Great Figures in Shakespeare: Part 3 – Queen Tamora to Cleopatra

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On one hand, Antony wants to remain in Egypt and spend more time with Cleopatra. On the other hand, he feels like he’s neglecting his duties as a leader in Rome or as Octavius Caesar thinks. What’s a man like him going to do? But it’s sure not going to end well.

In my last post, I put a couple of pictures of Tom Hiddleston as Henry V and Coriolanus. You probably know him better as Loki. However, if you google a Shakespearean play, you tend to get pictures of production stills, some of whom might contain well known celebrities. Kenneth Branaugh is another big celebrity in Shakespeare since he brought the Bard to the screen for a new generation. He also directed Thor and played Gilderoy Lockhart but that’s another story. And before him was Sir Laurence Olivier. Nevertheless, you might not know that there’s a version of Julius Caesar that stars Marlon Brando as Mark Antony as well as James Mason as Brutus. Oh, and don’t forget all the big names who portrayed Hamlet. In this selection, I’ll introduce you to Shakespearean characters like Queen Tamora from Titus Andronicus, Petruchio, Katarina, and Bianca from Taming of the Shrew, Duke Orsino and Olivia from Twelfth Night, Celia and Orlando from As You Like It, Marcus and Portia Brutus from Julius Caesar, Prince Ferdinand from The Tempest, Paulina from The Winter’s Tale, Friar Lawrence from Romeo and Juliet, and Mark Antony and Cleopatra.

 

31. Queen Tamora

"I'll find a day to massacre them all,/And raze their faction and their family,/The cruel father and his traitorous sons,/To whom I sued for my dear son's life;/And make them know, what 't is to let a queen/Kneel in the streets and beg for grace in vain. —/Come, come, sweet Emperor. — Come, Andronicus. —/Take up this good old man, and cheer the heart/That dies in tempest of thy angry frown." - Act I, Scene 1. Uh, I don't think Titus thought the whole sacrificing her oldest son and parading her in the streets of Rome thing through. It gets worse from here because she's really nasty.

“I’ll find a day to massacre them all,/And raze their faction and their family,/The cruel father and his traitorous sons,/To whom I sued for my dear son’s life;/And make them know, what ‘t is to let a queen/Kneel in the streets and beg for grace in vain. —/Come, come, sweet Emperor. — Come, Andronicus. —/Take up this good old man, and cheer the heart/That dies in tempest of thy angry frown.” – Act I, Scene 1. Uh, I don’t think Titus thought the whole sacrificing her oldest son and parading her in the streets of Rome thing through. It gets worse from here because she’s really nasty.

From: Titus Andronicus

Pro: She’s beautiful and is no fool. Loves her family and pleads Titus to save her oldest son’s life. Besides, you can’t really blame her for wanting revenge against Titus for sacrificing her oldest son and being forced to parade the Roman streets like an animal.

Con: Is willing to do anything to get the power she needs to destroy Titus. Though she marries Emperor Saturinus, she’s still fooling around with Aaron the Moor (though to be fair, they were involved before the guy showed up). Has Bassainus murdered and two of Titus’s sons framed. Encourages her remaining two sons to rape and horrifically mutilate Lavinia. Was willing to murder her and Aaron’s mixed race child because of skin color.

Fate: Is killed by Titus Andronicus.

 

32. Petruchio

"Thus in plain terms: your father hath consented/That you shall be my wife, your dowry 'greed on,/And, will you, nill you, I will marry you." - Act II, Scene 1. Sorry, Kate, but I'm afraid you'll have to marry this guy so expect a honeymoon filled with psychological torture and domestic abuse. But at least he won't be like your dad and your sister who both think you're good for nothing that they're willing to set you off with the first guy who expresses interest.

“Thus in plain terms: your father hath consented/That you shall be my wife, your dowry ‘greed on,/And, will you, nill you, I will marry you.” – Act II, Scene 1. Sorry, Kate, but I’m afraid you’ll have to marry this guy so expect a honeymoon filled with psychological torture and domestic abuse. But at least he won’t be like your dad and your sister who both think you’re good for nothing that they’re willing to set you off with the first guy who expresses interest.

From: Taming of the Shrew

Pro: Well, you have to admire him for being unabashedly honest that he’s not looking for a perfect princess to marry him. As long as she has a large bank account, he’s happy. Is intelligent and quite witty. Has a thing for strong, saucy women as well as a rapier wit to match who can challenge him, spar with him, and excite him intellectually. Actually appreciates Kate’s temper and acid tongue as long as it’s not directed at him. Still, despite being an absolute jerk, he’s not as bad a guy as her dad. After all, he at least takes time to teach her social skills in order to adapt to her rightful place as well as give her much needed attention and affection. Sure this might sound sexist, but she didn’t have much of a real choice to marry the guy but at least his “training” helps her cope with a less than ideal situation (at least in public). Thus, no matter how much of a jerk he is, he at least has some love for her, tries to get to know her better as a person, and wants their relationship to succeed (at least on his terms). Besides, it would’ve been far simpler to treat her poorly like her dad does. Also, by the end, he eventually comes to trust her unlike some of the other men in this play.

Con: Let’s not kid ourselves, the man is a completely selfish jerk and male chauvinist pig. Sure he may be willing to marry Kate, but he agreed to marry her before he’s even met her mostly because her daddy’s rich, has a reputation for being a shrew, and that no other guy wants her. He also sees himself as the ultimate shrew taming champion that he even tutors other men on how to get their wives in line. Though he’s perfectly fine with saucy women, he always feels that he has to wear the pants in the relationship. Oh, and he tries to tame Kate throughout their honeymoon with some tried and true torture techniques like starvation, sleep deprivation, psychological manipulation, and good old fashioned humiliation so she could behave the way he wants. He also likes to revel in his power over Kate. However, at least it’s left open the possibility that anyone who tries to follow his advice and behavior is a total idiot.

Fate: Married to Kate and wins a bet. However, it’s unknown whether he’s trained her to be an obedient wife or to pretend to be one. Either way, he gets a nice generous dowry from her dad.

 

33. Katarina

"He'll woo a thousand, 'point the day of marriage,/Make feasts, invite friends, and proclaim the banns,/Yet never means to wed where he hath wooed./Now must the world point at poor Katharine/And say, 'Lo, there is mad Petruchio's wife,/If it would please him come and marry her.'" -Act II, Scene 2. Well, despite having a honeymoon filled with domestic abuse and psychological torture, being Petruchio's wife can't be as bad as being Baptista's daughter. After all, Baptista basically neglects Kate, sees her as a shrew, and gets rid of her at the first opportunity. Poor girl.

“He’ll woo a thousand, ‘point the day of marriage,/Make feasts, invite friends, and proclaim the banns,/Yet never means to wed where he hath wooed./Now must the world point at poor Katharine/And say, ‘Lo, there is mad Petruchio’s wife,/If it would please him come and marry her.'” -Act II, Scene 2. Well, despite having a honeymoon filled with domestic abuse and psychological torture, being Petruchio’s wife can’t be as bad as being Baptista’s daughter. After all, Baptista basically neglects Kate, sees her as a shrew, doesn’t listen to her, doesn’t pay any attention to her, and gets rid of her at the first opportunity. Poor girl.

From: Taming of the Shrew

Pro: Has an incredible wit and intelligence as well as a mind of her own. Shreds men to bits with her razor sharp tongue. Not to mention, you can’t blame her behavior when her dad tries to marry her off and when Hortensio claims she’ll never land a guy because everyone hates her. Refuses to shut up while enduring pain and suffering. Still, she probably does care about Petruchio and isn’t really as bad of a person despite being a “shrew.” Well, wants she grows up and learns how to handle things like an adult.

Con: Starts out as very immature. Has a hot temper as well as slaps people around when they make her mad. Yells at her dad in public as well as throws tantrums and claims her dad doesn’t love her. Ties up and beats up her sister. Oh, and brakes a lute over Hortensio as well as threatens him with a chair. Insults everyone she meets. This kind of gives her a reputation for being a shrew that even her dad thinks she’s just inherently obnoxious and nasty and wants to marry her off as soon as he can. But she’s more likely acting out because she’s jealous of Bianca and how her dad likes her better, feels that she’s undesirable, is afraid that she’ll never win a husband, hates how men treat her, and perhaps feels out of place in her society.

Fate: Married to Petruchio and helps him win a bet with an over the top speech on why wives should obey their husbands. Then again, it’s probably an act to ensure a kind of domestic tranquility.

 

34. Bianca

"Good sister, wrong me not, nor wrong yourself, To make a bondmaid and a slave of me. That I disdain. But for these other goods— Unbind my hands, I'll pull them off myself" - Act II, Scene 1. Sure she may a perfect angel but she's not what she seems. In fact, she's quite passive-aggressive and pretends to be a goody two-shoes.

“Good sister, wrong me not, nor wrong yourself,/To make a bondmaid and a slave of me./That I disdain. But for these other goods—/Unbind my hands, I’ll pull them off myself” – Act II, Scene 1. Sure she may a perfect angel but she’s not what she seems. In fact, she’s quite passive-aggressive and pretends to be a goody two-shoes.

From: Taming of the Shrew

Pro: She’s basically daddy’s little princess since she seems chaste, obedient, and quiet. She also has a lot of guys going after her since she’s pretty and rich. Either that or she does a very good job of faking it. But is still single because older sister Kate must be married first. Defies her dad trying to treat her like a commodity to be traded for profit by eloping with Lucentio.

Con: In reality, she only pretends to be a goody two shoes as well as deceptive, disobedient, and fully capable of talking dirty with the guys. She’s also passive-aggressive toward her sister in which she taunts Kate for being an old maid with no marriage prospects, landing her in some hot water with their dad. Has no meaningful relationship with her sister or with any woman in that matter.

Fate: Married to Lucentio but thanks to her he loses his street cred and a whole chunk of change.

 

35. Celia

"O, wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful wonderful! and yet again wonderful, and after that, out of all whooping." - Act III, Scene 2. I'm sure she's not very happy here mostly because she thinks Rosalind is acting foolishly toward Orlando.

“O, wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful wonderful! and yet again wonderful, and after that, out of all whooping.” – Act III, Scene 2. I’m sure she’s not very happy here mostly because she thinks Rosalind is acting foolishly toward Orlando.

From: As You Like It

Pro: Willing to defy her dad Duke Frederick to run away with Rosalind to the Forest of Arden. More laid back, worldly, and prudent than Rosalind.

Con: Tends to have an unchanging skepticism about Rosalind’s love for Orlando and spends the play becoming increasingly disenchanted with her antics. It’s possible that she kind of resents Rosalind’s attention to Orlando as well as the foolishness of love. Then she falls for and marries a guy she just met and possibly loses herself in him. Luckily, this guy reciprocates and happens to be a man who really needs a girlfriend.

Fate: Marries Oliver in a wedding ceremony with Orlando and Rosalind, Touchstone and Audrey, and Silvanus and Phebe.

 

36. Paulina

"The silence often of pure innocence/Persuades, when speaking fails." Act II, Scene 2. To make matters worse her husband exits, pursued by a bear. Still, she does make things better by the end. Except Mammilius is still dead.

“The silence often of pure innocence/Persuades, when speaking fails.” Act II, Scene 2. To make matters worse her husband exits, pursued by a bear. Still, she does make things better by the end. Except Mammilius is still dead.

