“Now you need to post your ranking of all Shakespeare’s plays.”

by on June 15, 2017 at 12:48 am in Books, History, Uncategorized | Permalink

That was a tweet from Matt Yglesias, so here goes:

The best, in order

The Henriad (as a unit!)

King Lear

Hamlet (even if it is a bunch of cliches, strung together)

Measure for Measure

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Merchant of Venice

Romeo and Juliet

As You Like It

Twelfth Night

Winter’s Tale (underrated)

Love’s Labour’s Lost

Anthony and Cleopatra

The Tempest

Othello (slightly overrated, Verdi’s opera actually is better)

Richard II + III

Pretty flawed, but I still want to call underrated

Cymbeline

Coriolanus

Troilus and Cressida

OK, and would be pretty awesome from anyone else

Comedy of Errors

Much Ado About Nothing

All’s Well That Ends Well

Overrated, though you still can think they are pretty good

Julius Caesar

Macbeth

Taming of the Shrew

Just not that good

Henry VIII

Two Gentleman of Verona

Merry Wives of Windsor

Timon of Athens

Titus Andronicus

King John

Let’s not even get into the possible co-authorships.

The bottom line

Shakespeare is very likely the deepest thinker the human race has produced, so these are worth careful study!  I am a fan of the Folger Library editions.

1 AndrewK June 15, 2017 at 12:58 am

Romeo and Juliet?

Otherwise good list. Measure for Measure way too high though. Too opaque.

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2 Steve Sailer June 15, 2017 at 3:57 am

Romeo and Juliet is gigantically influential, but it’s also too verbose and show-offy. My guess is that it’s the first time Shakespeare fully figured out how talented he is and let himself rip. But, it’s too verbally complex for high school students, even though it may be the Shakespeare play most often taught in high school. (Julius Caesar is the most comprehensible, but it’s less popular these days for teaching in high school because it’s a boys’ play.)

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3 celestus June 15, 2017 at 7:27 am

My pet theory is that it’s taught in freshman English in an effort to convince 14 year old girls that 17 year old boys aren’t nearly as mature as they think and getting involved with them is a bad idea.

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4 dearieme June 15, 2017 at 8:21 am

The Tudor propaganda ones I watched on the telly decades ago: black and white, low production values, and gripping stuff.

At school we “did” Lear, Hamlet, Dream, Merchant, Tempest, Caesar, Macbeth, and were taken to the theatre to see Othello. There must also have been two or three more comedies but I’ve forgotten which.

Anyway, this is all detail; the point is that there’s no other writer remotely worth so much school time.

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5 Steve Sailer June 15, 2017 at 4:16 am

“Measure for Measure” is … interesting. It doesn’t really work, so its faults encourage readers to make up their own theories for what Shakespeare must have meant by it. You can make up a pretty funny theory for why it must be, say, self-parody.

But the most likely, if boring, explanation is that Shakespeare just had an off-day.

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6 Tyler Cowen June 15, 2017 at 6:53 am

Thanks, sorry for the omission, I will add!

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7 tjamesjones June 15, 2017 at 6:52 am

c’mon guys, I’m late to this one, you missed the chance to say “O Romeo Romeo wherefore art thou Romeo..”

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8 Yogesh June 15, 2017 at 11:54 am

That’s how this got started:

@tylercowen Shakespeare’s *Julius Caesar* is in fact a boring and overrated play, #confessyourunpopularopinion

https://twitter.com/tylercowen/status/874632245063147520

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9 Tony June 16, 2017 at 8:07 am

Shakespeare in general is overated. Deepest thinker ever???? That is insulting to a great many people. His command of language was impressive, but imho, less so than most hip hop MCs today. Not pop-rap, but real MCs; krs1, Nas, Big Pun, Cappadonna, etc. Tyler, what is your opinion of hip hop? How do hip hop artists stack up against the greatest poets/playwrights to ever live?

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10 Dan Lavatan-Jeltz June 15, 2017 at 1:13 am

Yeah it skips a bunch, it doesn’t have titus andronicus.

The play they made that guy watch in taming of the shrew was OK, but they didn’t say what it was called just that it was a history play.

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11 mkt42 June 15, 2017 at 2:40 am

I was going to remark on the omission of Titus Andronicus as well.

I’ve only seen a highly abbreviated version of it, and have not read it. The notes on the playbill said that one theory is that Shakespeare noticed that playwrights were putting more and more murders of a more and more gruesome nature in order the bring in crowds. Sex and violence sell.

