Student Spotlight: Shakespeare Matters with Mahendra Chitrarasu
Meet University of Adelaide student, Mahendra Chitrarasu. He is a 2nd year Bachelor of Arts (Advanced) student, majoring in English and philosophy.
He is also part of the Shakespeare Matters MOOC team, where he worked with the AdelaideX team and Dr Lucy Potter to develop materials for section 4 of this course, focusing on The Winter’s Tale.
Quietly confident and oozing with thoughtful insight, Mahendra chats about his involvement in the MOOC, his passion for Shakespeare, and life at the University of Adelaide and beyond.
What are you studying at the University of Adelaide?
I take the Bachelor of Arts (Advanced), where I’ve recently completed my second year majoring in English and philosophy.
Why did you choose to study at the University of Adelaide?
One of the most important reasons was that I wanted a stimulating learning environment. I wanted to go somewhere that pushed me and nourished my appetite for learning.
What made you want to take part in the Shakespeare Matters MOOC build?
I chose to take part in the Shakespeare Matters MOOC build because it was an opportunity to extend myself beyond the usual demands of undergraduate coursework. I had the chance to stew over things, see what I was interested in, and think about what I had to say about my play (A Winter’s Tale). I was also working closely with academics over an extended period. Building those connections makes university all the more enjoyable, even more so when I was learning about a topic of great personal interest.
What are the key lessons that you took from building the Shakespeare Matters MOOC?
Many things! Two come to mind immediately. On the academic front, analysing The Winter’s Tale in depth brought to my attention the subtlety of language. Ambiguity, irony, and equivocation are pervasive in the play, and it was fascinating to consider how the linguistic details of a scene manifest in the nature of the acting itself. In fact, one of the beauties of this MOOC is that we have the opportunity to watch how the play moves from the written word to the stage in the passages that are acted out. On a personal note, the responsibility placed on me to write and design a week’s content was both encouraging and fulfilling. It’s nice when people believe in your ability, and it’s even nicer when you produce something you’re proud of.
Why do you think the study of Shakespeare is still relevant today?
Whole library shelves are dedicated to this question, so all I can do here is gesture to one potential answer! Something that stands out for me is Shakespeare’s supreme power of imagination. Theseus touches on this in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, when he says:
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name. (5.1.14-17) MSND
Shakespeare has this omnipresent control in conjuring up characters with depth, characters that are incredibly complex and nuanced, characters that experience and express some of the things that make us human… Does this make his appeal universal? I’m not sure—maybe not. Regardless, his ability to form local habitations for unknowns like love, lust, and hate, ambition, greed, and hope, well, I think that makes him deserving of study today.
Who is your favourite Shakespeare character and why?
My favourite Shakespeare character is Richard III. He’s a terrible, terrible man, and yet our response to him is not unequivocal hatred. Sometimes, we’re drawn to him, sometimes we might even find ourselves rooting for him. But why? Why do we feel that way? I think it’s testament to Shakespeare tremendous ability to humanise.
What are your plans once you have finished your studies?
After completing my studies at the University of Adelaide, I’d like to see more of the world. There are many things you can read about, but it’s another thing entirely to ‘live’ them. But, obviously, these are not mutually exclusive: each improves the other. So, to that end, I’d also like to do some further study, perhaps here, perhaps abroad.
Enrol now in AdelaideX’s free Shakespeare Matters online course. This 5-week course analyses Hamlet, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Henry V, The Winter’s Tale and Othello, with a focus on emotions such as love, hate and jealousy.
In this introductory course, you will learn how Shakespeare uses emotion in his plays, how his characters experience and manipulate emotions, and how the emotional resonance of the plays makes them powerfully relevant to the modern world.
Find out more.