From: The Winter’s Tale

Pro: She’s tough as nails and takes no prisoners as well as calls it like it is. Is such a badass that she’s the only one to call out King Leontes as a spoiled brat and being totally unfair to his perfect wife Hermione. She doesn’t care if the king can kill her for this as well as tells him to quit his irrational and unfounded jealousy. Calls him a tyrant in front of him and all her courtiers because she’s Hermione’s friend. Also helps Leontes piece his life together after Mammilius and Hermione die while Perdita is abandoned in the woods. Calls most of the shots in the end.

Con: Calling out the king is a really stupid thing to do which can get you killed. Luckily, Leontes isn’t as much of a corrupt despot as he seems. Also, she didn’t take the time to bring Mammilius to life. Not to mention, she didn’t save her own husband from exiting pursued by a bear.

Fate: Marries Camillio as a reward from the king.

 

37. Countess Olivia

"Thy tongue, thy face, thy limbs, actions and spirit/Do give thee five-fold blazon. Not too fast!/Soft, soft!/Unless the master were the man. How now?/Even so quickly may one catch the plague?" - Act I, Scene 5. Sure she may be crazy about "Caesario." But she's, I mean he's really not what he seems. Like the fact he's really a she.

“Thy tongue, thy face, thy limbs, actions and spirit/Do give thee five-fold blazon. Not too fast!/Soft, soft!/Unless the master were the man. How now?/Even so quickly may one catch the plague?” – Act I, Scene 5. Sure she may be crazy about “Caesario.” But she’s, I mean he’s really not what he seems. Like the fact he’s really a she.

From: Twelfth Night

Pro: Well, she’s an intelligent woman with a number of good qualities. She knows how to handle her uncle Sir Toby Belch and feels compassion for her steward Malvolio when he makes an ass out of himself. She’s also charming and pretty that she could have almost any guy she desires.

Con: For one, she starts off this play depressed since she’s grieving over her dad and her brother. And for awhile, she refuses to allow any male company or hire anyone. Second, when “Cesario” gets her out of her shell, she basically ends up falling in love with the last person she should. Not just because “Cesario” isn’t interested in her but that “Cesario” is a girl. Oh, and she has Feste and Maria watch over her embarrassing uncle. That’s going to work out well (sarcasm).

Fate: Ends up marrying Viola’s brother Sebastian. Sure they met on short notice. But I see this relationship having a better chance of working out for obvious reasons (because Sebastian is a guy who’s actually interested in her as well as bears some resemblance to “Cesario.”).

 

38. Duke Orsino

"If music be the food of love, play on;/Give me excess of it; that, surfeiting,/The appetite may sicken, and so die. —/That strain again; it had a dying fall:/O, it came oer my ear, like the sweet sound/That breathes upon a bank of violets,/Stealing, and giving odour! Enough! No more./'Tis not so sweet now as it was before." - Act I, Scene 1. Oh, why can't he just give up on Olivia and see a therapist? Guy doesn't know a good thing when he sees it.

“If music be the food of love, play on;/Give me excess of it; that, surfeiting,/The appetite may sicken, and so die. —/That strain again; it had a dying fall:/O, it came oer my ear, like the sweet sound/That breathes upon a bank of violets,/Stealing, and giving odour! Enough! No more./’Tis not so sweet now as it was before.” – Act I, Scene 1. Oh, why can’t he just give up on Olivia and see a therapist? Guy doesn’t know a good thing when he sees it.

From: Twelfth Night

Pro: Well, even by Olivia he’s seen as a perfect gentleman who’s handsome, brave, courtly virtuous, noble, wealthy, gracious, loyal, and devoted. In short, he’s everything a lady could wish for in a husband which explains why Viola falls hard for him and willing to do anything to make him happy. He’s also open to the possibility that “Cesario” may be a girl.

Con: Let’s just pining for Lady Olivia makes him incredibly pathetic. Sure he may like her for her beauty and doesn’t care about her wealth. Yet, he’s a passionate man who’s more in love with the idea of love. But still, he feels that he’ll perish if she doesn’t agree to marry him. And it doesn’t help him that Olivia keeps rejecting him and he doesn’t take a hint. Not only that, but he’s also willing to woo her at a really bad time in her life and by sending someone else to do it for him. We know how that worked out. Also has a changeable nature and easily gets bored. Has a penchant for sexism, too. Not to mention, he might be entirely oblivious to his own feelings (then again, that’s understandable in his case).

Fate: Ends up marrying Viola once he realizes that Lady Olivia isn’t interested in him and that he might be attracted to “Cesario.” And no, he doesn’t perish either.

 

39. Prince Ferdinand

"O heaven, O earth, bear witness to this sound/And crown what I profess with kind event/If I speak true; if hollowly, invert/What best is boded me to mischief. I,/Beyond all limit of what else i' th' world,/Do love, prize, honor you. " - Act III, Scene 1. Now everything is progressing according to Prospero's plan.

“O heaven, O earth, bear witness to this sound/And crown what I profess with kind event/If I speak true; if hollowly, invert/What best is boded me to mischief. I,/Beyond all limit of what else i’ th’ world,/Do love, prize, honor you. ” – Act III, Scene 1. Now everything is progressing according to Prospero’s plan.

From: The Tempest

Pro: He’s a decent and good looking guy with noble intentions for Prospero to set him up with his daughter Miranda. Despite being a prince, he takes lifting logs, spending days away from friends and family, as well as accusations of being a spy or traitor in stride. Not to mention, while he may love Miranda when he first meets her, he’s at least willing to deal with her dad who gives him a lot of crap and doesn’t seem to like him (initially).

Con: Falls for Miranda and wants to make her “Queen of Naples” before he even knows her name. Also, he becomes so wrapped up in her that he seems to forget about losing his dad and friends he thinks perished in the storm (though this could be a coping mechanism). Also, might promise Prospero to keep it in his pants under threat he’d make the heavens rain fire and brimstone on him if he doesn’t.

Fate: Ends up with Miranda and returns to Naples after being reunited with his dad.

 

40. Orlando

"Whate'er you are, That in this desert inaccessible,/Under the shade of melancholy boughs,/Lose and neglect the creeping hours of time;/If ever you have look’d on better days,/If ever been where bells have knoll’d to church,/If ever sat at any good man’s feast,/If ever from your eyelids wip'd a tear,/And know what 'tis to pity and be pitied -/Let gentleness my strong enforcement be." - Act II, Scene 7. Wait until he starts writing love poems to Rosalind which he puts on trees. Also, man, Sir Laurence Olivier is hot as Orlando in this.

“Whate’er you are,
That in this desert inaccessible,/Under the shade of melancholy boughs,/Lose and neglect the creeping hours of time;/If ever you have look’d on better days,/If ever been where bells have knoll’d to church,/If ever sat at any good man’s feast,/If ever from your eyelids wip’d a tear,/And know what ’tis to pity and be pitied -/Let gentleness my strong enforcement be.” – Act II, Scene 7. Wait until he starts writing love poems to Rosalind which he puts on trees. Also, man, Sir Laurence Olivier is hot as Orlando in this.

From: As You Like It

Pro: He’s brave, chivalrous, modest, smart, strong, handsome, and beloved by all. Wants to learn and go to school. Sticks up to his older brother Oliver who’s been treating him like shit since their old man died and wins a fight with a bigger guy at Duke Frederick’s court. Loves Rosalind and is willing to deal with her dad Duke Senior (whom he joins in the Forest of Arden). Is also easy going and likeable enough to handle her. Later saves his older brother Oliver from a snake and wild lion attack (don’t ask).

Con: It’s mainly because he’s such a great guy that Oliver throws him out of his house. Fills the Forest of Arden with sappy love poetry about Rosalind to the chagrins of Touchstone and Jacques. Sure his feelings are sincere but he’s really bad at writing poetry. Can get overdramatic and silly when it comes to love to a point that he feels a live without Rosalind isn’t worth living for (to the point where Rosalind has to snap him out of it as Ganymede). Also, can’t recognize a girl dressed in drag even if she’s in front of his face.

Fate: Marries Rosalind in a wedding ceremony with Oliver and Celia, Touchstone and Audrey, and Silvanus and Phebe.

 

41. Portia Catonis Brutus

"I grant I am a woman; but withal/A woman well-reputed, Cato's daughter./Think you I am no stronger than my sex,/Being so fathered and so husbanded?/Tell me your counsels; I will not disclose 'em./I have made strong proof of my constancy,/Giving myself a voluntary wound/Here, in the thigh. Can I bear that with patience./And not my husband's secrets?" - Act II, Scene 1. Uh, stabbing yourself in the thigh is a very stupid way to prove yourself to your husband. Don't try this at home. Seriously, don't.

“I grant I am a woman; but withal/A woman well-reputed, Cato’s daughter./Think you I am no stronger than my sex,/Being so fathered and so husbanded?/Tell me your counsels; I will not disclose ’em./I have made strong proof of my constancy,/Giving myself a voluntary wound/Here, in the thigh. Can I bear that with patience./And not my husband’s secrets?” – Act II, Scene 1. Uh, stabbing yourself in the thigh is a very stupid way to prove yourself to your husband. Don’t try this at home. Seriously, don’t.

From: Julius Caesar

Pro: Devoted to Brutus but stands up to him for being excluded since she wants him to confide to her. Wants to be close to him. Stabs herself in the thigh without flinching.

Con: Disses other women as if they’re weaker than men (including herself) but thinks she’s stronger than the average girl. Stabs herself in the thigh as a demand for her husband to treat her with more respect. Later kills herself by swallowing hot coals.

Fate: Commits suicide off-stage.

 

42. Friar Lawrence

"Holy Saint Francis, what a change is here!/Is Rosaline, whom thou didst love so dear,/So soon forsaken? Young men's love then lies/Not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes." - Act II, Scene 3. Well, he may chide Romeo. But he still marries a couple of teenagers who end up killing themselves.

“Holy Saint Francis, what a change is here!/Is Rosaline, whom thou didst love so dear,/So soon forsaken? Young men’s love then lies/Not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes.” – Act II, Scene 3. Well, he may chide Romeo. But he still marries a couple of teenagers who end up killing themselves.

From: Romeo and Juliet

Pro: He’s a wise adviser who calls out Romeo for falling for a girl a day ago while completely forgetting about Rosaline. And he calls out Romeo for his excessive moping and tells him to do something about it. He’s also tired of the family feuding and is willing to bring Romeo and Juliet together if it leads to peace.

Con: Unfortunately, marrying Romeo and Juliet might’ve brought the Montagues and the Capulets together, but not in the way he intended. Also, because there was a plague, he wasn’t able to send a message to Romeo saying that Juliet wasn’t dead.

Fate: Hopefully seeking a way to confess the implications of his actions after presiding over the funeral.

 

43. Marcus Brutus

"There is a tide in the affairs of men/Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;/Omitted, all the voyage of their life/Is bound in shallows and in miseries./On such a full sea are we now afloat;/And we must take the current when it serves/Or lose our ventures." -Act IV, Scene 3. Love to hear those words from the velvety voice of James Mason. The Booth brothers were also in Julius Caesar, but ironically Edwin and Junius played political assassins while John Wilkes portrayed Mark Antony.