Shakespeare decided to one-up his competitors by writing a play that pretty much jumped the shark by having a ridiculous number of ridiculously bloody murders: Titus Andronicus. Indeed, Hamlet and MacBeth are bucolic pastorals compared to Titus Andronicus.

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12 other derek June 15, 2017 at 9:04 am

Titus was one of the very earliest plays, post-dating only Verona, Henry VI (assuming TC liked Henry IV) and Shrew.

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13 Edward Burke June 15, 2017 at 9:31 am

I sometimes view Titus Andronicus as Shakespeare’s failed attempt at Senecan comedy. Or maybe it suffers from being poorly staged: a Jarryesque or Grand-Guignol treatment might put it into proper perspective.

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14 mkt42 June 15, 2017 at 3:56 pm

You are probably correct. The version that I saw was title “Kabuki Titus” and sets the play in medieval Japan (a la Kurosawa’s “Throne of Blood”) and left out probably 3/4 of the killings and characters — which still left plenty of bloodshed and mayhem. Lavinia was played not by an actress but a dancer. That worked because Lavinia spends much of the play speechless (due to having been raped and having her tongue and hands cut off — did I mention that this play has bloodshed and mayhem?) so the dancer’s physical expressiveness was more useful than her voice.

I thought that adaptation worked pretty well. OTOH it didn’t make me eager to see a full-scale staging of “Titus Andronicus”, it’s probably very difficult to do a good and successful one.

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15 Student in British Colony June 15, 2017 at 1:22 am

Macbeth is definitely the best, on account of it being the shortest play. Brevity counts for a lot when you are forced to study the bard’s plays in school.

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16 Carlito Brigante June 15, 2017 at 9:13 am

Don’t you mean “the Scottish Play?”

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17 Student in British Colony June 16, 2017 at 1:18 am

“Aahhhhh. Hot potato, orchestra stalls, Puck will make amends!”

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18 Deepish Thinker June 15, 2017 at 11:33 am

Brevity is a fine attribute, although the Scottish play is also an interesting play.

While it pains me to contradict a man learned as Tyler, King Lear is both long and crushingly boring. It’s placement at the top of the list is affront justice, reason and good taste.

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19 Joël June 15, 2017 at 1:54 am

I agree that Macbeth and the Taming of the Shrew are overrated, but Julius Caesar? why?

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20 Dzhaughn June 15, 2017 at 2:03 am

Jim never had seconds of my Shakespeare plays. Don’t you ban me now.

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21 Thanatos Savehn June 15, 2017 at 2:24 am

Maybe not what you asked, but I remember King Lear smacking me upside the head re: the human condition when I first encountered it 40 years ago in high school. Ms Lepore notwithstanding, we’ve changed not a whit since Gilgamesh first sallied forth all those centuries ago.

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22 Yancey Ward June 15, 2017 at 2:26 am

Yeah, how you make a list without Romeo and Juliet is baffling to me, unless it is intentionally omitted for some purpose.

King Lear is definitely the best of the lot, and I have always put Romeo and Juliet second, with Hamlet third.

The Henry plays as a unit? That is ok I suppose if you list it in the middle of the pack, but I would list them individually if any of them are high on the list and others are low.

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23 Steve Sailer June 15, 2017 at 4:10 am

Henry IV Part I is gigantically entertaining. Not just Falstaff, but Hotspur is a cool antagonist. He’s kind of the hero, while the self-possessed hero Prince Hal is something of an anti-hero.

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24 byomtov June 15, 2017 at 7:42 pm

Agree 100%.

Henry IV Part I is an amazingly good play. Could be the best.

Still, I wouldn’t list the Henriad as #1. The Henry VI plays are not as good as the other three. Henry IV, part 2 and Henry V are quite good.

On the subject, Richard II beats the more familiar Richard III by a good bit.

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25 +1 June 16, 2017 at 12:19 am

+1

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26 CD June 15, 2017 at 2:24 pm

You really want to see the Henriad as a unit. Indeed, despite the unevenness of the Henry VI plays, the entire eight-play sequence from Richard II to III is well worth it. Netflix has three versions available for rent, all with merits. It works a little like a novel. There’s the large background theme of gaining and losing France. The dynastic struggles, which can be hard to keep straight in a single play, make more sense. Every character in these plays *remembers* — they are not just struggling for power in the present, but driven by older grievances. Stuff that does not make much sense in one play, like what the hell Queen Margaret is doing in Richard III, make total sense in the larger context.

