Here at SuperMarcey.com we like to keep it classy to balance out with the reckless revelry and fabulous misbehavior. Like everybody else out there who have read or performed Shakespeare, I have a relationship that crosses the bounds between gramercy and begrudement. On one hand I too am thankful for the fact he put quill to paper in order to write what would surely become a theatrical and literary legacy that would live on after his death. On the other hand, there is always the question as to whether or not he did actually formulate these plays in his own mind or if he in fact stole the ideas of other writers and turned it into fancy plagiarism. I feel his plays are important to the history of theatre and the English language but at the same time I don’t feel he was all that progressive when it came to the characters he put to paper. For example, Katarina from “The Taming of the Shrew” is a downright lioness in the first half of the play, a volcano of individuality, but come the ending, she has, as the play itself says, been ‘tamed’, as if she were a wild animal in the eyes of the
men around her. Same goes for half of the men in his tragedies- they become so consumed by power they are practically blinded to everything else going on around them until it’s far too late to hope to reconcile. Hie thee hither, all said and done, here is what I feel.
William Shakespeare is a crucial part of not only English lit, but literature in general. His works have been translated into countless languages around the world, his plays upon many stages, mouths from different cultures speaking his words. Whether or not you agree his works are mastery is one thing, but you cannot argue The Bard is arguably the most influential playwright to ever exist. I also feel the need to say this as well; so many people tend to associate The Bard with class and almost holy reverence that they seem to gloss over the fact the man wrote these plays to entertain the poor. You can see this in not only his multitude of characters, but the way they talk as well as the approach to the subject matter in his plays. They are bawdy, gory and highly critical of the richer classes. Indeed, most of his plays tend to favour or at least harbor more sympathy for the common person than say a noble. Think about it; most of his tragedies involve characters who are of a richer stock- lords, ladies, houses of regency and yet they are behaving so badly and are so unfair toward the lower class and each other. So next time somebody says that Shakespeare is a sample of good taste and culture, tell them to do their history- Shakespeare wrote for the poor to make fun of the rich, not the other way around. Bearing that in mind, as a means of celebration crossed with the fact I just want to get this off my chest, here is a rundown of my top five favourite Shakespearian plays. This naturally is my own opinion and if you want to shoot back your Favourite Five in the comments, I sincerely look forward to reading them!
The Tempest (1610-1611?) – I’m a sucker for mythology and larger than life tales of mysticism, fate and will so “The Tempest” works for me on that level as well as the fact it’s about a loving father having to say goodbye to his daughter, his only family. Prospero isn’t a bad person, but after being unfairly deposed from Milan, he shacks himself up on an island with his loving daughter Miranda where he hones his craft to become a powerful sorcerer. Although his reputation among those who serve him is questionable, he’s not a man of malice, just loneliness. It isn’t until Alonso, Antonio and Sebastian, three human men who find themselves marooned on his island that he realises that they could all be after to not only harm him, but also forcibly taking Miranda away from him. Most of the play deals with Prospero trying to ward off Alonso and his men, but then he realises that sooner or later, he needs to allow Miranda to spread her wings and live. He gives his blessings to Alonso for the hand of his daughter, breaks his magical staff and does away with his book and urges the audience to set him free through applause. It’s a comedy that is surprisingly emotionally touching that just happens to have fae, gods, and other beasts of wonder, including the menacing Caliban. Perhaps the most bittersweet part about “The Tempest” is that it is the last play The Bard ever wrote- his swan song.
Favourite line: “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.”- Trinculo
5) Othello (1565) – There is so much hatred in this play that it feels like Sith Lord convention. Heavy helpings of venom, sexual assault, racism and jealously flows through its veins freely, thick and viscous. The character of Iago is understandably one of the most sinister and thus best of The Bard’s villains in a piece. He plays everybody, including his supposed good friend Othello the Moor like a catgut harp all because he is an insanely jealous and cruel person who cares for naught but himself. Almost every horrible event that takes place in this story is because of him and his desire to make himself feel powerful, to Hades with the rest and it is through his machinations that so much death and destruction ensues all through misunderstanding and lies. Arguably the most tragic aspect is the penultimate moment after Othello realises he has murdered Desdemona whom he had thought was having it off with his friend Cassio was actually innocent and he kills himself while Iago continues to live (albeit to rot away in prison). Ouch.
Favourite line: “Put out the light… then put out the light.”- Othello
4) The Merry Wives of Windsor (1602) – Desperation can be a powerful element in a tragedy, but it can also lead to great comedy when paired with social observation and hilarious satire. When Mr. Falstaff decides to pull of his outlandish get rich quick scheme on two wealthy married women, he is so surprised when it blows up in his face that it’s hilarious. There is something very endearing about a comedy of manners because they manage to reflect not just the attitudes of the time, but manage to transcend through the years. The play explores these fallacies all humans make through the very base yet at the same time relatable facets of irony, innuendo, sarcasm and stereotype. These are languages every culture can understand be it through lines, gestures or even the names of characters. Three of the side characters of the play are named ‘Shallow’, ‘Slender’ and ‘Simple’, all of which who are related in the play and also related to the uncharitable ways we may see each other.