“There is a tide in the affairs of men/Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;/Omitted, all the voyage of their life/Is bound in shallows and in miseries./On such a full sea are we now afloat;/And we must take the current when it serves/Or lose our ventures.” -Act IV, Scene 3. Love to hear those words from the velvety voice of James Mason. The Booth brothers were also in Julius Caesar, but ironically Edwin and Junius played political assassins while John Wilkes portrayed Mark Antony.

From: Julius Caesar

Pro: Has a conscience. Betrays Caesar out of love for the Roman Republic and thinks the guy is getting to become a tyrant in all but name. Said it was hard for him to kill Caesar but he did it out of patriotism while the rest of the conspirators wanted personal gain.

Con: Stabs his friend Julius Caesar in the back both figuratively and literally. This leads to years of chaos and civil war in Rome. Is easily taken in by Cassius’s manipulation and basically serves as his lapdog. Also, he shouldn’t have let Mark Antony make a eulogy at Caesar’s funeral because it causes a riot and made him one of the most hated men in Rome. Oh, and Cassius wants him to be leader so he could control him.

Fate: Commits suicide after losing a battle in Philippi.

 

44. Mark Antony

"O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,/That I am meek and gentle with these butchers!/Thou art the ruins of the noblest man/That ever lived in the tide of times./Woe to the hand that shed this costly blood!" - Act III, Scene 1 in Julius Caesar. Seems like Antony is really getting nasty here. And I'm sure he doesn't think that "Brutus is an honorable man." Soon he'll let slip the "dogs of war."

“O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,/That I am meek and gentle with these butchers!/Thou art the ruins of the noblest man/That ever lived in the tide of times./Woe to the hand that shed this costly blood!” – Act III, Scene 1 in Julius Caesar. Seems like Antony is really getting nasty here. And I’m sure he doesn’t think that “Brutus is an honorable man.” Soon he’ll let slip the “dogs of war.”

From: Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra

Pro: His persuasive public speaking skills launches action which makes him a terrific politician. Successfully convinces the conspirators to speak. Delivers a carefully crafted eulogy designed to turn the people against the conspirators and it works. Is also a noble, brave, and formidable soldier who bested Brutus and Cassius at Philippi. Has an interesting relationship with Cleopatra and admits he’s held captive by her powerful spell. Acts graciously and nobly in his political affairs. Greets Pompey with love and honesty and doesn’t blame Enobarbus for treachery against him (just faults himself). Also, bids his men to leave him when he’s doomed to fail and thanks them for their service. If that’s not a benevolent leadership, not sure what is.

Con: While he claims to be Caesar’s friend, he usually tends to kiss his ass a lot. Also is about as power hungry as anyone in Rome. Oh, and after he really gets nasty in his eulogy at Caesar’s funeral, all hell breaks loose in Rome as civil war ensues as he intended. However, once he’s in Egypt he tends to revel in debauchery and good times. Has extreme mood swings that he sometimes hates Cleopatra before he loves her again. Oh, and he spent some time away from Cleopatra in Rome with another woman named Octavia whom he later dumped before returning to Egypt (which probably means that he really loved Cleopatra for he went back for her, well, at least in the play). Octavius didn’t take his sister being ditched very well at all.

Fate: Commits suicide because he wants to be remembered as his own conqueror.

 

45. Cleopatra

"Courteous lord, one word./Sir, you and I must part, but that's not it;/Sir, you and I have loved, but there's not it;/That you know well./Something it is I would— O, my oblivion is a very Antony,/And I am all forgotten." - Act I, Scene 3. Seems like Cleo and Antony have a lot of sexual tension going on. But she can be quite passionate lover being in her 30s while Antony was in his 40s and early 50s.

“Courteous lord, one word./Sir, you and I must part, but that’s not it;/Sir, you and I have loved, but there’s not it;/That you know well./Something it is I would— O, my oblivion is a very Antony,/And I am all forgotten.” – Act I, Scene 3. Seems like Cleo and Antony have a lot of sexual tension going on. But she can be quite passionate lover being in her 30s while Antony was in his 40s and early 50s.

From: Antony and Cleopatra

Pro: In love, she can be fierce, amorous, and quick to be loving. Passionate about her lovers, especially Antony. Willing to say that Antony conquered her rather than wooed her (except when she betrays him). As a woman in power, she’s a magnificent bitch. To her sex isn’t a submission but is a testament of her own glory.

Con: She’s also quick to anger as well as fickle in her affections. Blames her femininity for her downfalls. Oh, and she sometimes betrays Antony, occasionally when he needs her the most like in important battles.

Fate: Commits suicide. But whether she does it because she can’t bear to live without Antony or doesn’t want to be a token of Caesar’s power is the question.

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Great Figures in Shakespeare: Part 2 – Macbeth to Caius Martius Coriolanus

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Sure everyone thinks the story of Romeo and Juliet is about true love struggling against impossible odds. However, we should keep in mind that these two are teenagers who get married and later kill themselves in the same week. Not exactly a model for a good relationship. Yet, it tends to be celebrated.

So we’re off to a great start. You might notice how some of Shakespeare’s language can be different and you might find some of his characters saying things that you’ve probably heard before. That’s because a lot of what you hear in Shakespeare’s plays has made it into a lot of common usage. You may not have even heard of Twelfth Night, but how many times have you heard the saying, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them?” You probably can’t even count. Then there’s Henry V’s speech that contains, “band of brothers” which most people associate with a famed WWII series with David Schwimmer. You probably have heard of “the dogs of war,” but you probably don’t know that it’s from Mark Antony’s speech in Julius Caesar. In this selection, I’ll go over Shakespearean figures like Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing, Coriolanus, Othello, Emilia, and Desdemona from Othello, Hermia from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Rosalind from As You Like It, Portia from The Merchant of Venice, Cordelia from King Lear, as well as Henry V, Margaret of Anjou, and Richard III.

 

16. Macbeth

"If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me without my stir." - Act I, Scene 3. Maybe, but first you have to kill the guy who already has that gig first. And that's your cousin Duncan who already has an heir and a spare.

“If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me without my stir.” – Act I, Scene 3. Maybe, but first you have to kill the guy who already has that gig first. And that’s your cousin Duncan who already has an heir and a spare.

From: Macbeth

Pro: He’s a brave and capable warrior who’s loyal to his king and has a relatively happy relationship with his wife.

Con: He has a consuming ambition which becomes more apparent when he hears the witch prophecies and is pressured by his wife into committing regicide. May have some insecurity with his masculinity which his wife exploits. However, once he kills Duncan, he becomes increasingly paranoid and plots a series of murders to secure his throne. This makes his enemies see him as a murderous tyrant and surround him in hopes to bring him down. Also tends to take witches’ prophesies more seriously than he should in his own interpretation.

Fate: Killed by “a man of no woman born” MacDuff because he had no idea such prophecy actually meant, “man born via emergency Caesarian section.”

 

17. Romeo

"But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?/It is the east, and Juliet is the sun!" - Act II, Scene 2. Yesterday he would've been saying the same thing about Rosaline.

“But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?/It is the east, and Juliet is the sun!” – Act II, Scene 2. Yesterday he would’ve been saying the same thing about Rosaline.

From: Romeo and Juliet

Pro: Well, he seems like a nice kid that Lord Capulet doesn’t seem initially bothered by him. Seems to really love Juliet more than anything almost from the time he meets her. He’s also loyal to his cousin Benvolio and his friend Mercutio. Also can be quite a badass and a fierce fighter. Then again, considering his family’s involved in a feud….

Con: Let’s face it, this guy is incredibly impulsive and is strongly idealistic toward love and romance that he pined for a girl named Rosaline and gave up on love when she rejected him. But when he first lays eyes on Juliet, he completely forgets about her and in just hours he decides he wants to marry her. And he ties the knot with her the day after meeting her only to be involved in a gang war that results in him killing Tybalt for killing Mercutio an hour later before being kicked out of Verona (though he at least feels bad about killing the guy). Sure he may love Juliet, but you can’t deny his motivations for being in love with her and being with her by any means necessary was extremely selfish which caused nothing but heartache and suffering, not just for him but for Juliet and everyone else. Oh, and he kills Paris, too sometime later. And when he thinks Juliet died (while she was only faking it), he poisons himself.

Fate: Commits suicide after thinking that Juliet is dead mostly because the information Friar Lawrence intended for him never arrived.)

 

18. Benedick

"That I neither feel how she should be loved nor know how she should be worthy, is the opinion that fire cannot melt out of me: I will die in it at the stake." - Act I, Scene 1. He'll end up wanting to marry Beatrice by the fifth act and getting hitched in a double ceremony.

“That I neither feel how she should be loved nor know how she should be worthy, is the opinion that fire cannot melt out of me: I will die in it at the stake.” – Act I, Scene 1. He’ll end up wanting to marry Beatrice by the fifth act and getting hitched in a double ceremony.

From: Much Ado About Nothing

Pro: Despite what you see of him in the beginning, he’s actually not as a bad as he initially seems. And once he suspects that Beatrice might like him, he starts to open up and grow up even if it means attracting ridicule from his friends for his reversal of his well-known attitudes. But he might enjoy shocking them by shaving off his beard and professing his undying love for Beatrice. And we know his love for her is genuine when he challenges Claudio to a duel to the death over his accusation of Hero’s unfaithfulness as well as his value on justice even at the risk of loyalty. Excluding the priest, he’s the only male character in the whole play who doesn’t participate in Hero’s public shaming. Nevertheless, he and Beatrice tend to have a healthier relationship than some Shakespearean couples since they have a lot in common as well as bring out the best in each other.

Con: He starts out as a misogynist who refuses to marry and disparages Claudio for wanting to marry Hero. But his insult barbs with Beatrice tend to reveal that he’s in total denial of his feelings to her. Can also be kind of an attention whore who’s said to perform for the benefit of others that for a time it’s hard to tell whether he’s been in love with Beatrice all along or falls for her suddenly.

Fate: Ends up married to Beatrice in a double wedding with Claudio and Hero.

 

19. Cordelia

"Time shall unfold what plighted cunning hides:/Who cover faults, at last shame them derides."- Act I, Scene 1. Still, at least she gets to be the Queen of France. Unfortunately, she had to come back home to save her daddy which got her killed.

“Time shall unfold what plighted cunning hides:/Who cover faults, at last shame them derides.”- Act I, Scene 1. Still, at least she gets to be the Queen of France. Unfortunately, she had to come back home to save her daddy which got her killed.

From: King Lear

Pro: Refuses to flatter her old man in order to get a piece of his real estate because she thinks the idea is stupid and is pissed at her sisters’ insincerity. Later raises an army in France to fight her wicked sisters and take back her ungrateful daddy’s land. Easily forgives her dad when he comes to his senses. Is the only one of Lear’s daughters who truly cares about him.

Con: However, her loveliness, honesty, integrity, and sincerity don’t keep her from getting imprisoned and eventually executed. Should’ve spent more time with her new hubby in France.

Fate: Executed through strangulation.

 

20. Portia

"The quality of mercy is not strain'd,/It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven/Upon the place beneath: it is twice bless’d;/It blesseth him that gives and him that takes." - Act IV, Scene 1. However, the quality of mercy she had in mind consisted of the Jewish guy losing everything.

“The quality of mercy is not strain’d,/It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven/Upon the place beneath: it is twice bless’d;/It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.” – Act IV, Scene 1. However, the quality of mercy she had in mind consisted of the Jewish guy losing everything.