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27 Human, all-too-human June 15, 2017 at 2:34 am

“Shakespeare is very likely the deepest thinker the human race has produced”

followed closely by Nietzsche, Gracian, and Rochefoucauld

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28 dux.ie June 15, 2017 at 2:54 am

Long ago I did a social network analysis on some Shakespeare’s plays, that was before someone did a whole bunch of them and published the results.

I seemed to recalled that in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Romeo and his mother never directly talked to each other. Could that be the casue for the tragedy? The closest live scene seemed to be the one when she saw Romeo coming from a distance and she hurriedly walked away. Did Shakespeare dislike his mother?

Hmm…

William Shakespeare: “Have you not love enough to bear with me, when that rash humor which my mother gave me makes me forgetful.”

William Shakespeare: “What should a man do but be merry? For look you how cheerfully my mother looks, and my father died within’s two hours.”

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29 Vivian Darkbloom June 15, 2017 at 3:22 am

“Hamlet (even if it is a bunch of cliches, strung together)”

“cliché: a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought”.

What we think of today as a “cliché” was likely quite original when Shakespeare wrote that play about 417 years ago. How do things become clichés? I find it a bit strange that he and the play should be criticized for the fact that the opinions and phrases contained in that play are so well known today. Hamlet certainly has other problems, such as internal inconsistencies (nothing to do with “cliché”) and, as noted mainly by Eliot, a main character whose actions are not fully justified because they have no “objective correlative”. But clichéd the play certainly is not.

It appears that Shakespeare’s plays are being judged here mainly on the basis of how they are received when read. But, Shakespeare wrote these plays for the stage as a form of live entertainment, albeit artistic entertainment. By that standard, Hamlet is surely one of his greatest. We don’t judge movies today by reading the script, even if that script is contained in the “Folger Library Edition”.

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30 Steve Sailer June 15, 2017 at 3:36 am

Hamlet was clearly Shakespeare reaching his peak in his mid to late-30s and being aware of just how much his talent had developed

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31 sourcreamus June 15, 2017 at 7:40 am
32 Willitts June 15, 2017 at 7:53 am

What was the literacy level of Shakespeare’s audience? I understand that language usage has changed drastically in more than 400 years, making simple phrases impenetrable to modern teens, but did his audience follow along any better?

Ballet is devoid of verbal content and opera difficult to understand. Perhaps I’m underestimating the power of non-verbal communication. Wouldn’t it be something to see a Shakespeare play in his time?

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33 Brian Donohue June 15, 2017 at 8:50 am

In my experience, Shakespeare well performed is much more comprehensible than the unaided words on paper.

But the words are maybe the most powerful inquiry into the human condition ever anyway. You can roll around in the words and ponder them forever, but these things were written to be performed.

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34 The Other Jim June 15, 2017 at 9:16 am

> “cliché”

I had the same thought. Very embarrassing slip by Tyler.

I hope he never sees any Minoan cave wall art. Talk about clichéd…

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35 Tyler Cowen June 15, 2017 at 9:52 am

Um…it was a joke…silly you.

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36 byomtov June 15, 2017 at 7:43 pm

And an old one to boot.

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37 TGGP June 15, 2017 at 12:34 pm

Samuel Crowell argues in “William Fortyhands” that Shakespeare was primarily a producer who bought plays from a variety of impoverished scribblers (typically working in collaborative fashion to churn out plays), and since he knew the theater business (he got quite rich) better than writers made the plays more “theatrical”, adding the stuff Samuel Pepys enjoyed in his diaries while removing lots of more literary bulk. Thus, the longer “Folio” versions are the originals, while the “quartos” are Shakespeare’s adaptations. People today don’t get to see the plays as Shakespeare put them on, instead the preserved Folio versions are remembered by people who focus on their literary value.

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38 Donald Pretari June 15, 2017 at 4:07 am

The Tempest is one of my favorites.

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39 Philip June 15, 2017 at 4:21 am

The Tempest surely belongs in the top category, and towards the top of it. Alls Well That Ends Well and Trolius and Cressida are the worst for me.
Overwhelmingly, my experience of Shakespeare is on the stage not on the page. Growing up a few miles from Stratford on Avon helped.

