Why Shakespeare Matters: Hamlet, Macbeth, and King Lear in the 21st Century

Bard College

Joseph Luzzi (PhD, Yale) is the Asher B. Edelman Professor of Literature and Faculty Member in Italian Studies at Bard College, and he taught previously at the University of Pennsylvania. His work has appeared in The New York Times, TLS, The London Times, the Guardian, Chronicle of Higher Education, and on National Public Radio. Dr. Luzzi’s awards include a Yale College Teaching Prize, Dante Society of America Essay Prize, and Wallace Fellowship at Villa I Tatti, Harvard’s Center for Italian Renaissance Studies. He is the author of five books and recently created The Virtual Book Club: an international community of readers dedicated to exploring major literary works past and present.



Introduction to Why Shakespeare Matters

Why are the works of William Shakespeare still considered “essential” reading today, some four hundred years after they appeared? How can the lessons of his theatrical universe help us understand the major social and political conflicts we face in modern times? Together we will explore the factors that continue to make Shakespeare so vital a force in popular culture, as we focus on his stunning contributions to the English language, his unparalleled grasp of human psychology, and his use of literary form to astonish and enchant. We will center our conversation about “Shakespeare today” on three of his greatest and best-known works: the magnificent tragedies HamletMacbeth, and King Lear.

Discussion Questions About Why Shakespeare Matters:

  1. What are the qualities of Shakespeare’s language that make it such an ongoing source of pleasure and enchantment for modern readers?
  1. What qualities do the different “tragic” protagonists that we will cover – Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear – have in common? How would you define Shakespearean “tragedy?”
  1. What socio-political challenge or problem from today do you think Shakespeare’s work can best help us with, and why?
  1. What do Shakespeare’s plays reveal about the cultural practices of his own times, and some of the major differences between his world and our own?

Learn More About Why Shakespeare Matters

Learn more about why Shakespeare matters and more by checking out our online history lectures. You can also find other great lectures including The Meaning Behind A Date That Will Live In InfamyThe Four Most Powerful Ancient Rulers, and The Greatest Military Strategists & TacticiansSign up for One Day University Membership today for unlimited access to hundreds of talks and online lectures.




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