From: The Merchant of Venice

Pro: She’s got beauty, brains, grace, quick wits, and is one of the richest heiresses in Belmont. Loves Bassanio and is willing to do anything for him, even save his best friend Antonio by offering money to Shylock and dressing up as a lawyer in court (despite a lack in legal training). Has fun twisting the rules to her own advantage and ends up outsmarting everyone.

Con: Is basically subservient to her dad’s will beyond the grave that she has to marry the guy who chooses the right casket (fortunately, she marries the guy she wants to be with anyway). Still, she could do better than Bassanio who basically married her for money in order to help his friend. Also, despite her speech on the quality of mercy, making Shylock lose everything is just awful. If she only had Shylock give up his demand for a pound of flesh, it would’ve been fine. Regularly shows prejudice toward non-Christians and foreigners.

Fate: Married to Bassanio in a double wedding with Gratanio and Nerissa.

 

21. Juliet

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose,/By any other name would smell as sweet." - Act II, Scene 2. Of course, their feuding families would disagree. Hell knows what they're fighting for.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose,/By any other name would smell as sweet.” – Act II, Scene 2. Of course, their feuding families would disagree. Hell knows what they’re fighting for.

From: Romeo and Juliet

Pro: She’s more practical and level headed than Romeo. Though she may be really in love with him, her willingness to marry him a day after meeting him is more understandable (like a desire to escape an arranged marriage with Paris). Not to mention, she can be quite determined as well as very brave since she disobeys her parents, follows her heart as well as braves disownment and being trapped in a tomb to stay true to the man she loves. She even devises her and Romeo’s escape plan which would’ve worked if there wasn’t a plague going on.

Con: She tends to be idealistic and naïve as well as doesn’t think things through. Also, taking a knockout potion in order to fake her death was a really bad idea, especially when there’s a plague going on. Comes from a rather dysfunctional family. Oh, and she tends to mature way too quickly through this play.

Fate: Commits suicide through stabbing herself in the family tomb once she finds Romeo dead.

 

22. Desdemona

"I have none: do not talk to me, Emilia;/I cannot weep; nor answer have I none,/But what should go by water. Prithee, tonight/Lay on my bed my wedding sheets: remember; /And call thy husband hither." - Act IV, Scene 2. Apparently, this isn't going to help Desdemona's case since Othello won't listen. So she's basically doomed by this point.

“I have none: do not talk to me, Emilia;/I cannot weep; nor answer have I none,/But what should go by water. Prithee, tonight/Lay on my bed my wedding sheets: remember; /And call thy husband hither.” – Act IV, Scene 2. Apparently, this isn’t going to help Desdemona’s case since Othello won’t listen. So she’s basically doomed by this point.

From: Othello

Pro: Well, she loves Othello and is willing to defend her choice in front of her enraged and disappointed folks in front of the Duke of Venice. Is beautiful, honest, and stands by her man. Is kind enough and willing to plead Cassio’s case to get him re-instated when he falls from favor after getting involved in a fight.

Con: Unfortunately, her devotion to Othello doesn’t help her situation no matter how many times she tells her husband she didn’t cheat on him. Also doesn’t seem to have a lot of common sense. Thinks everything will be fine after losing her handkerchief when it really gets worse as her husband starts physically and verbally abusing her. Feels the best thing to do when confronted with accusations of infidelity is to continually assert her innocence but Othello doesn’t believe her. What she should’ve done is confide in Emilia about why he’d think that and get to the bottom of it.

Fate: Is smothered to death by Othello in her bed. But at least he later finds out she’s innocent like she said.

 

23. Rosalind

"Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love." - Act IV, Scene 1. Yes, but tell that Orlando. Or just tell him you're Rosalind already.

“Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love.” – Act IV, Scene 1. Yes, but tell that Orlando. Or just tell him you’re Rosalind already.

From: As You Like It

Pro: Is admired for her quick wit, intelligence, and beauty. Puts on a brave front when it comes to being separated from her dad and eventually being exiled. Incredibly self-aware, especially on matters of the heart. Willing to take a chance on Orlando even though she knows that love isn’t all chocolate and roses. Can be bossy, opinionated, and gutsy. Can be in love with a man without being a fool. Stays true to her family and friends throughout the play.

Con: Dressing as Ganymede really put a big obstacle in her dating life. Her being Ganymede in front of Orlando in order to practice the moves on “him” yet you wonder why she doesn’t just take her clothes off to reveal herself to him. Then there’s that her drag disguise ends up attracting unwanted attention from a shepherd girl named Phebe who falls for her as Ganymede.

Fate: Ends up married to Orlando in a wedding ceremony with Oliver and Celia, Touchstone and Audrey, and Silvanus and Phebe.

 

24. Margaret of Anjou

"Peace, impudent and shameless Warwick, peace!/Proud setter-up and puller-down of kings!" - Act III, Scene 3. Because Queen Margaret isn't going down in these Wars of the Roses without a fight. And she will fight even when her husband won't.

“Peace, impudent and shameless Warwick, peace!/Proud setter-up and puller-down of kings!” – Act III, Scene 3 in Henry VI Part 3. Because Queen Margaret isn’t going down in these Wars of the Roses without a fight. And she will fight even when her husband won’t.

From: Henry VI Parts 2 and 3 and Richard III

Pro: Is pretty, smart, charming, and knows how to do her husband’s job better than him as well as would do anything to keep him on the throne. Knows what she wants and passionately goes after it no matter who’s in her way. Has a real affection for Suffolk and is really upset when he’s banished and executed. Is completely devoted to her husband’s career. Leads armies and has courage in battle. Doesn’t care what anyone thinks about her. Loves her son and would do anything for him. Realizes the horror in wars when her son is killed.

Con: Has something on the side with Suffolk (to be fair, this was a Cyrano de Bergerac situation so what did you expect?). But her relationship with him plays like a medieval version of House of Cards. It’s not known whether they love each other but they don’t seem to love anything more than power (though there’s some affection between the two). Is basically cold to her husband Henry because she sees him as too weak and pious and mostly supports him for power. And when it comes to consolidating power, she doesn’t care about a man’s life, justice, or the common people. Is so ruthless that she’s willing to kill people and does a lot of nasty things. Loves her son but isn’t necessarily nice to him. Loses it when her son gets stabbed in front of her eyes. As a widow, she’s quite bitter and is mostly cursing everyone near her but some of her curses come true.

Fate: Fated to live in the York castle (though in real life she was ransomed by the French king and lived in France as a poor royal relation).

 

25. Hermia

"By all the vows that ever men have broke/(In number more than ever women spoke),/In that same place thou hast appointed me,/To-morrow truly will I meet with thee." - Act I, Scene 1. Well, at least Lysander is better at keeping vows when he's not under a love potion.

“By all the vows that ever men have broke/(In number more than ever women spoke),/In that same place thou hast appointed me,/To-morrow truly will I meet with thee.” – Act I, Scene 1. Well, at least Lysander is better at keeping vows when he’s not under a love potion.

From: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Pro: Loves Lysander so much that she’s willing to risk a death sentence in order to be with him. Is beautiful but is no fool realize that Lysander might break his promises and she’s willing to take that chance anyway. And even when he seems to like Helena, she holds on to it no matter what the consequences or circumstances. Is also bold to stand up for herself.

Con: Doesn’t like being called short. Does not have a great relationship with her dad. Probably shouldn’t have told Helena about her and Lysander’s plans to elope. And when Lysander seems like he’s into Helena, the claws will come out and she will fight Helena.

Fate: Marries Lysander in a triple wedding ceremony with Demetrius and Helena and Theseus and Hippolyta.

 

26. Othello

"Villain, be sure thou prove my love a whore,/Be sure of it; give me the ocular proof;/Or, by the worth of mine eternal soul,/Thou hadst been better have been born a dog/Than answer my wak'd wrath." - Act III, Scene 3. Uh, Othello, you really shouldn't trust Iago. Iago isn't honest and he's not your friend. In fact, he wants to ruin your life.

“Villain, be sure thou prove my love a whore,/Be sure of it; give me the ocular proof;/Or, by the worth of mine eternal soul,/Thou hadst been better have been born a dog/Than answer my wak’d wrath.” – Act III, Scene 3. Uh, Othello, you really shouldn’t trust Iago. Iago isn’t honest and he’s not your friend. In fact, he wants to ruin your life.

From: Othello

Pro: He really loves Desdemona and is a brave as well as competent general. Also, was certainly right to appoint Cassio over Iago as we see in the play.

Con: Has a lot of insecurities pertaining to his ethnicity and age which makes him unable to completely trust his own wife, which Iago exploits for all its worth. Can be emotionally volatile and has a tendency to believe in his own fears (even if they’re backed by only circumstantial evidence like Desdemona’s handkerchief at Cassio’s or Cassio’s bragging). Once his emotions are inflamed and he makes up his mind of what’s going on, he becomes disastrously blind towards everyone else’s intentions or the truth. Let’s just say that he really needs to calm down. Also, tends to believe “honest” Iago when he really shouldn’t (at least over his own wife) who ends up playing him for a sap. When he suspects his wife’s cheating on him, he starts verbally and physically abusing her and eventually kills her in a homicidal rage.

Fate: Commits suicide after finding out that Desdemona had been faithful to him all along.

 

27. Emilia

"I hold my peace, sir? no;/No, I will speak as liberal as the north;/Let heaven and men and devils, let them all,/All, all, cry shame against me, yet I'll speak." - Act V, Scene 2. Nice work, Emilia, but why didn't you speak up earlier? Like when Desdemona was still alive?

“I hold my peace, sir? no;/No, I will speak as liberal as the north;/Let heaven and men and devils, let them all,/All, all, cry shame against me, yet I’ll speak.” – Act V, Scene 2. Nice work, Emilia, but why didn’t you speak up earlier? Like when Desdemona was still alive?

From: Othello

Pro: She’s sensible, smart, and is the only character in the cast who sees Iago for what he truly is. Also, she single-handedly foiled Iago’s plans by telling Othello that his wife wasn’t cheating on him because she gave Desdemona’s handkerchief to her husband who planted it at Cassio’s place. Even more amazing is that she exposed him when Iago threatened her with a knife before stabbing him.

Con: For one, she’s in a very unhappy marriage with Iago and puts up with his misogynistic jokes. It has also made her quite cynical that she contemplates adultery. Second, she steals Desdemona’s handkerchief and gives it to Iago and doesn’t tell Othello about it until after he kills his wife. In fact, she even lies about it, saying that she didn’t know where it is. Had she come clean and exposed Iago to Othello while Desdemona was still alive, she could’ve prevented a whole tragedy based on a complete misunderstanding.

Fate: Stabbed by her husband but she dies triumphant since it shows how much of a bastard Iago truly is.

 

28. Henry V

"Thus we play the fools with the time; and the spirits of the wise sit in the clouds, and mock us." - Act II, Scene 2 in Henry IV Part 2. Guess killing Hotspur during the Battle of Shrewsbury didn't help his daddy issues. Wait a minute, that's Loki. What the hell he's doing in England when he's supposed to be in Asgard?

“Thus we play the fools with the time; and the spirits of the wise sit in the clouds, and mock us.” – Act II, Scene 2 in Henry IV Part 2. Guess killing Hotspur during the Battle of Shrewsbury didn’t help his daddy issues. Wait a minute, that’s Loki. What the hell he’s doing in England when he’s supposed to be in Asgard?

