Free Online Shakespeare Courses: Primers on the Bard from Oxford, Harvard, Berkeley & More

free shakespeare courses

I had the great good for­tune of hav­ing grown up just out­side Wash­ing­ton, DC, where on a fifth grade class trip to the Fol­ger Library and The­ater, I fell in love with Shake­speare. This expe­ri­ence, along with a few vis­its to see his plays per­formed at near­by Wolf­trap, made me think I might go into the­ater. Instead I became a stu­dent of lit­er­a­ture, but some­how, my love of Shake­speare on the stage didn’t trans­late to the page until col­lege.  While study­ing for a sopho­more-lev­el “His­to­ries & Tragedies” class, I sat, my Nor­ton Shake­speare open, in front of the TV—reading along while watch­ing Ken­neth Branagh’s styl­ish film adap­ta­tion of Ham­let, which draws on the entire text of the play.

Only then came the epiphany: this lan­guage is music and mag­ic. The rhyth­mic beau­ty, depths of feel­ing, humor broad and inci­sive, extra­or­di­nary range of human types.… If we are to believe pre-emi­nent Shake­speare schol­ar Harold Bloom, Shake­speare invent­ed mod­ern human­i­ty. If this seems to go too far, he at least cap­tured human com­plex­i­ty with greater inven­tive skill than any Eng­lish writer before him, and pos­si­bly after. Is there any shame in final­ly “get­ting” Shakespeare’s lan­guage from the movies? None at all. One of the most excel­lent qual­i­ties of the Bard’s work—among so many rea­sons it endures—is its seem­ing­ly end­less adapt­abil­i­ty to every pos­si­ble peri­od, cul­tur­al con­text, and medi­um.

While engage­ment with any of the innu­mer­able Shake­speare adap­ta­tions and per­for­mances promis­es reward, there’s lit­tle that enhances appre­ci­a­tion of the Bard’s work more than read­ing it under the tute­lage of a trained schol­ar in the playwright’s Eliz­a­bethan lan­guage and his­to­ry. Uni­ver­sal though he may be, Shake­speare wrote his plays in a par­tic­u­lar time and place, under spe­cif­ic influ­ences and work­ing con­di­tions. If you have not had the plea­sure of study­ing the plays in a col­lege setting—or if your mem­o­ries of those long-ago Eng­lish class­es have faded—we offer a num­ber of excel­lent free online cours­es from some of the finest uni­ver­si­ties. See a list below, all of which appear in our list of Free Online Lit­er­a­ture Cours­es, part of our larg­er list of 875 Free Online Cours­es.

Also, speak­ing of the Fol­ger, that ven­er­a­ble insti­tu­tion has just released all of Shakespeare’s plays in free, search­able online texts based on their high­ly-regard­ed schol­ar­ly print edi­tions. And though some beg to dif­fer, I still say you can’t go wrong with Branagh.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Read All of Shakespeare’s Plays Free Online, Cour­tesy of the Fol­ger Shake­speare Library

What Shake­speare Sound­ed Like to Shake­speare: Recon­struct­ing the Bard’s Orig­i­nal Pro­nun­ci­a­tion

Take a Vir­tu­al Tour of Shakespeare’s Globe The­atre

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (3)
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  • Charlotte says:

    I have been lis­ten­ing to William Flesch’s lessons and find them inter­est­ing.

    I can­not get the site for Ralph Williams to work. Does any­one else have a prob­lem with Mr. Williams?

  • Alan Armstrong says:

    I am a recent­ly retired Emer­gency Doc­tor
    Many times I regret hav­ing pur­sued the Arts in par­tic­u­lar lit­er­a­ture as a career
    Could you let me know what oppor­tu­ni­ties you offer

    Many thanks

    Alan Arm­strong. FRCS. FRCP. MRCGP. DCH. FFEM. BM BS. B Med Sci

    SORRY. Show­ing off.

  • Greg Koch says:

    This infor­ma­tion is stale. The links do not func­tion. The Har­vard course now charges more than a $1,000 and is not “free”.

    And who wants to pay Green­blatt a share of a $4,000 fee when he delib­er­ate­ly pub­lished mis­lead­ing schol­ar­ship in defi­ance against the progress already made about who Shake­speare actu­al­ly was. He has what you can call an “agen­da”, like the cura­tors cram­ming poor farm­steads in rur­al Strat­ford with fur­nish­ings and books from large estates pur­chased at Sothe­by’s.

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