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40 Steve Sailer June 15, 2017 at 4:25 am

I’d be interested in seeing stage actors rank Shakespeare plays in terms of which ones they most enjoy putting on. I imagine Hamlet would be #1 (if they were being honest and not trying to be interesting). What’s kept Shakespeare alive all these centuries is, most of all, that actors absolutely love the guy.

Here’s a Daily Mail article asking Shakespearean actors about their favorites. Villains Richard III and Iago seem to be the most popular characters to play.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/event/article-3539614/A-glittering-cast-Shakespeareans-share-favourite-plays-heroes-villains-Bard-say-Twitter-altogether-2b-not-2b.html

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41 harpersnotes June 15, 2017 at 7:40 am

.. and here I was about to comment I thought Othello and Richard III should be ranked higher! Villains as main characters in general tend to be more complex and interesting to play than heroes and so potentially can stimulate more deeper thinking on the part of audiences.

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42 RR June 15, 2017 at 4:28 am

Buzzfeed for the pretentious.

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43 anonymous June 15, 2017 at 11:09 pm

Keep it real dude

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44 Grant Gould June 15, 2017 at 6:19 am

Now the game of finding Straussian readings of the omission of _The Tempest_…

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45 Tyler Cowen June 15, 2017 at 9:54 am

I forgot!

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46 Thor June 15, 2017 at 12:04 pm

Oh sure. You expect us to believe that?

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47 Vivian Darkbloom June 15, 2017 at 12:22 pm

Silly you—he’s joking!

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48 Brian Donohue June 15, 2017 at 12:08 pm

“I forgot!”

Hmmm, what could this possibly mean?

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49 chuck martel June 15, 2017 at 6:22 am

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is fun and a great introduction to the works of the bard for the young.

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50 dearieme June 15, 2017 at 8:24 am

I disliked it at school. Too young, perhaps.

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51 Steve June 15, 2017 at 6:48 am

Why are Richard II and III grouped together? II is part of the Henriad so listed already and III goes with Henry VI 1-3 which are missing.

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52 Anon. June 15, 2017 at 7:19 am

Why Macbeth/Julius overrated? Would be nice if we could get some commentary on the more controversial choices.

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53 Todd K June 15, 2017 at 7:20 am

“Shakespeare is very likely the deepest thinker the human race has produced,”

Well, the deepest thinker the human race has produced until Peter Thiel came along…

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54 Will June 15, 2017 at 7:26 am

Agreed on the Henriad: the “Upon the king” soliloquy is my favourite speech in Shakespeare. The Tempest is the best individual play though.

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55 Hazel Meade June 15, 2017 at 9:18 am

The problem with Henry V is that it ultimately lets him off the hook for starting an illegal war and (nearly) getting all of his men killed. There’s that section in the middle there where he basically says that it’s not on his soul/conscience if his followers end up dying in an unjust cause. And that soliloquy – basically it just is all “oh poor me, everyone blames the king for everything”. I mean, it’s great writing and everything, but as a moral thesis, it’s total bullshit.

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56 CD June 15, 2017 at 2:39 pm

Agreed on the morals, but that’s what makes for good drama, no? Henry V uses people. He’s attractive and a bit of a sociopath.. I don’t think the play is an uncritical ceebration of that.

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57 Hazel Meade June 15, 2017 at 8:07 pm

I think Shakespeare wimps out on it. He’s taking on a national hero who won a famous battle, and he doesn’t have the balls to make it a tragedy instead of a patriotic celebration of British military heroism.

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58 Anon. June 15, 2017 at 4:16 pm

It does absolutely no such thing. Henry V is a very anti-Henry play. The key moment is 4.8 when Williams, a common soldier, prefers to keep his honor rather than take Fluellen’s money (as opposed to Henry):

FLUELLEN
By this day and this light, the fellow has mettle
enough in his belly. Hold, there is twelve pence
for you; and I pray you to serve Got, and keep you
out of prawls, and prabbles’ and quarrels, and
dissensions, and, I warrant you, it is the better for you.

WILLIAMS
I will none of your money.

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59 byomtov June 15, 2017 at 7:51 pm

Yes. Henry is, IMO, a detestable man, to say the least. Abandons friends, starts wars, disclaims responsibility for his actions,…

I sometimes wonder if Shakespeare was having us on with that “mirror of all Christian kings” business.

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60 Joshua June 15, 2017 at 7:45 am

Echoing above comments to wonder about the Tempest, my favorite.