From: Richard II, Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, and Henry V

Pro: Despite what his dad thinks of him, he’s clearly intelligent and capable of psychological machinations required of kings as well as a brave and noble warrior. Has a lot of admiration for Hostspur. Wants to really please his dad and everyone else. Great with giving speeches before getting into battle mode. And doesn’t do too bad with a French princess after winning the Battle of Agincourt either.

Con: He starts out as a disreputable frat boy which earns his dad’s displeasure even though it might be more of an act to shock the people when he emerges as his true, heroic self in order to win his dad’s and the country’s admiration. Yet, his heavy measure of deceit involved in his plan calls his honor to question, especially since his treatment of Falstaff further sullies his name. He’s quite capable of humiliating and tormenting and later disowns him altogether. As king, he uses a gift of tennis balls from the French in order to declare war on their country. Also, how is he entitled to the French throne again? Not to mention he threatens a city governor to surrender or else he and his soldiers would rape, murder, and loot. Yes, the guy can be quite despicable.

Fate: Dies between Henry V and the Henry VI Trilogy.

 

29. Richard III

"Now is the winter of our discontent/Made glorious summer by this sun of York;/And all the clouds, that lour'd upon our house,/In the deep bosom of the ocean buried."- Act I, Scene 1. Let's just say, the real Richard III wasn't this evil, which to many fans is kind of disappointing. Because he's so entertaining.

“Now is the winter of our discontent/Made glorious summer by this sun of York;/And all the clouds, that lour’d upon our house,/In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.”- Act I, Scene 1. Let’s just say, the real Richard III wasn’t this evil, which to many fans is kind of disappointing. Because he’s so entertaining.

From: Henry VI Parts 2 and 3 and Richard III

Pro: He’s smart, suave, cunning, and politically savvy as well as a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield. He’s also very personable and entertaining that you just can’t hate him despite how despicable he really is. Certainly has the balls to woo Lady Anne and take her as his wife despite not being Prince Charming. Doesn’t give a shit about what people think about him. Has quite a sense of humor (well, a sick sense of humor but it’s pretty compelling). Wonderful with words. Wasn’t as bad a guy in real life as he is in this play.

Con: Is an unapologetic villain who enjoys being evil and is only out for himself that he’s willing to turn his brothers against each other as well as uses his allies (and Lady Anne) as pawns. May have insecurities due to his deformed appearance that make him feel so inadequate and unloved that made him prone to being hated and belittled throughout his life (according to Freud). Also a manipulative and pathological liar since he pretends to be godly and moral but stops at nothing to get what he wants. He seduces and marries Lady Anne (despite killing her dad and husband) with every intent on discarding her later (in real life, he certainly loved her since they were kids and was devastated when she died). Has his brother George of Clarence sent to the Tower of London and murdered (in reality, it was clearly Edward IV who wanted him dead while he was against executing him). Drives his brother Edward IV to an early grave so he could imprison and murder his kids in the Tower of London. Even poisons Anne and has his allies killed (in reality, he did not poison Anne). Though seen as a true Machiavellian, he tends to ignore Machiavelli’s one crucial rule from The Prince on how to retain power (like never be hated).

Fate: Knocked off his horse and killed during the Battle of Bosworth Field but he went down fighting.

 

30. Caius Martius Coriolanus

"You common cry of curs, whose breath I hate/As reek o' th' rotten fens, whose loves I prize/As the dead carcasses of unburied men/That do corrupt my air, I banish you!" - Act III, Scene 3. Basically the most arrogant way to say, "You can't fire me, I quit!" He's also going on hating the plebs, again.

“You common cry of curs, whose breath I hate/As reek o’ th’ rotten fens, whose loves I prize/As the dead carcasses of unburied men/That do corrupt my air, I banish you!” – Act III, Scene 3. Basically the most arrogant way to say, “You can’t fire me, I quit!” He’s also going on hating the plebs, again.

From: Coriolanus

Pro: He’s a brilliant Roman general and war hero who saves Rome from its enemies as well as helped banish the tyrant king Tarquin. Earns the name “Coriolanus” when he leads an army and defeats the city of Corioles. Is a real mama’s boy who’s willing to spare Rome when she wants him to.

Con: He’s a lower-class hating snob who thinks plebeians don’t deserve any political power or even any food and a poster boy for aristocratic arrogance dominating the play. He also has a seriously bad temper, an unwillingness to compromise, and a tendency to say the first thing that comes to mind. This doesn’t help that the play kicks off with a food riot with plebeians going threatening to go after him with clubs, pikes, and whatnot. Or if he’s pursuing a career in politics after he gets out of the Roman Army. Not to mention, he’s so unlikeable that it’s hard for audiences to connect with him. He’s so offensive and obnoxious that he can’t pretend he likes a group of people whom he hates. Has a very freaky relationship with his mom. Oh, and when he’s forced out of office, he ends up betraying his people to the Volscians. Can also be emotionally immature and lets himself be bullied by his mom.

Fate: Killed by the Volscians while trying to arrange a peace treaty between them and the Romans.

Great Figures in Shakespeare: Part 1 – Viola to Hamlet

Edwin_Booth_as_Hamlet_lithograph

Hamlet: A man in his early 20s whom every accomplished stage actor and movie star wants to play and every psychiatrist and psychologist wants to psycho-analyze. After all, the guy has major issues. By the way, this is a lithograph of Hamlet as portrayed by 19th century stage great Edwin Booth considered by some theater historians as the greatest American actor of his time. However, you probably know him better as the older brother named John Wilkes Booth who shot Lincoln in the head at Ford’s Theater. However, he didn’t share his brother’s views and actually saved Robert Lincoln from being run over by a train in Jersey City. Also had a personal life filled with tragedy with his dad and several close relatives dying insane, two wives who died young, financial troubles and alcoholism, and that bit about his brother killing a US president.

As it comes to Shakespeare’s plays, it’s always his characters who are the most endearing. After all, they’re the ones who get the story going. And the fact that we use Shakespearean characters to name moons off of Uranus kind of emphasizes their importance. Some of these Shakespearean figures I present to you may be well-known or ones you might not have even heard of. Some of them may be based off historical figures while some might be seen as totally fantastical. Also, there might be some you don’t even like since a lot of them tend to be jerks. But I have them on anyway since they tend to say memorable lines. I’m going to introduce to you 150 of these. In this first selection, I introduce to you Viola and Malvoli from Twelfth Night, Beatrice and Dogberry from Much Ado About Nothing, The Nurse from Romeo and Juliet, Lady Macbeth from Macbeth, Titania from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Falstaff from Henry IV and The Merry Wives of Windsor, not so honest Iago from Othello, King Lear and the Earl of Gloucester from King Lear, Prospero from The Tempest, the chronically depressed Jacques from As You Like It, Volumnia from Coriolanus, and Hamlet.

 

  1. Viola
"’T is beauty truly blent, whose red and white/Nature’s own sweet and cunning hand laid on:/Lady, you are the cruell’st she alive/If you will lead these graces to the grave,/And leave the world no copy." - Act I, Scene 5. Just so you know Viola is going to regret saying this once Olivia gets the hots for "Caesario."

“’T is beauty truly blent, whose red and white/Nature’s own sweet and cunning hand laid on:/Lady, you are the cruell’st she alive/If you will lead these graces to the grave,/And leave the world no copy.” – Act I, Scene 5. Just so you know Viola is going to regret saying this once Olivia gets the hots for “Caesario.”

From: Twelfth Night

Pro: She’s resourceful and practical as well as quick-witted enough to evaluate her situation and is a sound judge of character. As a single woman shipwrecked in a strange foreign land alone, she finds herself in an extremely dangerous position. Also, is very intelligent, has an engaging wit, and immense charm. But she manages to win over a sea captain’s loyalty as well as complete trust in Duke Orsino and bring Olivia out of a depression. Also, in her situation, dressing as a guy is understandable. And her dealings with Lady Olivia and Duke Orsino are forthright and honest.

Con: Unfortunately, dressing up as Cesario to work for Duke Orsino has implications that she didn’t think through. Not only does she end up in love with her boss but the object of his affections ends up in love with her (as Cesario). This when she was trying to woo her on Orsino’s behalf.

Fate: Quits her disguise and marries Duke Orsino once he realizes that Lady Olivia has no interest in him.

 

  1. Beatrice
"In our last conflict four of his five wits went halting off, and now is the whole man governed with one: so that if he have wit enough to keep himself warm, let him bear it for a difference between himself and his horse; for it is all the wealth that he hath left, to be known a reasonable creature." - Act I, Scene 1. She's basically saying that Benedick's so stupid that even his horse seems to have more sense than him. She ends up falling for him later on.

“In our last conflict four of his five wits went halting off, and now is the whole man governed with one: so that if he have wit enough to keep himself warm, let him bear it for a difference between himself and his horse; for it is all the wealth that he hath left, to be known a reasonable creature.” – Act I, Scene 1. She’s basically saying that Benedick’s so stupid that even his horse seems to have more sense than him. She ends up falling for him later on.

From: Much Ado About Nothing

Pro: She’s feisty and sharp as well as doesn’t care what other people think about her. She also refuses to marry for two reasons. First, because she wants a suitable man who’d treat her as an equal partner. Second, because she doesn’t want to eschew her liberty and submit to a controlling husband. She also tends to rebel against how women in her society are treated. She also cares about Hero and explodes with fury at Claudio for mistreating and humiliating her for violating her chastity. In fact, she’s willing to put Hero’s loyalty above all else, even at the cost of her relationship with Benedick (but he sticks by her). Not to mention, despite a bad start, she tends to open up to the sensitivities and weaknesses of love once she gives Benedick a chance. And let’s just say they tend to have a healthier relationship than some Shakespearean couples since they have a lot in common as well as bring out the best in each other.

Con: Unfortunately for her in the beginning, her Prince Charming tends to be Benedick who she tends to jab insults with. She also tends to be rather stubborn and cynical that it’s most likely she wouldn’t have given him the chance had other characters not suggested that he might be in love with her.

Fate: Ends up marrying Benedick in a double wedding with Hero and Claudio.

 

  1. The Nurse
"Faith, here it is./Romeo is banish'd; and all the world to nothing,/That he dares ne'er come back to challenge you; /Or, if he do, it needs must be by stealth./Then, since the case so stands as now it doth,/I think it best you married with the county. /O, he's a lovely gentleman! " - Act III, Scene 5. Uh, I don't think Juliet wants to hear this. She might do something drastic.

“Faith, here it is./Romeo is banish’d; and all the world to nothing,/That he dares ne’er come back to challenge you; /Or, if he do, it needs must be by stealth./Then, since the case so stands as now it doth,/I think it best you married with the county. /O, he’s a lovely gentleman! ” – Act III, Scene 5. Uh, I don’t think Juliet wants to hear this. She might do something drastic.

From: Romeo and Juliet

Pro: She’s sensible and seems more like a mother to Juliet than Lady Capulet. And it is only whom Juliet confides her feelings for Paris and Romeo. She’s also one of the only member of the older generation to take Juliet’s feelings into consideration. Oh, and she could hold her own against a couple of immature teenage boys.

