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William Shakespeare




Top 10 Best Shakespeare Plays



The Winter's Tale

Originally classified as a comedy, The Winter's Tale is now generally considered a romance by Shakespeare historians. The story of the play is taken from Robert Greene's Pleasant History of Dorastus and Fawnia, which was published in 1588. It consists of two highly contrasted halves, the first mostly tragic, the second almost purely comedic. William Watkiss Lloyd writes, "Such a division in the abstract appears like an experiment and a dangerous one; it is rare, if not unprecedented in any art, to find an effective whole resulting from the blank opposition of two precisely counter-balanced halves when not united by common reference to some third magnitude ... but it holds on without crack or fracture to the perfect and rounded conclusion." In spite of its eccentric nature, The Winter's Tale has remained popular with audiences for many years and is often revived by leading theatre practitioners.


Much Ado About Nothing

The main plot in Much Ado About Nothing is the same as the story of Ariodante and Ginevra in Ariosto; but the secondary circumstances and development are very different. The mode in which the innocent Hero before the altar at the moment of the wedding, and in the presence of her family and many witnesses, is put to shame by the most degrading charge, false indeed, yet clothed with every appearance of truth, is a grand piece of theatrical effect in the true and justifiable sense. The villain Don John flies from Messina, and his guilt is brought to light by two watchmen who overhear the drunken garrulity of Borachio. Shakespeare's brilliant deviation from the original story enriches the stage with the presence of Dogberry and Verges. But it is neither in the management of the plot, which he derived from the Italian novel, nor in the delineation of its necessary characters, that the merit of this elegant comedy is comprised. Benedick and Beatrice constitute its real claim to fame. Scarcely in any way connected with the main incident, and in no shape existing in the original, they form the peculiar charm of the play. They are alike in disposition and mind, and that very similarity is ingeniously made the foundation of an avowed hostility between them which expresses itself in agreeable yet pointed raillery. It is Shakespeare's particular genius that he resolved to marry these two delightful combatants.


A Midsummer Night's Dream

In A Midsummer Night's Dream, there flows a luxuriant vein of the noblest and most fantastical invention; the most extraordinary combination of very dissimilar ingredients seems to have come together without effort by some ingenious and lucky accident, and the colors are of such clear transparency that we think the whole of the variegated fabric may be blown away with a breath. The fairy world here described resembles those elegant pieces of arabesque, where little genii with butterfly wings rise, half embodied, above the flower-cups. Twilight, moonshine, dew and spring perfumes are the element of these tender spirits; they assist nature in embroidering her carpet with green leaves, many-colored flowers and glittering insects; in the human world they do but make sport childishly and waywardly with their beneficent or noxious influences. Their most violent rage dissolves in good-natured raillery; their passions, stripped of all earthly matter, are merely an ideal dream. To correspond with this, the love of mortals is painted as a poetical enchantment which, by a contrary enchantment, may be immediately suspended and then renewed again. The different parts of the plot; the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta, Oberon and Titania's quarrel, the flight of the two pair of lovers, and the theatrical manœuvres of the mechanics, are so lightly and happily interwoven that they seem necessary to each other for the formation of the whole.


Romeo and Juliet

Between tragedy and comedy the transition is often blurred, and, in this sense, Romeo and Juliet differs little from most of Shakespeare's comedies in its ingredients and treatment. It is simply the direction of the whole that gives it the stamp of tragedy. The play is a picture of love and its pitiable fate in a world whose atmosphere is too sharp for this, the tenderest blossom of human life. Two beings created for each other feel mutual love at the first glance; every consideration disappears before the irresistable impulse to live for one another; under circumstances hostile in the highest degree to their union, they unite themselves by a secret marriage, relying simply on the protection of an invisible power. Untoward incidents following in rapid succession, their heroic constancy is within a few days put to the proof, till, forcibly separated from each other, by a voluntary death they are united in the grave to meet again in another world. Shakespeare's story of "star-cross'd lovers" has become so popular that even the names of his two protagonists have become symbolic of young lovers everywhere.


Twelfth Night, or What You Will

Viola, fair and youthful, separated, she fears forever, from her twin-brother Sebastian in a shipwreck, is cast on the coast of Illyria, and assuming the costume of a page and the name "Cesario", takes service with the Duke Orsino. Orsino has convinced himself that he is in love with the bereaved Lady Olivia, whose father and brother have recently died, and who will have nothing to do with any suitors, the Duke included. Orsino decides to use "Cesario" as an intermediary to tell Olivia about his love for her. Olivia, believing Viola to be a man, falls in love with this handsome and eloquent messenger. Viola, in turn, has fallen in love with the Duke, who also believes Viola is a man, and who regards her as his confidant. Much of the play is taken up with the comic subplot, in which several characters conspire to make Olivia's pompous head steward, Malvolio, believe that his lady Olivia wishes to marry him. Induced to behave in the most ridiculous manner, Malvolio is eventually locked in a dark cellar (a common "treatment" for the mentally ill in those days) and visited (in disguise) by his tormentors who mock him mercilessly. Twelfth Night ends happily with the arrival of Sebastian, Viola's brother, and all the lovers are, in the end, united with a willing partner.


