There’s many reasons why people can claim that Shakespeare is hard to understand. First, there’s vocabulary. It’s not really as bad as people make it out to be, but some plays certainly make heavier use of archaic/obsolete words than others. Expressions that no longer have context, on the other hand, are a big problem. Jokes that would have gone over huge with Shakespeare’s crowd that no longer make sense without a little training. That’s a problem.
And then there’s all the offstage stuff that happens. When somebody walks on stage and explains about a war that’s going on, dropping names left and right about who did what to do, it’s easy for a modern user to get lost because they didn’t see it. They don’t know who those people are.
With that in mind I ask, what’s the easiest play? You can define it however you like (given the rough framework I provided), but I’m not just looking for most popular. You might think Lear is easy, from certain angles. It’s deep, absolutely. But hard to follow? I don’t know about that.
I’m wondering which of the plays have all the action taking place on stage (so there’s no need to exposition about what we can’t see), while relying on relatively simple vocabulary that a modern audience could easily follow.
Motivation : Whenever I make my wife come see Shakespeare with me, and she brings a friend along for company, I typically explain the plot of the show before we go so they’re not lost. At intermission I refresh the details of the story now that they’ve seen some characters, and answer any questions. Inevitably at the end they’ll say, “I did understand it – but thanks to what you told us in the beginning. I’m not sure I would have followed it without that.” I’m wondering what the best candidates are for a play that they would be most likely to follow, without me having to walk them through it. I think that creates a barrier to truly feeling like you’re enjoying the work, if you need a middle man to translate for you.