Con: Not sure if she should’ve approved of or assisted Juliet eloping with Romeo. Or told Juliet that she should marry Paris either. Because we know how that turned out from there. She also drinks. Also uses salty language and talks about bodily functions a lot.

Fate: She’s probably a mess by the end considering how she lost her family and then two kids that she helped raise.

 

  1. Lady Macbeth
"Glamis thou art, and Cawdor; and shalt be/What thou art promised. Yet do I fear thy nature;/It is too full o' the milk of human kindness/To catch the nearest way: thou wouldst be great;/Art not without ambition; but without/The illness should attend it." - Act I, Scene 5. I guess she's telling Macbeth that he's being too nice and that's bad.

“Glamis thou art, and Cawdor; and shalt be/What thou art promised. Yet do I fear thy nature;/It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness/To catch the nearest way: thou wouldst be great;/Art not without ambition; but without/The illness should attend it.” – Act I, Scene 5. I guess she’s telling Macbeth that he’s being too nice and that’s bad.

From: Macbeth

Pro: She’s charming, attractive, and completely devoted to her husband’s career. Is a consummate hostess. She’s also quite headstrong and knows what she wants. And despite her exterior, she at least has a conscience as we find out later. Also, she and Macbeth seem to love each other, in their own twisted way. Not to mention, she’s not as into killing once her husband becomes king of Scotland.

Con: She’s a scheming and heartless woman who prays for demons to have her become evil so she’ll have no remorse for her actions. Tends to be more ambitious and ruthless than her husband and is quite frightening. Goads her husband into committing regicide by questioning his manhood. And because Duncan resembles her dad too much for her to do it herself. Unfortunately, after the deed is done and she becomes queen, she goes mad from guilt, starts sleepwalking, experiences hallucinations, and ends up killing herself over it. And her role seems to diminish as her husband decides to kill Banquo without her input.

Fate: Commits suicide off-stage after her guilt over Duncan’s murder practically destroys her.

 

  1. Titania
"Come, now a roundel and a fairy song;/Then, for the third part of a minute, hence;/Some to kill cankers in the musk-rose buds,/Some war with rere-mice for their leathern wings,/To make my small elves coats, and some keep back/The clamorous owl that nightly hoots and wonders/At our quaint spirits. Sing me now asleep;/Then to your offices and let me rest." - Act II, Scene 2. Just in time for Oberon to work his magic so she'd fall for an ass.

“Come, now a roundel and a fairy song;/Then, for the third part of a minute, hence;/Some to kill cankers in the musk-rose buds,/Some war with rere-mice for their leathern wings,/To make my small elves coats, and some keep back/The clamorous owl that nightly hoots and wonders/At our quaint spirits. Sing me now asleep;/Then to your offices and let me rest.” – Act II, Scene 2. Just in time for Oberon to work his magic so she’d fall for an ass.

From: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Pro: As queen of the fairies, she’s a force to be reckoned with in a world of magic. She’s gracious but sassy enough to stick to her guns and refuses to give up an Indian boy she’s raising, thus protecting her love and honor. Also seems to love Oberon, too despite their disagreements.

Con: Unfortunately, this doesn’t stop her husband from trying to get his way by slipping her a love potion and making her look like a fool. Also, we’re not sure why she’s willing to forgive Oberon after his horrible treatment of her. Then again, tricking one’s spouse into falling for a furry might be a thing in their relationship.

Fate: Well, she seems to have reconciled with Oberon, at least in the short run.

 

  1. Sir John Falstaff
"Well, God give thee the spirit of persuasion and him the ears of profiting, that what thou speakest may move and what he hears may be believed, that the true prince may, for recreation sake, prove a false thief; for the poor abuses of the time want countenance. Farewell: you shall find me in Eastcheap." - Act I, Scene 1 in Henry IV Part 1. Yes, he may not be a great role model but you can't help but like the guy.

“Well, God give thee the spirit of persuasion and him the ears of profiting, that what thou speakest may move and what he hears may be believed, that the true prince may, for recreation sake, prove a false thief; for the poor abuses of the time want countenance. Farewell: you shall find me in Eastcheap.” – Act I, Scene 1 in Henry IV Part 1. Yes, he may not be a great role model but you can’t help but like the guy.

From: Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 and The Merry Wives of Windsor

Pro: Well, he’s a jovial guy who you can’t help but like. Has a point when it comes to linking honor with violence at least in his era. Also a master of puns and wordplay. However, while he gets Hal into trouble, he seems to regard him as a friend which makes Hal’s repudiation of him so harsh when he becomes king.

Con: He’s a vain, boastful, and cowardly knight who spends most of his time drinking at the Boar’s Head Inn with petty criminals. Lives on stolen or borrowed money. Tends to lead the wayward Prince Hal into trouble. He’s also selfish, lazy, dishonest, corrupt, and manipulative. Would go after married women to get some money out of it and he does. So it’s little wonder why Henry IV doesn’t really like seeing his son hang out with the guy.

Fate: Dies off-stage between Henry IV Part 2 and Henry V.

 

  1. Iago
"Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty,/But seeming so, for my peculiar end:/For when my outward action doth demonstrate/The native act and figure of my heart/In compliment extern, 'tis not long after/But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve/For daws to peck at: I am not what I am." - Act I, Scene 1. Basically, he's saying, "I am a horrible person but nobody here seems to notice that." While inherently evil, his motivation for wanting to ruin Othello's life remain a mystery.

“Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty,/But seeming so, for my peculiar end:/For when my outward action doth demonstrate/The native act and figure of my heart/In compliment extern, ’tis not long after/But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve/For daws to peck at: I am not what I am.” – Act I, Scene 1. Basically, he’s saying, “I am a horrible person but nobody here seems to notice that.” While inherently evil, his motivation for wanting to ruin Othello’s life remain a mystery.

From: Othello

Pro: Well, he’s charismatic and personable enough to get people to listen and trust him. Also a capable soldier with ample self-esteem. Very intelligent.

Con: Face it, this “honest” man is a pathological liar and sociopath. Super pissed that his boss Othello promoted a younger guy over him, he sets on a mission to ruin his life by telling him that all Venetian women are whores and makes it look like that Cassio and Desdemona are having an affair. All this while pretending to be his friend. Such a setup drives Othello mad that he mistreats and later kills his own wife in a rage. Later murders his accomplice and his wife to cover his own ass. And he displays absolutely no remorse as well as refuses to speak another word when he gets caught. Sure he may have various motives for his evil like racism, envy, suspicion Othello’s sleeping with his own wife, but it’s fair to say that he has no motive. He just simply enjoys it. Also treats Emilia like shit. In a nutshell, he’s a complete monster.

Fate: At least he faces justice in the end and you probably know he doesn’t have much time left.

 

  1. Prospero
"What see'st thou else/In the dark backward and abysm of time?" - Act I, Scene 2. Still, you have to wonder if Prospero is such a powerful sorcerer, why doesn't he just magically transport him and his daughter off the island?

“What see’st thou else/In the dark backward and abysm of time?” – Act I, Scene 2. Still, you have to wonder if Prospero is such a powerful sorcerer, why doesn’t he just magically transport him and his daughter off the island?

From: The Tempest

Pro: He’s a highly intelligent and powerful sorcerer who likes his books and loves his daughter (though he’s not setting her up with Ferdinand just because he wants her to be happy). Is sensitive to human suffering once he sees the shipwreck and the survivors’ pitiful state. Ultimately forgives his brother in the end mostly because he just wants to go home.

Con: For one, he’s kind of a control freak who bullies his servants. His study of magic basically isolates him from his own family and responsibilities. Starts out as a bitter old man who orchestrates a storm to cause a shipwreck because the boat’s carrying his brother who ousted him as Duke of Milan. He’s cruel to Ferdinand and Caliban and is only nice to Ariel when he’s totally subservient. Puts his enemies through all kinds of hell so he could judge them. Also, if Ferdinand wasn’t such a swell guy, his plan to fix his daughter with him would’ve backfired horribly.

Fate: Renounces magic, becomes Duke of Milan again, and comes home.

 

  1. King Lear
"Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!/You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout/Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!/You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,/Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,/Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,/Strike flat the thick rotundity o' the world!/Crack nature's molds, all germens spill at once/That make ingrateful man!" -Act III, Scene 2. This probably the stuff you shouldn't say when caught in a thunderstorm. Apparently, Lear's retirement hadn't worked out as well as he planned.

“Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!/You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout/Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!/You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,/Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,/Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,/Strike flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!/Crack nature’s molds, all germens spill at once/That make ingrateful man!” -Act III, Scene 2. This probably the stuff you shouldn’t say when caught in a thunderstorm. Apparently, Lear’s retirement hadn’t worked out as well as he planned.

From: King Lear

Pro: Loves his daughters. Smart enough in realizing his stupidity later before gaining a new perspective on life and starts sympathizing for other people’s hardships.

Con: Dividing his kingdom and responsibilities to his daughters and having them publicly profess their love to him was a very huge mistake. This results into him dividing his domain between Goneril and Regan as well as throwing Cordelia out of the kingdom. And throws out the Earl of Kent for offering some constructive criticism. Also insists that he keep his knights, be allowed to visit his older daughters as much has he wishes, and retain 100 knights which leads Goneril and Regan to become sick of him. Prays to the gods so Goneril won’t have kids. These actions start a series of conflicts that lead to an all-out civil war, is betrayed by his two oldest daughters for flipping out on them, and goes mad wandering into a thunderstorm. Blind to the love of the daughter who actually cares about him.

Fate: Dies of a broken heart after Cordelia’s death.

 

  1. Malvolio
"Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em." - Act II, Scene 5. Unfortunately, for him, he's more subject to a series pranks designed for his humiliation than anything else.

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.” – Act II, Scene 5. Unfortunately, for him, he’s more subject to a series pranks designed for his humiliation than anything else.

From: Twelfth Night

Pro: Well, he’s a loyal steward for Lady Olivia as well as always emphasizes the value of dignity, decency, decorum, and “good order.” He’s also great at his job that Lady Olivia has a lot of respect for him and wishes to retain him.

Con: While his Puritanism makes him a model butler in Olivia’s household, it also makes him an insufferable snob and is opposed to having a good time. He also has an enormous ego and is willing to do anything for advancement. And when he sees a chance for that, he abandons all such proper conduct and behaves like an utter fool. He may also be in love with his boss but that’s understandable. But he’s more interested in marrying Olivia for the material benefits and is kind of a perv. Nevertheless, his own sense of conceit makes him easy prey for pranksters and they somehow get him to think that Olivia has a crush on him as well as dress in cross garters and yellow tights in hopes of impressing her, never mind that he’s 20 years older than her. This makes him look like a complete idiot that he eventually gets angry and swears revenge. But not before he’s locked in a box and subject to a mock exorcism.

Fate: Well, he basically ends up having to act as steward for Olivia for the rest of his life which sucks for him because she married Sebastian. Also, being the butt of endless pranks. And I’m sure he’ll never hear the end of the yellow tights incident. Poor thing.

 

  1. Earl of Gloucester
"I have no way, and therefore want no eyes;/I stumbled when I saw: full oft 'tis seen,/Our means secure us, and our mere defects/Prove our commodities." - Act IV, Scene 1. Sure Gloucester was a jerk. But you have to feel bad when Cornwall blinds him and kicks him out of his castle.

