Ooooo, blog High Fidelity has a post on Top Five Favorite Shakespeare Plays, so you just know I'm gonna play. I don't really like to do the favorite thing, since it's not like most people read every single play equally (myself included), but it's fun to play.
5) Much Ado About Nothing - I really used to love Midsummer, but it just gets performed so frickin much, I'm sick of it. Much Ado doesn't really have any depth to it (I mean, come on, the worst the villain can do is ruin a wedding?) but Beatrice / Benedick make good characters. Quite frankly most of the other comedies are barely on the radar compared to these more well established ones.
4)Macbeth - I'm tempted to rate this higher but I couldn't decide what to bump. Outstanding ghost story, one of the best jobs Shakespeare did of setting the mood. And perhaps the best ending for any of his tragic heroes. The entire final act plays out like an action movie. I sit through the entire show just to get to Macbeth's "I shall not yield" speech. That can carry the whole thing for me. Great stuff.
3) Tempest - I'll admit that I don't understand aspects of this play to nearly the extent that I do with some of the others. I like this one because it is a nice happy ending fairy tale that I could (and have) read to my kids. I like the whole "stranded on a deserted island over which I am lord and master" thing that Prospero brings to the stage. Just how much of the action did he control? Did he know Ferdinand was on the ship, and did he basically manipulate his daughter into falling in love with him? Or was he playing it by ear, interested more in dispatching his enemies, until his daughter stood up to him and made him change the plan?
2) Romeo and Juliet - I put Romeo and Juliet this high not because it's the best thing Shakespeare ever wrote, but because it's the most approachable. Everybody knows this play. Pretty much everybody has something in this play that they can relate to. It's about two stupid kids (well, a stupid Romeo and a too smart for her own good Juliet) who fall in love and think that killing themselves is the only alternative to not being together. Depending on the mood you're in that's either the most romantic thing ever, or the dumbest. Either way, I appreciate any play of Shakespeare's that can put the butts in the seats.
1) Hamlet - Hey, I'm a fanboy, what can I say. Hamlet's got that great quality that (except for a handful of specific and well-known instances) you can open up to any random passage and rebuild entire story from there. Who's this guy Fortinbras and why is he in the play? Well you see, Fortinbras' dad was killed by Hamlet's dad. Even though it was a fair battle, Fortinbras is out for revenge. It's a parallel, you see, to what's going on at Elisnore where Hamlet's dad was also murdered, and Hamlet is supposed to avenge him as well. Fortinbras mobilizes an army. Hamlet...thinks about lots of stuff.
I said above that everybody can related to Romeo and Juliet (everybody was a stupid kid once, and just about everybody's done the unrequited love thing, or wished they had). Hamlet's a bit different, but not so much as you'd think. Hamlet's dad is out of the picture and he's got a stepdad that he doesn't like. That's a familiar scenario these days. What's his relationship to his parents? What's yours? What's it like to watch your mom do something that makes you just disgusted to look at her? What sort of conflict does that create inside a son?
I could go on all day.