The University of Warwick has teamed up with some famous faces, and a team of doctors to tackle these questions and others like them, in a free online course on FutureLearn.
The course is offered through FutureLearn which means it’s broken into chunks – so you can do it step by step. FutureLearn also features lots of discussions so you can share your ideas with other learners, which often can be as beneficial as the course material (as one previous student put it “a really wonderful experience and I’ve loved the feedback and comments from fellow course members”).
Here’s a run-through of what’s on the syllabus. The course focuses on six themes:
- Stress: In poetry, the word “stress” refers to the emphasis of certain syllables in a poem’s metre. How might the metrical “stresses” of poetry help us to cope with the mental and emotional stresses of modern life?
- Heartbreak: Is heartbreak a medical condition? What can Sidney’s sonnets and Austen’s Sense and Sensibility teach us about suffering and recovering from a broken heart?
- Bereavement: The psychologist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross famously proposed that there are five stages of grief. How might Shakespeare’s Hamlet and poems by Wordsworth and Hardy help us to think differently about the process of grieving?
- Trauma: PTSD or “shellshock” has long been associated with the traumatic experiences of soldiers in World War 1. How is the condition depicted in war poetry of the era? Can poems and plays offer us an insight into other sources of trauma, including miscarriage and assault?
- Depression and Bipolar: The writer Rachel Kelly subtitles her memoirBlack Rainbow “how words healed me – my journey through depression”. Which texts have people turned to during periods of depression, and why? What can we learn from literature about the links between bipolar disorder and creativity?
- Ageing and Dementia: One of the greatest studies of ageing in English Literature is Shakespeare’s King Lear. Is it helpful to think about this play in the context of dementia? Why are sufferers of age-related memory loss often still able to recall the poems they have learned “by heart”?