Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Shakespeare Geek's Top 10 Shakespeare Plays

Over the years I’ve seen many Shakespeare lists.  Instead of linking to yet another one I thought it would be fun to combine several and come up with my own, the Shakespeare Geek Top 10.  This is not my opinion, this is the mathematical analysis (according to my own algorithm :)) from a variety of places, some here and some elsewhere, that people have voted on a general “top 10” for Shakespeare’s plays. 
How you define “best” is up to you and I fully expect that people use different scales all the time.  That’s why I’m looking at it statistically – if most people pick Dream as the best play, then does it really matter why they think they picked it?
Ready?
#10. The Tempest.   Maybe it’s the fascination with “Shakespeare’s last play”, maybe the fairy tale, happy ending nature of the story (I know it’s the latter that gets my vote), but I’m happy to see one of my favorites just make the top 10.
#9. Julius Caesar.  I appreciate that this is one of the great tragedies that most of us will read in high school, but I was surprised at the showing it made.  I don’t understand.  If the Twilight lady announced that she was filming a new version of Julius Caesar I’d bet you can hear the crickets chirp.
#8. A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  I know there are folks out there who will put Dream up against Hamlet as one of the best, and I have to concur.  I’ve ranted at times that I get sick of seeing it, but really, as I called it the other week after seeing a production, it’s “pretty near perfect on the page.”
#7. Richard III.  I’m not familiar enough with this one to have cast a vote on it.  Tell me why you love it?  Just the evilness of the title character, or something more?
#6. Henry V.  Do we all love it because of the Crispin’s Day speech and the Muse of Fire, or is there more to it?
#5. Romeo and Juliet.  Now we get into some of the more obvious ones, will there be any surprises in the top 5? Does Romeo and Juliet deserve a spot this high or is it just because we’re all so familiar with this high school favorite?
#4. Othello.  I’ve seen many people speak of Othello as one of the great underrated tragedies, and I have to agree.  When you really take the time to dig into it, it’s far better than the more shallow analysis might suggest.
#3. Macbeth. Glad to see the Scottish play fare so well, it’s one of my top choices. 

…and the big question *still* not answered:
#1 King Lear and Hamlet
We have a statistical tie for the #1 spot with Hamlet and King Lear both getting the exact same score!  (That just means I need more data, hint hint hint.)
Disclaimer : Only 7 of my top 10 made the final list, so I’m not skewing the results to my own personal choices.
I can’t say there are many surprises.  If I pulled it out to a top 15 we’d start to see some of the popular comedies, As You Like It, Much Ado, Twelfth Night … but at some point I run out of numbers to make a meaningful argument, too.
Disagree?  Make your own top 10 and post it in the comments!  I’d love to keep my statistics up to date and have a true and accurate top 10 list, as defined by the audience of Shakespeare geeks as a whole and not just one person’s personal opinion.  I may have even added you already, if you’ve made a list. Who knows? :)

10 comments:

Dana Huff said...

I'm not surprised at Caesar because people will tend to vote for the plays they are familiar with. That's why no Cymbeline, right? Anyway, the others are not surprises. Richard III is a great character, but so is the old queen (Margaret? It's been a while since I read it). There are some great lines, including the opening "Now is the winter of our discontent" and the famous "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse." I read Henry V, and I think if you look at it with Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, there is really interesting character development on the part of Henry V/Prince Hal. Romeo and Juliet has some gorgeous language, so I think it's place is deserved: "Come, gentle night, come, loving, black-browed night, / Give me my Romeo. And when I shall die, / Take him and cut him out in little stars, / And he will make the face of heaven so fine / That all the world will be in love with night / And pay no worship to the garish sun."

For what it's worth, my favorite play to teach is A Midsummer Night's Dream. I'm surprised to see Taming of the Shrew isn't on the list. Too misogynistic? I think you have a good list.

Stacie said...

Oh dear. You had to ask:

10. Twelfth Night
Mainly recognized as a comedy, the sub-story of Malvolio has always been interesting to me--especially considering he doesn't get the happy ending everyone else dows.

9. Julius Caesar
As you said, this one's just a classic.

8. The Winter's Tale
They're definitely not favorites, but I think The Winter's Tale and Measure for Measure show a truer vision of family and that type of love.

7. Measure for Measure

6. Much Ado About Nothing
I think love is highly romanticized, even in Shakespeare--I believe this play shows it can be vain, shallow, and easily manipulated.

5. The Taming of the Shrew
Kat might be Shakespeare's strongest women. (Ignoring the fact that she gave in and married at the end.) And this play has been modernized so many times. It might be the most influential today--next to Romeo and Juliet.

4. Richard II
Normally, I'm not a fan of the histories, but I saw this by our local Shakespeare troupe and it was amazing. Shakespeare was definitely ahead of this time with this one--and it almost got him in BIG trouble.

3. Romeo and Juliet
I have to say this one is mainly in the top for the language and poetry. It's easy to get caught up in the love story, but if you really stop and think about it, it's crazy.

