Top 10 Shakespeare Plays
No doubt every Shakespeare fan has his or her own short list of the Bard's greatest works. Although each play is a treasure that I have enjoyed more than once, I have whittled down my list of favorites to the following ten. For extensive resources just click on the play name.
Since its first recorded production, Hamlet has engrossed playgoers, thrilled readers, and challenged even the most gifted actors. No other single work of fiction has produced more commonly used expressions. If you are sure in your heart of hearts that every dog will have his day, you are echoing the philosopher-prince.
Each time I read this whirlwind tale of murder, betrayal, and lusty ambition, I find an even greater appreciation for Shakespeare's unsurpassed ability to tell a riveting story with transcendent poetic imagery. In our modern history of tragic theatre, Macbeth has no equal.
3. Julius Caesar
Although there were earlier Elizabethan plays on the subject of Julius Caesar and his turbulent rule, Shakespeare's penetrating study of political life in ancient Rome is the only version to recount the demise of Brutus and the other conspirators.
4. The Tempest
Hailed as a stunning climax to the career of England’s favorite dramatist, The Tempest is a play praising the glories of reconciliation and forgiveness. Some believe that Prospero’s final speeches signify Shakespeare’s personal adieu from the stage.
5. 1 Henry IV
Many believe 1 Henry IV to be Shakespeare's greatest history play. The unforgettable characters Hotspur, Prince Hal, King Henry, and the jovial John Falstaff affirm John Dryden's assertion that Shakespeare was "the man who of all modern, and perhaps ancient poets, had the largest and most comprehensive soul."
6. King Lear
Despite the relatively simple primary plot -- an aging monarch who decides to divide his kingdom amongst his three daughters -- King Lear is the most complex and analytical of all Shakespeare's great tragedies. The play is an efficacious exploration of the boundlessness of evil, suffering, and love.
7. Romeo and Juliet
Celebrated for the radiance of its lyric poetry, Romeo and Juliet was tremendously popular from its first performance. The sweet whispers shared by young Tudor lovers throughout the realm were often referred to as "naught but pure Romeo and Juliet."
8. King John
In the shadow of Shakespeare’s second tetralogy of history plays lies this neglected masterpiece. The play is cursed with the egregious reputation of being Shakespeare’s great artistic failure. Never has a work so remarkable been so consistently underrated. With its vigorous plot, immortal verse, and subtle combination of Tudor and Machiavellian theories on kingship, King John is worthy of rediscovery.
9. Much Ado About Nothing
The happy conclusion of Much Ado About Nothing is the reason we classify the play as a comedy. However, the true humor in the drama is left to the remarkable collection of supporting characters who dazzle us with wit and confound us with absurdity.
10. The Winter's Tale
The Winter's Tale is considered a romantic comedy, but tragic elements are interwoven throughout the play. First produced at the Globe around 1610, it is one of Shakespeare's final plays. For a first-hand account of the staging of The Winter's Tale in Shakespeare's London, please click here.
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