I often think of this line:

No sovereignty—
SEBASTIAN
    Yet he would be king on ’t.
ANTONIO
The latter end of his commonwealth forgets the beginning.

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61 Todd K June 15, 2017 at 8:20 am

I couldn’t understand why The Tempest wasn’t listed a few hours ago, but it’s up there now in ‘the best’ group.

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62 steve June 15, 2017 at 8:21 am

Definitely agree on Winter’s Tale being underrated. Have seen nearly all of these performed at least once. Had always thought of Winter’s Tale as just one of the good ones, but seeing it live elevated it to the top tier. I think your list is pretty good and would only quibble with a few of them.

Steve

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63 Bob from Ohio June 15, 2017 at 11:36 am

“Have seen nearly all of these performed at least once.”

That is amazing.

I have seen my daughter’s middle school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on the stage and the movie Henry V.

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64 Hazel Meade June 15, 2017 at 9:13 am

Personally I like Julius Ceasar and Richard III. (Maybe it’s because tyrants die in the end?)
Henry V is good but very overrated.
Agree that A Winter’s Tale is underrated.

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65 Ted Craig June 15, 2017 at 10:03 am

The tyrant dies in Act III of Julius Ceasar.

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66 Thor June 15, 2017 at 12:02 pm

Actually the tyrant (Octavian-Augustus) lived and ruled for 40 years, 27-14 AD, as I recall.

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67 Hazel Meade June 15, 2017 at 8:10 pm

Yeah, you’re right, but that’s part of what makes it great. They kill the tyrant, and it solves nothing, a different tyrant replaces him.

We’re doomed.

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68 Asher June 15, 2017 at 9:25 am

Don’t really agree that the Henriad is a unit.

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69 Ricardo June 15, 2017 at 11:30 am

I do… I always think of them as unified (and I would include Richard III in the unit), and always watch them that way, in order. (Plug here for the amazing BBC productions from the 1980s… paid $1000 for the DVD set 20 years ago and it was a bargain then. Now can be had much cheaper.)

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70 Thor June 15, 2017 at 11:57 am

Don’t you mean Richard II?

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71 Ricardo June 15, 2017 at 12:31 pm

I meant Richard III, who makes an early appearance in Henry IV part 3. But I do recognize the connection from Richard II to Henry IV part 1, and would have no problem including that too. (I think Richard III is enhanced by Henry IV whereas Henry IV is not particularly enhanced by Richard II.)

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72 byomtov June 16, 2017 at 1:24 pm

Henry IV is not particularly enhanced by Richard II

I think I disagree. Clearly, and necessarily, lots of the latter play’s plot evolves from the former’s.

As Richard is being taken away (Act V, Scene 1):

“Northumberland, thou ladder wherewithal
The mounting Bolingbroke ascends my throne,
The time shall not be many hours of age
More than it is ere foul sin gathering head
Shalt break into corruption: thou shalt think,
Though he divide the realm and give thee half,
It is too little, helping him to all;
And he shall think that thou, which know’st the way
To plant unrightful kings, wilt know again,
Being ne’er so little urged, another way
To pluck him headlong from the usurped throne.
The love of wicked men converts to fear;
That fear to hate, and hate turns one or both
To worthy danger and deserved death.

73 byomtov June 16, 2017 at 1:24 pm

Sorry about the formatting.

74 Edward Burke June 15, 2017 at 9:36 am

Not quibbling with the conclusion, but if in truth “Shakespeare is very likely the deepest thinker the human race has produced”, what might qualify as a small handful of the most apt syntheses of Shakespeare’s anthropological vision?

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75 Dan June 15, 2017 at 10:06 am

I would like to get this answer as well… Maybe Bloom’s Shakespeare book gives an answer if you strip back about three or four hundred pages of excess.

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76 CD June 15, 2017 at 2:51 pm

To the extent that anyone is a deep thinker you’re not gonna be able to reduce them to a quick synthesis.

Plus for an artist, if the claim is true, it has to be something you pick up in its depth and thickess through experiencing the art. What makes Shakespeare an interesting intellectual is that he doesn’t seem to have thought of himself as an intellectual (until maybe late in his life). He was an actor and entrepreneur, innovating to sell tickets.