Favourite line: “Why, then the world’s mine oyster, which I with sword will open!”- Pistol
3) Much Ado About Nothing (1623) – It’s amazing how much rabble can occur over the SMALLEST of issues. Although most characters in this play are innately good, they tend to blow up against a slight made about them in a hilarious manner. Beatrice and Benedick are arguably one of the best pairings in Shakespeare’s plays because of how much they both seem to hide their affection for each other under scathing barbs. You know that adage that used to circulate in the playground at school that if a boy picked on a girl, he liked her? “Much Ado About Nothing” must have been where this notion came from. Mishaps, mischief and misinformation ensue and almost every character gets a happy ending, except for that numpty Don John who was so intent on spoiling it for everybody but even he gets to live. It’s a tremendously idealistic play that smartly addresses more serious themes relating to court politics, the differences between sexes, shame and honour yet it never feels preachy.
Favourite line: “In a false quarrel there is no true valour.”- Benedick
2) Titus Andronicus (1588-1593?) – Much as I love my unicorns, pegusai, pictures of baby animals and all things sweet, I cannot deny a choice tale of revenge, especially one that is enough to put any “Death Wish” film or Tarantino movie to shame. This play is just… every time you think to yourself “How could this get any worse?” it does and in threefold. Victorious Roman General Andronicus has captured the Queen of the Goths Tamora and her three sons, the eldest of which he sacrifices despite Tamora’s pleading for clemency. Emperor Saturninus intervenes and ends up marrying Tamora, thus putting her and her remaining sons Chiron and Demetrius in power, much to Titus’s chagrin. Through an unspeakable series of horrible events that must be seen to be believed, it leaves the audience in a state of nervous laughter or intense silence. The nature of the play relates to the pointlessly fatal nature of retribution, how one foul act does not condone another far worse. It’s like the meanest, most viciously wretched soap opera ever put into the annals of the stage that still holds up splendidly today. Although villains such as Iago earn a lot of accolades for his treachery, I feel it is Aaron the Moor who earns the rightful place of being one of the most memorable, most catastrophic forces of evil in literature. Although his lover Tamora is more adept at outright malice and her children are the most physical agents, Aaron is the ultimate orchestrator of carnage you can imagine because he is a man so fuelled with anger due to being victimised because of the colour of his skin. Over time, he becomes more of a deity of vengeful malignance than remain a man. You may laugh at the riotous acts of violence that take place, but at the same time, it’s a play that doesn’t allow polarization- you will either love it or lump it. Either way, it is absolutely insane. Check it out!
Favourite line: “Art thou not sorry for these heinous deeds?”- Lucius
“Ay, that I had not done a thousand more.”- Aaron
1) Macbeth (1606) – Yeaaaaaaaah, I’m fairly certain you saw this one coming. While “Titus Andronicus” makes no bones about its wreckful nature, The Scottish Play has a far more quietly sinister approach. What started out as a purely political plot turns into a terrible chain of butchery in the name of achieving unattainable power accompanied by overtones addressing the disruption of social order, the dangers of questionable faith and frail morality. The pairing of Lord and Lady Macbeth are among the most intense and masterful because of how closely tuned they are… at least until absolutely everything goes to Hell, beyond their control. I have always maintained Lord and Lady had a passionate, strong marriage and they are no strangers to making complex decisions in order to further their means but they always did so with the view to satisfy the other rather than merely themselves. Duncan’s death was not made out of malice or hatred, just practicality, horrible as it was. Lady Macbeth was pleased with the immediate outcome, but Macbeth started to doubt if himself, hence his embarkation on the assassination of his kinsfolk. What is doubly tragic is that Macbeth comes to heed the counsel of the three witch sisters, he comes to rely solely on them despite the fact they speak in riddles and are not of this earth. He doesn’t trust the advice of his wife or anybody else in what used to be his inner circle. At the end, he has no hope of redemption or clarity about what has happened has been through his own greed and insecurity. Lady fares no better when she comes to understand she cannot escape her conscience and it is implied she takes her own life in shame and horror that she had a part of all that had happened. It is a strong warning against those who are unhappy with what they have and those who refuse to be pleased with what they have to know that with such blind, narrow ambition comes a heavy price than no mortal can pay. I have seen this performed on stage enough to make your head spin, but I for one could never tire of seeing this classic being brought to life again and again even if it means actors risking their lives to speak this play’s name.
Favourite line: “I am in blood. Stepp’d in so far, that I should wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er.”- Macbeth