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Thread: Rank Shakespeare's plays

  1. #1
    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    Rank Shakespeare's plays

    Here's a party game you might like to try. Rank Shakespeare's plays in order of importance/interest/artistic success.

    I can't do it in detail but to start off, here are my rankings as Top, Middle, Bottom and Beneath Bottom. Any comments? Have I missed any out?

    Top Third
    Anthony and Cleopatra
    Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, Lear,
    Coriolanus
    Henry IV Parts 1 & 2
    Tempest, Winterís Tale, Midsummer Nightís Dream
    Twelfth Night
    As You Like It

    Middle Third
    Richard II & III
    Henry V
    Measure for Measure, Much Ado About Nothing, All Wellís That Ends Well
    Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar
    Troilus and Cressida

    Bottom Third
    Henry VI Parts 1,2 & 3
    Henry VIII
    King John
    Cymbeline, Pericles,. Timon of Athens
    Taming of the Shrew, Loveís Labourís Lost, Comedy of Errors, Merry Wives of Windsor

    Rock Bottom, although I havenít read them recently
    Two Gentlemen of Verona, Titus Andronicus
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    Maybe YesNo's Avatar
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    I would rank Midsummer Night's Dream as the best. I wouldn't mind seeing it again as a live performance, but I have not seen most of these plays even as videos. Titus Andronicus grossed me out, so I agree with your rock bottom ranking on that one.

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    Registered User Clopin's Avatar
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    Come on, Titus Andronicus is pretty good.
    So with the courage of a clown, or a cur, or a kite jerkin tight at it's tether

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    Maybe YesNo's Avatar
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    I prefer the comedies, but I can see how the story was entertaining if a bit gross. I saw the version with Anthony Hopkins in it. I can still remember Titus telling his daughter's assailants as they hung upside down, "Gentlemen, prepare your necks."

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    I suppose Midsummer Night's Dream is my favourite honestly, but that sounds a bit immature like saying the best bit of a meal was the chocolate ice cream rather than the first growth claret.

    I don't care too much for Hamlet (I just don't identify with the whinger) but it has to go in the top bracket.

    I'm re-reading Coriolanus at the moment and it definitely is up in the top. Any other takers?
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JonathanB View Post
    Have I missed any out?
    You forgot The Merchant of Venice.

    Here are mine:

    A/A+
    King Lear
    Henry IV Part 1
    Henry IV Part 2
    A Midsummer Nightís Dream
    Macbeth
    Hamlet
    Richard III
    Othello
    (Sonnets)

    A-
    Romeo and Juliet
    Henry V
    Julius Caesar
    The Taming of the Shrew
    Anthony and Cleopatra
    The Tempest

    B+
    Twelfth Night
    Titus Andronicus
    The Merchant of Venice
    Richard II
    Measure for Measure
    Much Ado About Nothing

    B
    As You Like It
    The Merry Wives of Windsor
    All's Well That Ends Well
    Loveís Labor's Lost
    Comedy of Errors

    B-
    Henry VI Part 1
    Henry VI Part 2
    Henry VI Part 3
    Two Gentlemen of Verona
    Henry VIII

    Incomplete (haven't read 'em)
    King John
    The Winter's Tale
    Coriolanus
    Pericles
    Cymbeline
    Troilus and Cressida
    Timon of Athens
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; 02-16-2015 at 08:19 AM.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

  7. #7
    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    I'm reading Coriolanus at the moment. Do give it a try. All the commentators say it is about politics, but for me the real tragedy is not the name part, but his mum.

    I saw a student prodcution of Winter's Tale in which a friend played Autolyclus and I was very moved by an RSC production. I re-read it last week and the loose ends were too apparent - it just isn't a realistic play. Paulina and the Old Shepherd are lovely creations: "You look on things dying, I on things new born".

    And I've just re-read Troilus and Cressida. Seriously odd, But some good quotes.
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

  8. #8
    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    The Merchant of Venice. That was silly of me since I spent the afternoon watching a performance at the Almeida in London. The conceit was to set in Los Vegas, with Gobbo as an Elvis impersonator and Portia's caskets a TV game show. Very funny at times, but I found it depressing. That's probably me rather than them.

    Probably in the top bracket.

    Why do you rank Taming of the Shrew so high? I wasn't convinced by Katherine's taming.
    Last edited by Jackson Richardson; 02-16-2015 at 04:52 AM.
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

  9. #9
    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JonathanB View Post
    The Merchant of Venice. That was silly of me since I spent the afternoon watching a performance at the Almeida in London.
    I might have missed it, too, except that I recently read it. (I was curious after our discussion about Fagin on another thread). I found its poetry better than its plot. Sometimes Shakespeare liked to defy expectations about the form he was using (Measure for Measure a comedy?--poor Pompey Bum! He had an uphill climb!) This risk taking is more successful in some plays than others. The Merchant of Venice does work better as a comedy than Measure for Measure, but it takes itself a little too seriously, which makes Shylock an uglier character than Shakespeare may have intended. But his way with words seduces you from the first line. Despite its faults, it's a great play.