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77 Edward Burke June 15, 2017 at 3:11 pm

Oh, I don’t know: strannikov is good for a contrarian view, at least somewhat informed (he takes pains to define “intellectual” as “one who deems hypertrophy of the mind just compensation for constipation of the soul”), and he makes a case, however well or poorly or satiric, for parking Shakespeare for at least one decade in anyone’s life who’s living in the present century:

http://fictionaut.com/stories/strannikov/anyone-but-shakespeare–2

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78 CD June 15, 2017 at 4:02 pm

Not much substance re WS in that little squib. Stannikov’s main point seems to be that other early-modern writers deserve attention too. Agreed! Speaking of Marlowe, does anyone know of a good video of Tamburlaine 1 and 2?

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79 Ted Craig June 15, 2017 at 9:38 am

Titus Andronicus is probably underrated.

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80 Les Cargill June 15, 2017 at 5:38 pm

I think so, too. I am probably biased by the (excellent) Julie Taymor 1999 “Titus” starring Anthony Hopkins.

The choreography of a Roman square at the start was alone worth the price of admission. I immediately gained an increase in understanding of the Roman army from that.

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81 James Liu June 15, 2017 at 10:09 am

I suggest the Norton edition as the set of four paperbacks. You can get all of the Henriad as a set in The Histories, and it is not awkward to carry around like the single volume anthologies are. Also, generously glossed.

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82 Ryan June 15, 2017 at 11:24 am

Great list. You should have listed Richard II as part of the Henriad, it begins the tetrology. Strongly agree that Winter’s Tale (especially), Troilus and Cressida, Coriolanus, and Cymbeline are underrated. The hilariousness of Cymbeline as a Shakespearean self-parody cannot be fully appreciated without knowing his other works well. Agree on Merry Wives of Windsor, but seeing it performed I realized it is an early sitcom (not that that recommends it), and so is yet another genre predicted by Shakespeare .

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83 Techy June 15, 2017 at 11:36 am

I worked for a Shakespearean theater company for six years and since someone asked here are my comments on the list:

1) The Tempest has a lot of good individual scenes but the fact that Prospero has sooo many monologues and vastly more power than anyone else makes it very difficult to build real drama and pace in the performances. The popularity of Patrick Stewart’s tour as Prospero has given a lot of people the idea that this is an entertaining play when it is very often dull and long on stage. The real drama of the script is entirely what happens within the mind and heart of Prospero and anything less than an A+ performance in the lead will have a lot of audiences sleeping by Act IV.

2) Antony and Cleopatra is a better love story and more realistic, mature view of adult love (both a human weakness and blessing) and sex than the many plays with young lovers. It has under-rated moments of comedy and action and performs very well. It is little quoted and not read by school children but is a better play than some of the more popular love plays.

3) Troilus and Cressida is much funnier and nihilistic on stage than on the page. Better than most people think.

4) Macbeth is almost universally misunderstood and mis-performed. Potentially the best or nearly the best of all Shakespeare’s plays but few productions seem to play Macbeth as a veteran of a long war. Actors seem to think he’s afraid to kill Duncan because he fears violence or the war to follow. in fact he is numb to violence and war; he fears what the deed will do to himself (recently returned from a gory war) and his wife (who has never seen killing before). This play seems to resonate very strongly with war veterans and not as much with theater-lovers.

5) True bardolators make a point of seeing even the lesser plays like Timon of Athens in order to be completists. Even amongst the most dedicated Shakespeareans I know if no one who actually enjoys or wants to re-watch Timon. People seem to resist the notion that the great Shakespeare wrote anything bad, but he did.

6) Measure for Measure is a meta-play; the Duke is trying to stage life as if directing a play to ‘make his point’ and proof his genius to the audience. This play is best seen as an exploration of how self-interested directors strangle the life from good writing by trying to fit it into their pre-conceptions. Almost universally loved by theater people and often leaves audiences cold.

7) King John is a flawed play but the, “Grief fills up this empty room,” monologue leaves audiences in tears even when the rest of the play is mediocre.

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84 Thor June 15, 2017 at 11:56 am

Good points. A and C also has some of most profoundly luxurious poetic language ever composed.

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85 bill benzon June 15, 2017 at 12:27 pm

Agreed on Antony and Cleopatra. A wonderful play.

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86 byomtov June 15, 2017 at 8:03 pm

I saw the recent version of The Tempest that included magic devised by Teller, of Penn and Teller. Wondrously done and no, the magic didn’t detract from the rest.

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87 mkt42 June 15, 2017 at 8:12 pm

I had not heard about Teller’s staging of “The Tempest”, sorry that I missed it!

