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"Shakespeare and His World" MOOC

In the "Shakespeare and His World" MOOC, explore artefacts such as a portrait of the dramatist Francis Beaumont and the Quiney Letter that help learners gain insights into William Shakespeare's plays, their chronological context, and the great Bard's legacy.

Emily Milward

One of my responsibilities working for the Trust is to facilitate access to our collections. Often this involves preparing objects for exhibitions, presentations (and occasionally filming!) which all include packing the items safely for transportation and simply getting them from A-to-B. Last year I played a small part is getting some items out of storage so that they could be filmed for a particularly special project: the massive online open course ‘Shakespeare and His World’, which saw the University of Warwick work in partnership with the Trust.

I had been working at the Trust for about 6 months and was beginning to get used to handling the collection, when I was asked to help move one of our larger items. A beautifully rendered oil painting of Francis Beaumont (a dramatist contemporary to Shakespeare) was needed for filming for the MOOC. Standing at almost 2 metres high it took a few pairs of hands to get the portrait safely to the filming location. However, the process was utterly worth it when the finished product is viewed on the MOOC (Week One ‘Rival Playwrights’).

Francis Beaumont
STRST : SBT 1994-19/102 A Portrait of the Dramatist Francis Beaumont

People may believe that access to museums is all about exhibitions, but there are so many more facets to this. The MOOC allows the Trust’s collections to be viewed on a different platform and also helps us to understand how these books, documents, and objects fit into the context of Shakespeare’s world. It was exciting to get some of our museum treasures out of storage (and also to sit in on some of the filming!) and great to see them discussed by Professor Jonathan Bate in corroboration with items from our library and archive.

As a Shakespeare enthusiast before I began working at the Trust, I found the MOOC very interesting and was one of the first to sign-up. My favourite week in particular was Week Five ‘Money and the City’, which used The Merchant of Venice (a play I was, at the time, unfamiliar with) as the focus text. The monetary theme of the play was really brought to life by the array of items discussed by Professor Bate, including the unique Quiney letter from the archive collection of the Trust. This particular week, but also the course as a whole, successfully weaved together the threads between Shakespeare’s own life and its influence on his works.

Quiney Letter1
ER27-4 The Quiney Letter

As a member of staff at the Trust the MOOC helped me to understand the value of our collections in highlighting Shakespeare’s life, times and works; the plethora of documents and objects used to illustrate Shakespeare and his world in the MOOC allows learners to gain a true insight into the plays, their chronological context, and the legacy left by the bard himself.

‘Shakespeare and His World’ opens again on 29 September, and sign-ups are available now.