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Discovering Shakespeare

Course Times & Enrolment

This course is currently unavailable.

Course Summary

Considered one of the greatest writers of all time, William Shakespeare’s monumental body of work continues to fascinate, challenge, and influence literary study. This course will offer students an opportunity to study a selection of plays and poems, and will be of interest to anyone who already enjoys reading or watching Shakespeare’s work, as well as those looking for a gentle and engaging introduction.

This course will be co-taught by David M Wingrove, Rolland Man, Anya Clayworth and Reena Sastri.

Course Details

Content of Course

The course will begin with an introduction to the life of Shakespeare, placing him within the cultural and historical contexts of Elizabethan and Jacobean England.  Thereafter, students will explore in detail three plays and a selection of poems, before concluding with a comparison of the plays, and a discussion of the influence Shakespeare’s body of work has had on future writers and theatre practitioners. The tutors will provide an introductory overview to the main themes and characters of each of work, relating them to the political, social and historical contexts in which they first appeared. Video extracts may be shown, and/or group reading of passages to illustrate significant and symbolic scenes. Students will engage in detailed close reading of passages, with an aim to develop greater understanding of the language used. Throughout the course, students will be asked to consider why William Shakespeare is regarded one the greatest writers of all time, and the continued appeal of his work.

1. Introduction - An overview of the life of Shakespeare, the cultural context, key political issues of Elizabethan England.

2 / 3. King Lear - Family, tragedy, blindness and madness.

4 / 5. A Midsummer Night's Dream - Love, a play within a play, dreams, the supernatural,  and  musical influence.

6 / 7. Shakespeare's Sonnets -  Love, lust, ageing, betrayal, ‘Fair Youth’ and ‘Dark Lady’. An exploration of the themes and a close examination of technique of a selection of the sonnets.

8 / 9. Macbeth - Fate, ambition and violence in The Scottish Play.

10.  Conclusion -  A summary of the themes and topics covered, a discussion of personal favourite screenings and stagings.  Consideration of why Shakespeare’s appeal endures, and the relevance of the writing to today’s cultural, social and political landscape.

Teaching method(s)

Students will gain most from this course if they read the plays and poems in advance of the class. Tutors will present an introductory overview of each work, before engaging in close reading, group reading and group discussion. Students can expect to engage in lively discussion and to be shown extracts from plays and films. Tutors will support students in gaining confidence to speak the language aloud.

Learning outcomes

On completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Identify, compare, and contrast key themes in selected works of Shakespeare; 

  • Discuss the impact of Shakespeare’s writing on literary culture, with reference to the social, historical, political and cultural contexts in which the works were written;

  • Make confident, critical and personal responses to poems and plays, using close textual reference and recognised literary and dramatic terminology.


Core Readings


  • Any copy of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Macbeth, King Lear and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Editions such as Oxford World Classics offer helpful commentary on the texts.


  • Wells, S., 2010. The New Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare. Cambridge: CUP.


If you have questions regarding the course or enrolment, please contact COL Reception at Paterson's Land by email or by phone 0131 650 4400.

Student support

If you have a disability, learning difficulty or health condition which may affect your studies, please let us know by ticking the 'specific support needs' box on your course application form. This will allow us to make appropriate adjustments in advance and in accordance with your rights under the Equality Act 2010. For more information please visit the Student Support section of our website.