2. A Midsummer Night's Dream
This was the first Shakespeare play I ever saw. It's the epitome of his Green World plays, in my opinion. Midsummer's Eve proves to be the perfect setting for the magic, mystery and mayhem that is this play. And it's all wiped away at the end, leaving only Bottom with any real idea of what has passed.
Not to mention, Puck's closing speech is amazing.

1. Hamlet
For me, Hamlet is absolutely the best play ever written. Like Romeo and Juliet, it mixes comedy, romance, and tragedy--but on a much larger scale. There is, of course, much more happening here, but I always gush when talking about Hamlet.
It was always fabulous to read, but seeing it live made a HUGE difference.


So, that's my list, after really looking at all of them, not just picking my favorites. ;)

Steve Roth said...

I'm kind of amazed that you didn't mention Measure. My #2 favorite, hands-down. Sex, power, death, decadence, and Shakespeare. What more do you need?

michael5000 said...

Not QUITE the same thing, but I did some number-crunching to generate the most "prominent" and most obscure 10 plays. It's a three-part post starting here: http://shakespeare5000.blogspot.com/2009/09/shakespeare-plays-prominent-and-obscure_04.html

Emsworth said...

Couldn't resist either.

10. Measure for Measure.Gratifyingly earthy, and Angelo is one of my favorite villains. The glorious cameo role of Barnardine, the reprobate who successfully insists that he's too drunk to be executed.
9. The Merchant of Venice. The first Shakespeare I ever read, and still a favorite, even though I still haven't seen a good production. Who can resist the trial scene and the "In such a night" duet of Lorenzo and Jessica?
8. Troilus and Cressida. What better metaphor for our own times than the tale of these Greeks lost in sensuality and relativism who've lost the sense of what they're fighting for or why it makes any difference which side they're on?
7. Henry IV, Part 1. The play that gives the best sense of England in the Bard's own day. Prince Hal's slumming with Falstaff is great fun, and the apparently accurate portrayal of Falstaff's manning his regiment with unarmed peasants for use as cannon fodder is sobering.
6. Othello. So many Shakespeare plays revolve around characters like Iago who control and manipulate people around them that the playwright must have had recurring fantasies of having godlike control over his fellow humans. The ending has unparalleled visceral impact.
5. The Tempest. Gonzalo is a hero to all bibliophiles because he made sure the castaway Prospero was supplied not only with food and clothes, but with books: "Knowing I lov'd my books, he furnish'd me/From mine own library with volumes that/I prize above my dukedom."
4. Hamlet. For all the usual reasons. And the comic relief -- Polonius, the traveling players, the gravediggers -- always comes just when the play needs it the most.
3. Twelfth Night. Viola is the last in a long list of female fictional characters I've had a crush on since I was a boy. Feste's my favorite Shakespeare fool.
2. Julius Caesar. The best story, as a story, in any Shakespeare play. So many delicious scenes: Cassius's courting of Brutus, the assassination of the tyrant Caesar, the "Friends, Romans, countrymen" speech, the exquisite quarrel between Brutus and Cassius -- and especially the cameo appearance of the unfortunate Cinna the poet. "Tear him for his bad verses!"
1. King Lear. I identify in an alarming way with Lear, with his monumental mistakes of judgment, his difficulty in swallowing his pride, his instinct for grand, dramatic gestures. Just when his heart is breaking the most, Lear has the presence of mind to address "Poor Tom" with a self-deprecating witticism: "Didst thou give all to thy two daughters?"

Anonymous said...

10) Julius Ceaser

9)The Taming of a Shrew

8)Twelfth Night

7)Othello

6)The Tempest

5)Henry V

4)Macbeth

3)Romeo and Juliet

2)Richard III

1)The Merchant of Venice

Anonymous said...

1. Othello
2. Macbeth
3. A Midsummer Night's Dream
4. Twelfth Night
5. Henry VIII
6. Hamlet
7. King Lear
8. The Tempest
9. Romeo and Juliet
10. Julius Caesar

Duane said...

I know this is an old post and many folks may not see it, but I'd like to point out that this most recent Anonymous commenter has apparently put Henry VIII on the list. Not IV, V or VI. VIII. Never thought I'd see that.

If you're still listening, oh poster of that, want to tell us more about that choice?

saramarie08 said...

These just seem to be what people read in school, or maybe the school chooses them because they're good? I am personally NOT a fan of Caesar. It's eloquent, and there are some great moments, but it's a lot of sitting around and talking, and that's it. Everything takes so much time... But I agree with Dana Huff. If it's not played very frequently, it's not popular, so it's not read because it's not popular, so it's not popular because nobody plays or reads it.

Dani Byrnes said...

I am actually really surprised that MacBeth isn't at a higher place, which it deserves to be. MacBeth is an amazing play about jealousy, betrayal, anger, guilt, and many more emotions that people these days need to learn to control. MacBeth is a thrilling play about murder and treason and how Lady MacBeth put peer pressure on MacBeth to kill king Duncan. I honestly think that MacBeth is one of Shakespeare's best plays. You can see and feel the life for MacBeth, Banquo, MacDuff, Angus, and many more genius characters that Shakespeare created! Bravo Shakespeare, and thank you for creating MacBeth!