“I have no way, and therefore want no eyes;/I stumbled when I saw: full oft ’tis seen,/Our means secure us, and our mere defects/Prove our commodities.” – Act IV, Scene 1. Sure Gloucester was a jerk. But you have to feel bad when Cornwall blinds him and kicks him out of his castle.

From: King Lear

Pro: Loves both his sons equally despite them being from different moms. But he eventually ends up gaining insight that one of them hates him and wants to kill his brother. Loyal to Lear. Later ends up leading a life of consideration.

Con: Is initially arrogant, self-satisfied, insensitive, and hypocritical. Is duped by his illegitimate son Edmund into thinking that his legitimate son Edgar is trying to kill him. And assumes what Edmund said was true without even trying to speak to Edgar about it. This leads to him throwing out the son who actually cares about him. Also was in his castle when Regan and Cornwall decided to strip him of political office, blind him, and throw him out. Even when blind, he tends to be a jerk to his own son Edgar (who rescued him) as well as the Earl of Kent in disguise.

Fate: Dies offstage.

 

  1. Jacques
"I must have liberty/Withal, as large a charter as the wind,/To blow on whom I please." - Act II, Scene 7. Also, weeping over deer isn't a smart thing to do in Western PA during hunting season. Just thought you'd like to know.

“I must have liberty/Withal, as large a charter as the wind,/To blow on whom I please.” – Act II, Scene 7. Also, weeping over deer isn’t a smart thing to do in Western PA during hunting season. Just thought you’d like to know.

From: As You Like It

Pro: Supports Duke Senior and goes into exile with him. Has a brilliant insight into humanity. Not afraid of roughing it in the woods.

Con: He’s a cynic who enjoys being melancholy because he purposely seeks out depressing experiences. And he really doesn’t have a lot of things in his life to be bummed about. Refuses to take part in the wedding festivities at the end of the play. Wants to be a fool so he could criticize everyone and everything without retribution.

Fate: Goes back to an abandoned cave.

 

  1. Volumnia
"Had I a dozen sons, — each in my love alike, and none less dear than thine and my good Marcius, — I had rather had eleven die nobly for their country, than one voluptuously surfeit out of action." - Act I, Scene 3. Not exactly something you'd want to hear from mama. Imagine how she'd be like if her son was a tribute in the Hunger Games.

“Had I a dozen sons, — each in my love alike, and none less dear than thine and my good Marcius, — I had rather had eleven die nobly for their country, than one voluptuously surfeit out of action.” – Act I, Scene 3. Not exactly something you’d want to hear from mama. Imagine how she’d be like if her son was a tribute in the Hunger Games.

From: Coriolanus

Pro: She’s “dearest mother” to Coriolanus as well as one of the few women around who could keep him from destroying Rome.

Con: Sure she may be the most influential person in Coriolanus’s life but unfortunately, he’s a real piece of work. Thinks violence and bloodshed is more beautiful than the sight of a mother nursing her baby. So how she raised Coriolanus to be Rome’s deadliest warrior may not be something we want to know. Tends to rejoice when her son’s wounded since it shows physical proof of his valor. But she had no problem sending him off to war when he was young while most mothers would insist their boys would stay at home. Thinks having a military career is the only way for boys to become men. Always wants to take the credit for Coriolanus’s achievements. And she mostly lives through her son because being a woman makes her unable to slaughter any Volscians herself. After that, she wants Coriolanus to be a politician while he wants nothing to do with politics. Then she says that she’d have more pleasure seeing her son go off the war than going to bed with him, if he was her husband, of course. Okay, she’s kind of freaky. Also, is utterly delighted to see her grandson torturing butterflies. Has no patience with her daughter-in-law Virgilia’s weakness and fear. Despises the common people (which isn’t surprising).

Fate: Hailed as a savior of Rome but loses her son. Well, at least she can live through his son Martius. Really don’t want to know how that kid’s going to turn out.

 

  1. Dogberry
"O, that he were here to write me down — an ass! — but, masters, remember, that I am an ass; though it be not written down, yet forget not that I am an ass." - Act IV, Scene 2. Perhaps one of the few times when this guy knows what he's talking about.

“O, that he were here to write me down — an ass! — but, masters, remember, that I am an ass; though it be not written down, yet forget not that I am an ass.” – Act IV, Scene 2. Perhaps one of the few times when this guy knows what he’s talking about.

From: Much Ado About Nothing

Pro: He may not look like much but he’s not keen of people slandering proper ladies. And when he realizes something devious is afoot he’ll uncover the truth of the matter. His purpose as a comic relief might leave audiences wondering whether he’s truly confused or simple minded as he seems.

Con: He doesn’t like his job too much and doesn’t think he’s very competent. And his instructions to the watch seem somewhat contradictory to the whole purpose of patrolling that even his own men see him as an object of ridicule. His inability to get to the point holds some responsibility for the scene in the church. He’s also not very good with words or syntax.

Fate: Well, Don John’s deception is exposed in spite of his efforts rather than because of them.

 

  1. Hamlet

“I must be cruel, only to be kind: Thus bad begins and worse remains behind.” – Act III, Scene 4. Yeah, but where does all that cruelty get him in the end? Oh, wait, dead.

From: Hamlet

Pro: Well, he’s a very smart guy. Gives eloquent soliloquies and can come up with intricate revenge schemes. Can write a play to confirm that his uncle Claudius did kill his dad. He also knows how to foil Claudius when he wants to kill him (after all, he gives a letter with a death warrant to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and get conveniently kidnapped by pirates). Also, you can’t blame him for being moody since his dad died less than 2 months ago while his mom married his uncle who’s now become king. On top of that, he finds out that his Uncle Claudius killed his father. Yeah, you’d have serious issues if that happened, too. And yes, he has every right to berate his mom over her sex life and remarrying so quickly. Probably loves Ophelia or maybe not.

Con: Is a chronically depressed pessimist who dresses in black angsts a lot. He’s a shitty boyfriend since he verbally abuses and coldly rejects Ophelia as well as stabs her dad through a curtain (well, the guy was eavesdropping, but still). Not sure if pretending to be nuts and contemplating suicide is a good idea after hearing about your uncle killing your dad. His mom’s actions also screw up his views on women as well as his relationship with Ophelia (which doesn’t turn out well). Then there’s the fact when he hears King Claudius in prayer confessing to murdering his dad, he doesn’t just burst forth and kill him now because he doesn’t want to see the guy go to heaven (even though Claudius isn’t sorry for his crimes). Yeah. Note that after this scene, his uncle tries to have him killed a few times. Not to mention, Freud thinks the guy has a massive Oedipus Complex for his unhealthy obsession with his mom’s sexuality (but come on, who wouldn’t in his case). Then again, his dad’s ghost did tell him to leave her alone (but he’s not a guy who has to live with this).

Fate: Is fatally stabbed by Laertes during a fencing match with a poisoned blade. But it takes a while for him to succumb. At least he gets to kill Claudius, finally. Still, despite his most famous soliloquy on contemplating suicide, you wouldn’t think he’d die like this. But he does.

As Told by the Bard: Part 5 – The Problem Plays

Portia_pronouncing_sentence_(Howard_c._1830-1831)

Seriously, Portia, why screw Shylock over everything. The worst thing he’s done is asking for pound of Antonio’s flesh because he treats him like shit and gets away with it. For God’s sake, this Venetian Anti-Semitism is getting of hand.

Finally, we get to Shakespeare’s problem plays. Now while some of these are considered either comedy or tragedy, they don’t fall into either. Nor do they seem to have completely happy endings. Or barely believable ones. Nevertheless, they tend to be characterized by their ambiguous tone which shifts violently between dark, psychological drama and more straightforward comic material. And in these plays, the protagonist often faces a situation put forward by the author as a representative of an instance pertaining to a contemporary social problem. Or whatever is interpreted as such like in The Merchant of Venice. However, the term can refer to the play’s subject matter or the classification “problems” with the plays themselves. These ones usually fit the bills in most cases.

 

34. All’s Well That Ends Well

Helena: "Great floods have flown/From simple sources; and great seas have dried,/When miracles have by the greatest been denied./Oft expectation fails, and most oft there/Where most it promises." - Act II, Scene 1

Helena: “Great floods have flown/From simple sources; and great seas have dried,/When miracles have by the greatest been denied./Oft expectation fails, and most oft there/Where most it promises.” – Act II, Scene 1

Genre: Problem Play, Late Romance, Comedy

Published: 1604 or 1605

Plot: Poor servant girl Helena has an unrequited crush on the countess’s son, Bertram who leaves to become a courtier to the ailing French King. Well, she basically stalks Bertram and promises that she can save the king since she learned some medicinal skills from her late physician father. The king is skeptical but gives her a try but reminds her that she’d be executed if she fails. But if she succeeds, she can marry any guy in his entourage. Helena cures him and the king lets her take her pick. As expected, she chooses Bertram who rejects her because she has no wealth or social status. The king will have none of it so he gives Bertram no choice. But after the ceremony, Bertram escapes to fight in Italy and sends a taunting letter to Helena bragging how he’s left her and saying that he won’t have her as his wife unless she wears his family ring and has his baby, expecting that neither is going to happen since he has no plans returning to France. Distraught but undeterred, Helena follows him all the way to Florence where she finds out that he’s set his sights on a girl named Diana who’d rather have him off her back. So Diana helps Helena by convincing Bertram to give up his family ring and letting him sleep with her in her room with the lights off.  That night, Helena sneaks in Diana’s bedroom and sleeps with Bertram instead. After that, Helena returns to France where she fakes her own death with the countess’s help, prompting Bertram to return home. Thinking he’s free of her, Bertram tries to marry someone else but Diana shows up and ruins it for him. Once everyone shows up, Helena reveals herself showing that she’s not dead, is wearing Bertram’s family ring, and is pregnant with his child. Bertram is impressed with all she’s done for him and swears his love to her.

Plot Origin: Based on a tale in Boccaccio’s The Decameron. Shakespeare might’ve read an English translation of the story in William Painter’s Palace of Pleasure.

Who Falls In Love: Helena loves Bertram who’s an utter tool while he has a thing for Diana who reasonably suspects he wants to get in her pants. Yet, by the end, Bertram appears to reciprocate but he may not have been sincere since he’s spent most of the play as a complete prick who hates her guts and only seems to change in just one line.

Who Dies: Nobody.

Reputation: This isn’t one of the best know Shakespearean plays since it wasn’t very popular in his lifetime. A lot of performances tend to play down Bertram’s assholery or portray him as emotionally immature. However, while Helena’s love for the unlovable Bertram is hard to explain on page, this could be corrected on stage by having him cast by a hot actor. Jon Hamm comes to mind for me.