    Quote Originally Posted by JonathanB View Post
    The conceit was to set in Los Vegas, with Gobbo as an Elvis impersonator and Portia's caskets a TV game show. Very funny at times, but I found it depressing. That's probably me rather than them.
    Oh I dispise modern dress Shakespeare. It's one of the reasons I like to read the plays so much: I don't have to contend with some directors post-modern vision or an attempt to ramp/camp up the comedy. The Merchant of Venice is just not that funny a play. It's not a romp. It's best to face that fact and play to the work's strength, which is its gloriously rich language. Elvis imitators may or may not have their place in the overall scheme of things. But for me, Shakespearean drama is not it.

    Quote Originally Posted by JonathanB View Post
    Why do you rank Tamin of the Shrew so high? I wasn't convinced by Katherine's taming.
    You know, it's for a related reason. I find The Taming of the Shrew side-splittingly and endearingly funny, especially Kate's appallingly sexist "taming," precisely because it is so unbelievable and absurd. The scene where Petruchio tries to drive her nuts is something from Monty Python. Its divorce from reality, delivered straight faced, just makes it funnier and funnier. Obviously it's not as great a comedy as A Midsummer's Night Dream (in which the wit has a more range--from girl-fighting, to intellectual snobbery, to genuine sweetness), but some of the scenes are just as funny, which is saying a lot. It's also a sexy play. It is a romp. But its comedy is a bit simplistic, too. I can see where it would be easy to make a really bad production of The Taming of the Shrew. The only one I ever saw, though, was brilliant. Kate knew just what she was doing, and she ended up loving Petruchio not because she had been "tamed" but because they were two peas in a pod--the only ones who could ever love (or even put up with) one another. The Taming of the Shrew is not a subtle play, but in its own way, it has a sweet side, too.
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; 02-15-2015 at 09:05 PM.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

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    I'll play! I like Pompey's idea of using grades. But my school won't be on the plus and minus system:

    A

    Macbeth
    Hamlet
    King Lear
    The Tempest
    Romeo and Juliet
    Twelfth Night
    The Winter's Tale
    1 Henry IV
    A Midsummer Night's Dream
    As You Like It

    B

    Antony & Cleopatra
    Othello
    2 Henry IV
    Cymbeline
    Henry V
    The Merchant of Venice
    Measure for Measure

    C

    Pericles, Prince of Tyre
    Much Ado About Nothing
    All's Well that Ends Well
    The Merry Wives of Windsor
    King John
    Richard III
    Troilus and Cressida
    Coriolanus
    Richard II

    D

    The Taming of the Shrew
    III Henry VI
    Love's Labours Lost
    The Two Gentlemen of Verona

    F

    II Henry VI
    The Comedy of Errors
    I Henry VI

    Haven't read:

    Titus Andronicus, Henry VIII, The Two Noble Kinsmen, or Timon of Athens. I was, frankly, sick of Shakespeare after reading them all consecutively in a couple of months. I'll probably only ever revisit the A's.

  11. #11
    Registered User Calidore's Avatar
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    Wow, people really don't seem to like the Henry VI and VIII plays at all. As someone who's not familiar with them, what's wrong with them?
    You must be the change you wish to see in the world. -- Mahatma Gandhi

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    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
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    He was (probably) too young when he did the Henry VI plays and too old when he did Henry VIII. He may not have been the sole author of those plays, although opinions differ.
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; 02-16-2015 at 08:21 AM.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    Oh, I like Henry VI Pts 1,2 & 3. I read them recently and I've even seen them on the small stage of the Young Vic. (This was a marathon of all the histories from R2 to R3) at the Barbican and the Young Vic.)

    I even prefer them to Richard III.

    But if they were typical of Shakespeare, he would not be admired as he is.

    I'll report back on Henry VIII when I've read it.
    Last edited by Jackson Richardson; 02-16-2015 at 04:56 AM.
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

  14. #14
    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    PS. Last Saturday at the Almeida, I probably lost some of the nuances due to my unfamiliarity with the late Mr Presley's repertoire. Henry IV at the Barbican recently was clothed traditionally to the extent of Anthony Sher as Falstaff with cushions. You'd have liked that.
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
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    It's wonderful that you have access to so much live Shakespeare, Jonathan. I used to when I was in college, but unfortunately, that was before Shakespeare's time.

    I'm inclined to agree with you about Hamlet, by the way. It's certainly one of the greatest plays in literature, but in my opinion, its automatic assignment to the top of the Shakespearean heap has become a little too--automatic? King Lear, Macbeth, and Othello are more visceral plays (Hamlet is so damned heady). The Henry the Fourths appear more recognizably human to me. In some ways, Hamlet seems like an exposition about what it means to be a man (by which I mean an adult male, not just a human being). Several versions of manhood are critiqued in the ideal, and eventually, after a bit of bloodletting, Hamlet embraces his own noble but tragic destiny. In Henry IV, Prince Hal is just as troubled a figure as Hamlet, but he's not nearly as good. His "noble destiny" as Henry V is a sham and he knows it. On the eve of Agincourt (in Henry V), when he famously prays for his troops, he is still begging God to forgive his father for usurping the throne. In Henry IV Part 2, Hal is not choosing between ideals. He is betraying his lowlife friends because it turns out to be more important for him to embrace the lie than to wallow in the truth. In Henry V, he even hangs some of them. The price he (and they) pay, it seems to me, is more applicable to human experience than Hamlet's slow expiration in Horatio's arms. We all live like Prince Hal to some extent. How many of us die like Hamlet?
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; 02-16-2015 at 09:52 AM.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

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