Hamlet ~ MOOC

rolf-richardson-hamlet-statue-gower-memorial-stratford-upon-avon-warwickshire-england-united-kingdom-europeJust a quick post this morning to draw your attention to a new MOOC that is starting on the 13th of January.  Shakespeare’s Hamlet: Text, Performance and Culture is the first literature course to be offered by the UK MOOC platform, FutureLearn. It is being run by the University of Birmingham’s Shakespeare Institute which is part of the same University School to which I belong. Now, I can’t speak to the quality of the production values that will be involved, although if you take a look at the introductory video which you can find here then that seems to be encouraging.  However, what I can speak to is the quality of the scholarship that will have gone into the materials.  I work with these people week in and week out and I can assure you that they are amongst the leading Shakespeare scholars in the world; you won’t get better teaching anywhere. What is more, it appears from the clips that have been made available that actors from the RSC may also be involved.  The actress reading To be or not to be is Pippa Nixon, who is currently playing Ophelia and Jonathan Slinger, the current Hamlet, is also featured.

I haven’t yet sampled a FutureLearn MOOC so I don’t know how far they’ve got with developing areas such as assessment and discussion.  I do know that they themselves say they have some way to go and acknowledge that they are still learning.  You shouldn’t let that put you off, though.  This is a real opportunity to work with absolute experts.  What is more, those of us who have been struggling with the set texts for the Coursera Historical Fiction MOOC can take heart from the fact that not only is there just one text set for this module but also that it was definitely not chosen simply because the author was available to come in for a discussion.  I suppose it’s just about conceivable that someone nipped down the road, sat by the grave and asked Shakespeare whether or not Hamlet is ever really mad, but on balance I doubt it.

I’ve already signed up for this and if anyone else is thinking of doing so and would like to get together a small independent study group then I would be happy to host it.  Some of us have already done that with earlier MOOCs and it’s been a really good experience.  If you are interested then leave a note in the comments and I’ll get back to you.

Weekly Fragments ~ November 5th

tumblr_lptmh1EY1E1r1sle6o1_500A number of my blogging friends regularly post a piece at the end of each month looking back over their recent reads and projecting forthcoming books for the following four weeks.  It’s not something I’ve ever thought of doing myself, mostly because I rely to a large extent on libraries for my reading material and I can never predict what (if any) books are going to turn up.  However, over on her blog Of Books and Bicycles, Rebecca has a recent post where she looks forward to her forthcoming reading week and that strikes me as a very good idea, if only because it might make me organise my mind enough to recognise the difference between what needs to be read and what I want to read and to be realistic about the time I have available for either.

And, I have to say that the week ahead looks crowded!

Yesterday saw the end of the month from hell in which I had to lead the discussion in all three of my reading groups.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I love belonging to reading groups.  I never fail to learn something new about the books through discussion and I suppose that to some extent they are a substitute for the days when I was leading reading groups in university classes.  Officially they were called seminars, but if they work properly reading groups is what they should be.  However, taking on three new books in short order was silly and I’ve already taken steps to ensure that the same thing won’t happen next year.

The most recent discussion was of Jeffrey Eugenides’ Pulitzer winning novel, Middlesex, which I read when it first came out but which was new to everyone else in the group.  I have to say I chose this with some trepidation because there are a number of people in that particular group who are very traditionalist in their view as to what a novel should be like and I knew that they were going to find not only the subject matter but also the style very challenging.  However, I happen to think that Middlesex is one of the great novels of the last decade and anyway, the teacher in me still thinks that people should have their reading horizons challenged, so I carried on regardless.  In fact, only two of the group had a problem with the book and the rest couldn’t sing its praises loudly enough. Almost everyone had had difficulties getting to grips with the blend of the post-modern and the traditional, especially as it manifests itself in Cal’s very particular narrative voice, but once they’d tuned in to what Eugenides is doing there they were fine.

Even though that may be out of the way, belonging to three groups means that the next read is always on the horizon and so one of the books I need to read this week is Jonas Jonasson’s The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared. I’m promised by everyone I know who has read this that I am going to really enjoy it, which is reassuring because it definitely isn’t something I would have picked up for myself.  The other ‘needful’ book is Katherine Howe’s The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane which is the set text for next week’s lectures on the MOOC course I’m taking on Historical Fiction.  The portents aren’t so good where this is concerned.  Two of the friends with whom I’m taking the course have already had problems with the novel and I think we’re all beginning to wonder whether the books chosen aren’t a reflection of the authors willing to lead seminars rather than texts that illustrate the best available in current historical fiction.  It’s a shame because the lectures from the professor are very good indeed and he has tried to be innovative in the way he’s set up the course. It’s certainly better than any of the other literature MOOCs I’ve taken.  But, it does show how difficult creating a new module from scratch can be and just how many are the pitfalls you have to avoid.

My ‘want to’ reads all arrived from the library yesterday and they’re all crime novels.  I have these for three weeks and so I must try and limit myself to just one a week, because I know what I’m like when I get my head down in crime fiction – I’m unlikely to surface until it’s finished.  So, this week’s treat is the new Tony Hill and Carol Jordan novel from Val McDermid, Cross and Burn.  I think the highest praise I can offer McDermid is to say that I love her stand alone novels as much as I do her series books, which suggests that it is her writing rather than her characters that I respond to.  This is my last thing at night book when I have finished everything I need to read for the day and can reward myself with sheer indulgence.  For the rest of the day I have given it to The Bears to hide.  I know my own limitations where temptation is concerned!

The other ‘literary-type’ occasions that this week holds include two visits to the theatre.  On Saturday I’m going to the Rep to see a staged version of The Anatomy of Melancholy, which some friends saw in London and have throughly recommended and then on Sunday I’m going to a screening of the National Theatre’s The Habit of Art.  This got rather mixed reviews when it was on in London, but it stars the late Richard Griffiths and I can’t pass up any last opportunity to see him at work.  Two days out at the weekend is going to seriously curtail my reading time so I may have to report a level of failure this time next week, but best foot forward.