In your time in high school, there’s a handful of Shakespeare plays you might read: Romeo and Juliet freshman year, Macbeth and Julius Caesar your sophomore year, and possibly even Hamlet your senior year. However, Shakespeare wrote over thirty other plays, and since he’s widely considered the greatest writer in the English language, maybe you want to take this opportunity to read some of his other plays.
I know Shakespeare can be intimidating, but it’s never as scary as it seems. There all sorts of sources online to help you get through the difficult language. There are multiple websites that publish his plays with full annotations, and plenty of other websites to help you make sense of what’s happening. The beauty of Shakespeare is in his language, so let the words wash over you. Don’t try to understand every sentence, but try to get the general meaning. And reread- once you get the idea of something down, reread it with that new understanding.
Shakespeare is considered the best writer ever with good reason, and reading some more of his plays will not only present a stimulating challenge during quarantine, but will also give you a base of cultural reference for the rest of your life. You might even have fun!
Here are eight recommendations for plays you’ve never read in school to start you off.
Othello- Technically this play is taught in VHS (students read it in the SUPA Gender class), but the majority of students have never even heard of this great play. The story of a Moor named Othello, a general in the Venetian army, the play details the revenge plot of Othello’s rival Iago, who tries to convince Othello that his wife is cheating on him with one of his soldiers. Dealing with themes of race and jealousy, Othello is often regarded as one of Shakespeare’s best works.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream- Every play we read of Shakespeare’s in VHS is a tragedy; however, the Bard also wrote a good number of comedies, which don’t end with everyone dying in the end. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one such comedy, which details a feud between the king and queen of the fairies, and the mortals that get involved in their revenge plots. Set outside the city of Athens (mythology fans might recognize the Duke of Athens, Theseus, slayer of the Minotar), the play also has people running off for secret marriages, love spells, magic, and some of the best wordplay in Shakespeare’s career. While there are no great life-changing lesson in this piece, (Shakespeare basically admits it at the end) it’s a fun read, and a good introduction to his more light-hearted plays.
The Tempest- Often referred to as a tragicomedy, as it has both its joyful moments and tragic ones, The Tempest is the story of Prospero, a deposed Italian Duke/sorcerer who lives with his daughter and magical servants on a deserted island. After Prospero conjures up an enormous storm in the beginning of the play (hence the title), marooning his treacherous brother, the King of Naples, a prince, and a whole lot of servants on the island, hijinks ensue. It’s another great story if you’re a fan of fantasy; the entire setting has a very enchanted feel to it.
Cleopatra and Antony- Did you like Julius Caesar? If you did, you might like this play, which in a sense is a sequel to Julius Caesar. Cleopatra and Antony details the history of Rome after the end of Caesar, and the end of the relationship between Mark Antony and Octavius. Antony, who has fallen deeply in love with the Egyptian queen Cleopatra, gets engaged in a conflict with Octavius: needless to say, things don’t end well for anyone.
King Lear- Some people argue that it is this play, and not Hamlet or Macbeth, that is Shakespeare’s best play. The story of an aging king of England, slowly losing his sanity, King Lear is truly a tragedy. Unlike a lot of Shakespeare’s other plays, where your pity for the main characters can be limited (Macbeth loses most of our sympathy when he orders children murdered), you really feel bad for King Lear, who, at the end of the day, is just a confused old man who can’t even trust his daughters. If you liked Hamlet or Macbeth, you’ll enjoy this play about deception, treachery, and being careful who you trust.
Much Ado About Nothing- Have you ever seen the show Three’s Company? Much Ado About Nothing is basically a very long episode of Three’s Company, and the prototype for all rom-coms for the next five hundred years. There’s two characters who start out hating each other and then end up in love, some comedic misunderstandings, an interrupted wedding, and a big old happy ending. Read if you enjoy yourself a good sappy romantic comedy.
The Merchant of Venice- The Merchant of Venice is a strange play. While officially classified as a comedy, the play is another of Shakespeare’s tragicomedies with some of Shakespeare’s best dramatic speeches. The main “villain” of the play, a Jewish moneylender named Shylock, is the victim of Anti-Semitism by nearly every person around him, and worthy of great pity by the play’s end. A great play about what happens to people when you treat them like they are less than you, Merchant of Venice is another one of Shakespeare’s best.
As You Like It- One last comedy to end the list. As You Like It is the story of Rosalind, fleeing her uncle’s persecution into the Forest of Arden. Filled with classic Shakespearean comedic tropes (people disguised as other people! Comic misunderstandings! Comic relief!) As You Like It is best remembered for some of its speeches, notably “All the world’s a stage,” a poem you may have read sophomore year.