s Coriolanus has had a history of being adapted to criticize political leaders of various historical time periods. We will consider some famous examples, as well as some more general ideas about the role of art/theatre to criticize the political establishment or, more broadly, society.

Week 5: Taming of the Shrew

One of the most important new angles for analyses of Shakespeare since the late 20th century is definitely the new look on Shakespeare’s female characters. This will be the main focus for our analysis of Taming of Shrew. After a consideration of the historical context of marriage in Shakespeare’s time, we will delve into 20th and 21st century interpretations of the relationship dynamics in the play, focusing specifically on the actor/director choices that make Kate’s final speech either (proto-)feminist or conservative/traditional.

Week 6: Shakespeare in Love

This will include a brief look at the fourth play staged at Bard on the Beach this summer, Shakespeare in Love, which is not a Shakespeare play, but, as we will understand by now, highly Shakespearean. We will conclude this session with some reflections and questions to accompany your visit to Bard.

How will I learn?

  • Readings and video lectures
  • Online discussion
  • Weekly assignments
  • Final paper (applicable only to certificate students)

How will I be evaluated?

For certificate students only:

Your instructor will evaluate you based on an essay, which you will complete at the end of the course. You will receive a grade of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”

Textbooks and learning materials

The following plays are required for this course. You may purchase any version from your local or online bookstore.

  • Shakespeare, Hamlet
  • Shakespeare, Taming of the Shrew
  • Shakespeare, Coriolanus
  • Shakespeare, All’s Well That Ends Well
  • Lee Hall, Shakespeare in Love

Hardware and software requirements

You will receive course details and Canvas access instructions on the first day of the course. You can check if your browser is compatible with Canvas here.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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