Hamlet's Ghost: Death, Mourning, and the Power of Theatre

Stephen Greenblatt in front of Globe Theater

This year marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and HarvardX is commemorating the event with “ShakespeareX,” a series of online courses about the writer’s great plays. First in line is Hamlet’s Ghost, taught by Stephen Greenblatt, Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University, lifelong student of Shakespeare, and author of twelve books. (Read more about Greenblatt’s work in these Harvard Magazine articles: The Mysterious Mr. Shakespeare, Swerves, and Poet and Renaissance Scholar Launch Commencement Week.)

Hamlet’s Ghost focuses on the play’s haunting central figure, which Greenblatt describes as one of Shakespeare’s “most remarkable creations in his entire work.”

“The goal of the course is not to cover all that has been written on Hamlet,” explains Greenblatt. “Rather, it is to find a single point of entry that helps us think about the play as a whole. Our entry point is Hamlet’s Ghost. By beginning with the Ghost, we can see the different ways the play grapples with larger questions and issues, including death, mourning, and the power of theatre.”

The course opens with an introduction to Shakespeare’s life and times, including on-location video visits to the reconstructed Globe Theater and the playwright’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon.

From there, learners are invited to explore the narrative sources of Hamlet, the religious convictions that shaped how people in Renaissance England understood the afterlife, and the ways that Shakespeare’s Ghost would have thrilled and challenged its original audience.

Hamlet’s Ghost is a three-week, self-paced course, meaning you can enroll any time and learn on your own schedule. Sign up and join Greenblatt on an exploration of the haunting figure at the heart of one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays.