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“To be, or not to be, that is the question.”

Actually, that question from William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” is just one Pres­ident Larry Arnn and Pro­fessor of English Stephen Smith could inves­tigate in Hillsdale College’s newest online course. The office of external affairs launched “Shake­speare: ‘Hamlet’ and ‘The Tempest’” Oct. 26 to discuss the English playwright’s timeless themes that discuss human nature that then allows for self-evaluation.

“Shakespeare’s plays offer an incom­pa­rable edu­cation in virtue and the arts of ‘soul leading,’ as Plato once put it,” Smith said. “That’s an edu­cation that never goes out of fashion, and Shake­speare has put his art at our service.”

Through Dec. 5, the col­leges is releasing a new video lecture on a weekly basis that those who reg­ister for the course may watch at their dis­cretion. After dis­cussing with involved faculty, external affairs settled on doing the course on Shake­speare, Director of Pro­grams for External Affairs Matt Bell said.

Although Smith filmed three lec­tures for each of the two plays, Arnn did the first lesson in which he dis­cusses Shakespeare’s significance.

“Shake­speare thinks and writes beau­tiful thoughts,” Arnn said. “In the Sym­posium, Socrates posits that the greatest poets would write both comedy and tragedy. Shake­speare does that and also history plays. He can show us all of nature and its hier­archy low to high.”

The set of lec­tures are also con­gruent with the college’s focus on self-gov­ernment through the virtues and vices in human nature, Smith said.

“The plays are a great med­i­tation on the tragedies and comedies of human freedom,” Smith said. “What do we need to lead a fully human life? How do his major char­acters lead them­selves and others? What are the ruling desires of their hearts? Are they attentive to con­science? To their friends? To heaven? Are they honest or encaved by some­thing? What is the way to freedom?” 

Ulti­mately, though, the course takes a look at how to be.

“I’m delighted to share my love of Shake­speare with others,” Smith said, “in the hope that they too will expe­rience his beau­tiful and piercing art.”