Several years ago I did see his “Macbeth” and I thought it was quite good. He refrained from doing anything fancy with say moving woods but he did do two notable tricks: he had a large mirror on stage (I have read that they are a no-no because audience members who are sitting at an odd angle will see reflections from the wings or ceiling or wherever). But at least from where I was sitting the reflection in the mirror was what the audience would want to see.

And yes he did have a floating dagger that Macbeth attempted to grab.

This was at the Folger Shakespeare Library in DC.

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88 Thor June 15, 2017 at 11:52 am

“Shakespeare is very likely the deepest thinker the human race has produced.”

Is what Shakespeare did, thinking?

As admirable as his insights are, one is tempted to say, “that’s not thinking, that’s writing.”

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89 Les Cargill June 15, 2017 at 5:42 pm

A friend posted a link to a video of a performance of King Lear, Act 1, scene 1 and I knew exactly what was meant by the posting. It’s a timeless catalog of human behavior.

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90 anon June 15, 2017 at 12:08 pm

And a great place to see Shakespeare in Virginia is at the American Shakespeare Center at Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, VA.

http://www.americanshakespearecenter.com/

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91 mkt42 June 15, 2017 at 3:43 pm

Yes! I’ve seen only one performance there (Henry IV Part 2) but it was one of the best theatrical experiences that I’ve had.

It’s surely the case that not all of their performances are as good as that one, but if the one that I saw is remotely representative, that is indeed a great place to see Shakespeare.

The theater is small (not tiny but small) and they use every trick in the book to make the audience feel physically close and involved with the action on stage. They put about a dozen chairs on the stage and had a sort of lottery to see which audience members get to sit in those chairs. The concession stand before the performance and during intermission was right on the stage so you literally walked onto the stage to get your wine or scone. There were musicians performing on the stage (though not during the performance itself but IIRC they did play some incidental music during the performance) and a green show (green shows seem to be becoming more common in recent years; I’d never even heard of them until maybe 15 years ago).

All of that is useless if the performances are not good of course. But they were very good.

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92 Peter Akuleyev June 15, 2017 at 12:13 pm

“Shakespeare is very likely the deepest thinker the human race has produced”

That is a patently absurd statement. The list of deeper thinkers starts with obvious candidates like Plato, Newton, Einstein, and goes on and on. Shakespeare was not a thinker, his gift was to be a great writer and most of all a great synthesizer. Shakespeare was one of the first talented writers to come from a lower middle class background but with the access, intelligence and education to understand classic Roman and Greek literature and aristocratic culture. He lived in a dynamic society that had been a cultural backwater but was increasingly wealthy and greedily absorbing knowledge from a rapidly expanding world. I don’t know if Shakespeare was a “deeper thinker” than Moliere but Shakespeare was not as shackled by court conventions or expectations. He played to the crowd and threw everything he could find into the mix – classical stories, norse folklore, the jokes he would have heard from farmers and tradesmen growing up, recent history, sailors’ yarns recounted in taverns, bawdy brothel songs, etc. Shakespeare survives because he threw so much of the spectrum of life into his work that even now we can find characters and situations we identify with. His work feels real in a way that most of the mannered and stylized works of his era or later do not. There is probably one other writer of the time who was as open to life and human nature in all its facets and that would be Cervantes.

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93 Gimlet June 15, 2017 at 12:50 pm

Getting into possible co-authorship, I found this book hypothesizing Neville as the main contributor quite interesting: https://smile.amazon.com/Truth-Will-Out-Unmasking-Shakespeare/dp/006114648X/ref=sr_1_11?ie=UTF8&qid=1497545129&sr=8-11&keywords=the+real+shakespeare

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94 PuerAzaelis June 15, 2017 at 1:09 pm

Overrated … Macbeth?!?!?!?!?!?!?

Splutter, gasp, gag, choke … splutter …

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95 Matt Nolan June 15, 2017 at 4:58 pm

I think this is a bit rough on Two Gentlemen of Verona. The play has a reputation for being fairly basic, and the ending is both nonsensical and out of place – doing everything it can to squeeze a happy ending out of a bad situation. But I’ve always felt that this involves misreading the ending, and so the whole play.

