Friday, June 16, 2017

Shakespeare's Plays: a ranking

Revived from the dead so I can cross post this with my Facebook page:

Tyler Cowen offers his ranking of Shakespeare plays.  I take the bait.  Not quite a ranking; there are a number of plays that I think are really interesting but not exactly "good."

 The canon

King Lear
“Your majesty, there is no second.”

Antony and Cleopatra
Vastly underrated, perhaps because it has no redeeming social value.  
But I never saw a good production.

The Henriad as a set.
Cowen got that one right.  Whole greater than the sum of its parts.  I learned that from Peter Saccio.

Not a great play exactly, but a loose collection of a dozen or more heart-stopping scenes.  He tells us all he learned in the first half of his career.  Not his fault that other people made some of it into cliches.

Probably not as good as its reputation, but only because its reputation is so strong.  With which contrast:

Richard III
Early attempt at the same material.

Matched Set: One underrated, one over.

The Tempest 
The best single speech in the canon but uneven as a whole.

Winter’s Tale  
Drop dead wonderful poetry, in some ways better than The Tempest

Two that are weak only by comparison
Julius Caesar
Newcomers assume it’s about Caesar.  But no; it’s about Brutus.

Can be wonderful in performance.


A Midsummer Night’s Dream
The most unreservedly charming.

As You Like It
Second most unreservedly charming.

Much Ado About Nothing
Charming in its own way.  A personal favorite.  Can be wonderful in performance.

Comedy of Errors
Thin, but can be excellent in performance.

The Seductive Power of Overblown Poetry

Richard II
Romeo and Juliet
Loves Labour’s Lost
Shakespeare the playwright criticizes Shakespeare of the Sonnets
Interesting to think about, especially in the context of other Shakespeare plays

Measure for Measure
The fashionable play of the moment  Interesting, but flawed.

Twelfth Night
He’s trying to find his way.

Troilus and Cressida
Plenty to chew on here, but off-putting.

Watch Shakespeare experiment with the “romance” form (he’ll get it right elsewhere)

His material gets out of his control: 

Taming of the Shrew
Merchant of Venice
He needs cardboard stock characters, can’t bring himself to do it.

Timon of Athens
Perhaps better understood as a co-authorship.

Merry Wives of Windsor
Treat it as poetry, it’s Meh.  Treat it as farce, it’s just fine.

Kind of Meh
King John
But I saw a pretty good performance once.

All’s Well That Ends Well

Two Gentleman of Verona
He’s a beginner, feeling his way.

Titus Andronicus

Henry VIII
He’s getting tired.

Did I overlook anything?

Update: yes, I overlooked Othello (HT Taxmom).  Perhaps because I can't figure out quite what to do with it. I used to love it, kind of lost interest in it lately.  Maybe because I later discovered the Verdi opera version, which is even better.

1 comment:

Taxmom said...