Othello, the Moor of Venice

Believed to have been written in approximately 1603, and based on the Italian short story "Un Capitano Moro" ("A Moorish Captain") by Cinthio, Othello, the Moor of Venice is one of Shakespeare's most produced plays. It tells the story of Desdemona, only daughter of a Venetian senator, who falls in love with the black Moor, Othello, and marries against her father's wishes. The jealous Iago, perhaps the greatest villain in all of Shakespeare's works, devises a plot to destroy Othello. He plants seeds of doubt in the Moor's mind regarding Desdemona's faithfulness and orchestrates the eventual "discovery" of her infideltiy. In a fit of rage, Othello murders his faithful wife. Because of its varied and current themes of racism, love, jealousy, and betrayal, Othello is still often performed in professional and community theatres alike and has been the basis for numerous operatic, film, and literary adaptations.


The Tempest

Set on a remote island, The Tempest tells the story of Prospero, the exiled Duke of Milan, who plots to restore his daughter Miranda to her rightful place, using illusion and skillful manipulation. He conjures up a storm, the eponymous tempest, to lure to the island his usurping brother Antonio and the complicit Alonso, King of Naples. There, his machinations bring about the revelation of Antonio's low nature, the redemption of Alonso, and the marriage of Miranda to Alonso's son, Ferdinand. Boasting a rich cast of characters, including the monster Caliban, The Tempest did not enjoy its greatest popularity until the twentieth century when critics and scholars undertook a significant re-appraisal of the play's value, to the extent that it is now considered to be one of Shakespeare's greatest works. It has been aptly described by Warburton as one of "the noblest efforts of that sublime and amazing imagination, peculiar to Shakespeare, which soars above the Bounds of Nature."



Macbeth is, from a tragic standpoint, perhaps the most sublime and the most impressive of Shakespeare's tragedies. Nothing so terrible has been written since the Eumenides of Aeschylus, and nothing in dramatic literature--not even the slaying of Agamemnon--is depicted with such awesome intensity as the murder of Duncan.
The witches, ignoble and vulgar instruments of hell, tempt Macbeth and his wife with the promise of political power, spurring them to assassinate Duncan, king of Scotland. Lady Macbeth, who of all the human participants in the king's murder is the most guilty, is thrown by the terrors of her conscience into a state of incurable bodily and mental disease, while Macbeth himself is hunted down by the inevitable forces of justice. And yet, in Macbeth, Shakespeare strives to exhibit an ambitious but noble hero, yielding to a deep-laid hellish temptation, in whom all the crimes to which, in order to secure the fruits of his first crime, he is impelled by necessity, cannot altogether eradicate the stamp of native heroism. Over the centuries, the roles of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have attracted many great actors, and it has been adapted to film, television, opera, novels, and even comic books. In the backstage world of theatre, some believe the play to be cursed and superstitiously refuse to utter its name aloud, calling it, instead, "the Scottish play".


King Lear

In King Lear, Shakespeare depicts a fall from the highest elevation into the deepest abyss of misery, where humanity is stripped of all external and internal advantages, and given up a prey to naked helplessness. The threefold dignity of a king, an old man, and a father, is dishonored by the cruel ingratitude of his unnatural daughters; the old king, who out of a foolish tenderness has given away everything, is driven out into the world a homeless beggar; the childish imbecility to which he was fast advancing changes into the wildest insanity, and when he is rescued from the destitution to which he was abandoned, it is too late. After the Restoration, the play was often revised with a happy ending for audiences who disliked its dark and depressing tone, but since the 19th century Shakespeare's original version has been regarded as one of his supreme achievements. The tragedy is particularly noted for its probing observations on the nature of human suffering and family obligations.


Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, or more simply Hamlet, is believed to have been written between 1599 and 1601. Shakespeare's longest play, it is among the most powerful and influential tragedies in the English language. Hamlet so vividly portrays such a range of emotions, both real and feigned madness, overwhelming grief to seething rage—and explores themes of treachery, revenge, incest, and moral corruption. In this, the profoundest of plays, is a tragedy of thought inspired by continual and never-satisfied meditation on human destiny and the dark perplexity of the events of this world, one calculated to call forth the very same meditation in the minds of the spectators. This enigmatical work resembles somewhat those irrational equations in which a fraction of unknown magnitude always remains, that will in no way admit of solution. Much has been said, much written, on this piece, and yet no critic who anew expresses himself on it will entirely coincide with his predecessors. In the centuries-old debate about Hamlet's hesitation to kill his uncle, some see it as a mere plot device to prolong the action, and others percieve it as the result of pressure exerted by the complex philosophical and ethical issues that surround cold-blooded murder, calculated revenge and thwarted desire. The complexity of Hamlet's noble character is such that it has captured the imaginations of many of the finest actors in history, challenging each to measure himself against the great actors of the past including Richard Burbage (the original Hamlet), Thomas Betterton, David Garrick, John Barrymore, Laurence Olivier, Ian McKellen, and even Sarah Bernhardt (the first female Hamlet!)

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