Valentine is a cookie-cutter definition of the “virtuous man” and the entire play essentially has his life falling apart. After things have hit their worst our sensibilities would tell us that someone who has lived a good life should experience good fortune – and on the face of it this is what the ending does. But the ending is so bad that it stretches credibility – instead of it being what actually occurred I see it as the fantasy of an exiled Valentine whose life has fallen apart, and that there is no real happy ending.

The idea that someone could be virtuous and end up experiencing such misfortune is a powerful one in a place and time where the outcomes you experience (the way you look, your wealth) were seen as a product of the pureness of your soul – but this is exactly what the play tells us.

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96 Jeff Vogel June 15, 2017 at 6:23 pm

Consider my clicks baited and my jimmies rustled.

Any Shakespeare Power Ranking list that puts Henry VI 1-3 and Henry IV 2 at the top is dumb.

Merry Wives and Titus are weirdly entertaining. Wives is one of the few comedies that is genuinely laugh out loud funny, and the utterly bonkers bloodbath of Titus makes it a fun watch.

On the other hand, Midsummer’s should be that high. I’ve long ago lost track of how many times I’ve seen it, and it’s always wildly different, and I always love it. I want to promote it to Genuinely Great.

Finally, it is impossible to overrate Macbeth.

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97 byomtov June 15, 2017 at 7:57 pm

The Tempest and As You Like It are underrated here. Rosalind is one of Shakespeare’s greatest characters. I do agree that A Winter’s Tale should be better known and I’d move Midsummer Night’s Dream down a bit.

It’s not clear to me what Tyler means by “overrated” in the case of Julius Caesar and Macbeth, but I’d put them significantly higher.

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98 efim polenov June 15, 2017 at 11:46 pm

“As you like it” : Rosalind is underrated as a character because we have had so many female geniuses since Shakespeare creating female characters (Austen, Undset, the Brontes, Emily Dickinson, etc.) Creating an actual female character like Rosalind in the 1590s is comparable to Titian, a long generation earlier, having put measurably accurate yellowstone or yosemite views in the background landscapes of his greater Biblical or Mythological paintings. “Merchant of Venice”: underrated, as Harold Goddard explained, because readers do not realize that it is an indictment of thuggish Venetians who grind down anyone they want, because they can; and that it is clearly not a bigoted criticism as such of a non-Christian religion. “Hamlet” – overrated if considered a play about “Hamlet”, a fairly clueless and pampered o.o.s. rich guy whose mind was unbalanced by too much reading of Montaigne, in the larger context of his desperately poetic but nevertheless astounding – for the first 4 acts, anyway – lack of desire to understand human empathy. (Notice how he thinks about the minor characters, that is, to him, every character who is not himself….) The play “Hamlet”, otoh, is underrated when the theme of friendship (Stoppard knew this) and the theme of normal human affection are not improperly discounted. And it was one of the first works of literature to accurately, without flattery of the rich, condemn over-intellectualization among the elites, so there’s that. “The sonnets”: Sadly, Shakespeare, unlike Raphael, Titian, Veronese, Da Vinci, and Michelangelo, did not have the luxury of being (to a certain point, more or less) “surrounded” by similarly enthusiastic art-workers, so it must have been hard on him to know that of the 30 best plays of his day he was the guy who was going to write 1 through 25. Hence the shout-outs to Marlowe, Middleton, Jonson, and Fletcher, who according to Saintsbury wrote 26 though 30 (roughly speaking, The Faithful Shepherdess,the Changeling, either Volpone or some other Jonson play, depending which one one finds least annoying, Faust, and another one that I am forgetting…)

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99 efim polenov June 15, 2017 at 11:51 pm

Byomtov – sorry that was not meant (at 11:46) to be a reply but a new comment – in reply to your 7:57 comment – I agree that the Tempest and As You Like It are underrated by Tyler, as are Julius Ceasar and Macbeth, but Midsummer Night’s Dream is my favorite play by anybody ever.

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100 Rafael R June 16, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Shakespeare is very likely the deepest thinker the human race has produced, so these are worth careful study!”, please, can you be more ethnocentric? He is just some writer that has been very influential for the English. In my country I never heard of him until I saw citations of him in some American media products.

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101 AnthonyB June 16, 2017 at 10:09 am

Cranky people like me appreciate Timon of Athens, and cranky person Wyndham Lewis did a nice set of illustrations for it. Seeing it on stage (Chicago Shakespeare Theater a few years ago) was all I had hoped and more.

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102 Jack Cav June 16, 2017 at 3:08 pm

titus rules…

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