 

35. Measure for Measure

Mariana: "I cry you mercy, sir; and well could wish/You had not found me here so musical:/Let me excuse me, and believe me so,/My mirth it much displeased, but pleased my woe." - Act IV, Scene 1

Mariana: “I cry you mercy, sir; and well could wish/You had not found me here so musical:/Let me excuse me, and believe me so,/My mirth it much displeased, but pleased my woe.” – Act IV, Scene 1

Genre: Comedy, Problem Play

Published: 1603 or 1604

Plot: Duke Vincentio is concerned that Vienna’s anti-premarital sex laws aren’t being observed in the city (for obvious reasons). So he decides to leave Vienna and leaves his assistant Angelo in charge in the meantime (when in reality, he’s just going to dress up as a friar and live among the common folks so he’d know how to better serve them as well as see Angelo handle things if he really did go away). At first, Angelo proves to be a stricter ruler and enforces the anti-premarital sex laws ruthlessly. But he allows power to go to his head as seen by him sentencing Claudio to execution for knocking up his fiancée Juliet just to serve as an example to men who can’t keep it in their pants. And Claudio is perfectly willing to marry Juliet, too. This leads to his sister, a novice nun named Isabella to visit him and plead her case with Angelo. Angelo agrees to spare Claudio’s life on the condition that Isabella sleep with him. Isabella refuses because she doesn’t want to lose her virginity and knows that no one would believe her if she accuses him of rape (which it technically is). So she just tells Claudio to get his affairs in order. Fortunately, the Duke has a scheme so Isabella won’t have to decide. Because Angelo had once agreed to marry a woman named Marianna but he reneged on her promise when her dowry was lost at sea. The Duke suggests that Marianna disguise herself as Isabella and sleep with Angelo instead. Nevertheless, after the sex, Angelo goes back on his word and orders Claudio’s execution anyway because he doesn’t want to be exposed as the hypocrite he is. The Duke then proposes that instead of Claudio’s head, they’ll just send the head of an actual guilty prisoner. Unfortunately, the only criminal up for execution is too drunk to be killed so they send the head of a pirate who died of a fever. After that, the Duke decides he’s played dress up for far too long and resumes his role as Vienna’s ruler. Isabella and Marianna complain that Angelo wronged them but he plays dumb. Angelo blames everything on the mysterious friar who’s been hanging around and he’s backed by a Lucio, a local pimp. The Duke leaves and disguises himself as a friar as Lucio accuses him of various crimes. So the Duke reveals himself to set everything in order. He forces Angelo to marry Marianna and condemns him to death. But pardons him when Marianna and Isabella plead to spare him. He then brings Claudio out alive and reunites him with Juliet. He condemns Lucio into marrying a whore who had his child but pardons his life. And finally, he proposes marriage to Isabella but the play ends before she can give an answer.

Plot Origin: Based on original is “The Story of Epitia”, a story from Cinthio’s Hecatommithi, first published in 1565 and George Whetstone’s drama Promos and Cassandra. Still, why the characters have Italian names in a city whose main language is German I have no idea. Nevertheless, to have Claudio jailed and sentenced to death for knocking up a woman he’s perfectly willing to marry would’ve been seen as ridiculously cruel, even by the standards of Shakespeare’s time. In fact, even in Shakespeare’s time, a woman being pregnant at her wedding was a fairly common thing.

Who Falls In Love: Claudio with Juliet to the point where they can’t control their hormones, Angelo with Isabella who doesn’t care for him much and it’s more like lust, Duke Vincentio with Isabella though we’re not sure about her, and Marianna with Angelo. Lucio is condemned to marry a prostitute who had his baby.

Who Dies: A pirate dies of a fever.

Reputation: This isn’t one of Shakespeare’s best known plays and one I wouldn’t recommend as appropriate for the whole family (even though in Shakespeare’s day, parents didn’t give a shit what was proper viewing for children anyway). Though general consensus has Isabella marrying the Duke, whether she does is entirely up to the director. And we’re probably better off not knowing anyway. Still, this is more of a dramedy than a comedy and it’s well known for its frankness on sex. But it has a happy ending. Made into a musical.

 

36. The Merchant of Venice

Shylock: "And what's his reason? I am a Jew! Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?" - Act III, Scene 1

Shylock: “And what’s his reason? I am a Jew!
Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” – Act III, Scene 1

Genre: Comedy, Problem Play

Published: 1596-1598

Plot: Noble Bassanio is broke and seeks the hand of Lady Portia because she’s an heiress with wads of cash. So he approaches the merchant Antonio to borrow money because the guy’s often bailed him out in the past. But Antonio’s merchandise is out to sea and doesn’t have much money at hand even though he’s willing to give Bassanio any dough he can get. So Bassanio finds Shylock who hates Antonio, partly for being a Christian but mostly for Antonio insulting him and spitting on him for being a usurer. Shylock agrees to the loan and won’t charge interest this time. However, if Bassanio doesn’t pay back the loan, he gets a pound of Antonio’s flesh. But since Antonio’s ship will be in a full month before the money is due, Bassanio doesn’t worry and signs the bond. Bassanio goes to see Portia but since half the men in Europe want to marry her so he has to wait in line. However, her dad left a will saying that any guy wanting to marry her has to select among 3 caskets, one silver, one gold, and one lead. The princes of Morocco and Aragon choose the first 2 and go home unhappy. Bassanio chooses the lead one which was correct so he gets the girl. Later Antonio hears that his ship has gone down in a storm and is in serious trouble for he can’t give Bassanio the money to pay back the loan. And to make matters worse, Shylock’s daughter Jessica has eloped with one of Bassanio’s friends Lorenzo who’s a Christian and has taken most of Shylock’s money with her. So Shylock is even in a worse mood than previously so he has Antonio arrested and brought to court to claim a pound of his flesh. Portia and Bassanio hear about Antonio’s plight and Portia offers to pay 3 times the amount that’s owed while disguising herself as a man.  Shylock refuses because his hatred toward Antonio is personal. While Shylock does receive a pardon, he loses practically everything to his daughter who betrayed him and is forced to convert to Christianity.

Plot Origin: Based on the 14th century tale Il Pecorone by Giovanni Fiorentino, which was published in Milan in 1558 and The Orator by Alexandre Sylvane, published in translation in 1596, and “Gesta Romanorum”, from the 13th century.

Who Falls In Love: Bassanio and Portia, Jessica and Lorenzo, and Gratiano and Nerissa. Some speculate that Antonio is in love with Bassanio.

Who Dies: No one on stage. Though some adaptations have Shylock kill himself.

Reputation: This play has had a very interesting reception over the years and that’s mostly thanks to Shylock. And it’s also among Shakespeare’s most controversial, also thanks to Shylock. In fact, this play should’ve been called “The Angry Jewish Moneylender of Venice Everyone Treats Like Shit” because Shylock is usually the most coveted role and the character in the play everyone remembers. And there’s a lot of debate among scholars on whether Shylock is supposed to be an Anti-Semitic stereotype or truly sympathetic character who suffers a tragic fate. Sure Shylock is kind of an asshole and asking for a pound of a guy’s flesh is excessive, but in many ways you can totally understand where he’s coming from since Antonio treats him like shit and gets away with it. In the end, Shylock loses his daughter, his fortune, his property, and his religion. And despite wanting to kill Antonio, all the other characters treat him far worse than he treats them. As for Antonio while he might be a complete jerk, you have to admire how he’d do almost anything he could for Bassanio.  Some scholars have speculated whether Antonio sees Bassanio like a son or is gay and has an unrequited love for him. Made into a 2004 movie starring Al Pacino as Shylock and Jeremy Irons as Antonio.

 

37. Timon of Athens

Timon: "Why, I was writing of my epitaph; it will be seen to-morrow: my long sickness/Of health and living now begins to mend,/And nothing brings me all things. Go, live still;/Be Alcibiades your plague, you his,/And last so long enough!" - Act V, Scene 1

Timon: “Why, I was writing of my epitaph;
it will be seen to-morrow: my long sickness/Of health and living now begins to mend,/And nothing brings me all things. Go, live still;/Be Alcibiades your plague, you his,/And last so long enough!” – Act V, Scene 1

Genre: Tragedy, Problem Play

Published: 1605-1606

Plot: Timon is a beloved citizen of Athens known for his generosity. Unfortunately, he surrounds himself with flattering cronies, rewarding their flattery with lavish gifts. But they care about is when they’ll get their next payout. He holds a massive feast where he invites all his friends, many of whom he’s helped with personal problems by him throwing money at them. The only one in attendance who doesn’t suck up to him is Apemantus who’s only there to snark at him and his flatterers. Then Timon’s steward Flavius tells him he’s deeply in debt and can’t even sell his lands to recover. Timon sends servants to 3 of his closest friends by they shoot each one down. Timon is heartbroken but decides to throw another feast. This time, Timon gives his former friends an elaborate “fuck you,” serves them a “soup” of warm water, and chases them all out of the house with stones. Timon is exiled from Athens and goes to live in a cave outside its walls spending most of his time wishing plagues and disaster onto the city. He runs into Alcibiades who tells him that he’s going to sack and ruin Athens. Timon encourages him and gives him the gold he found to fuel the campaign. Alcaibiades is reluctant to be so vicious but says he’ll avenge both of them. Timon’s old friends soon hear he’s suddenly wealthy again and go to him, hoping to enjoy his generosity. But instead they’re met with disdain and vicious insults. Apemantus to deliver an “I told you so,” and the two have a comical battle of wits before Timon chases him away with stones. And the only person Timon doesn’t hate is his old servant Flavius who visits him but doesn’t ask for money. Timon gives him the rest of his gold and tells him never to be generous to anyone. Alchibiades attacks Athens but the authorities convince him not to. He agrees but receives word that Timon is dead.

Plot Origin: We’re not sure what Shakespeare based this play on.

Who Falls In Love: No one for there are no women in the cast.

Who Dies: Timon but we don’t know how. Possibly suicide.

Reputation: One of Shakespeare’s most difficult and obscure plays as well as often viewed as his “least liked.” However, Herman Melville was a noted fan. Performances of this play had been dominated by adaptations from the Restoration until well into the 20th century. It’s about to have its first film adaptation coming out at the end of this year. Does not have a sequel called Pumba of Athens. Sorry Lion King fans but this isn’t a Hakuna Matata play. Really it’s not.

 

38. Troilus and Cressida

Troilus: "The Greeks are strong and skilful to their strength,/Fierce to their skill and to their fierceness valiant;/But I am weaker than a woman's tear, /Tamer than sleep, fonder than ignorance,/Less valiant than the virgin in the nigh/ And skilless as unpracticed infancy. " - Act I, Scene 1

Troilus: “The Greeks are strong and skilful to their strength,/Fierce to their skill and to their fierceness valiant;/But I am weaker than a woman’s tear, /Tamer than sleep, fonder than ignorance,/Less valiant than the virgin in the nigh/ And skilless as unpracticed infancy. ” – Act I, Scene 1

Genre: Problem Play, Tragedy

Published: 1602

Plot: Troilus is a brave Trojan warrior falls desperately in love with Cressida. She reciprocates but plays hard to get. So Troilus uses Cressida’s scatterbrained uncle Pandarus as a go-between and spends most of the play singing Troilus’s praises and making bawdy jokes. Eventually they have sex and profess their undying love. But Cressida’s father who defected to the Greeks, exchanges her for a Trojan soldier so they get separated. Trolius asks her to be faithful and gives her a sleeve to remember him by. Yet, he can bear to be apart from her so when everyone gathers in a duel, he decides to visit her. Unfortunately, he finds out that Diomedes seduces (or rapes) her. Pissed off, Troilus kills some Greeks and yells at Pandarus who wonders what he did wrong. Meanwhile, Agamemnon is upset that Achilles won’t get out of his tent to fight the Trojans. Ulysses and Nestor concoct a plan to get Achilles back into battle by sending Ajax to duel Hector instead, hoping that this will infuriate the Greek champion into fighting. And for good measure, Ajax boasts and beats up a smart ass servant. However, the due falls through though Achilles is back on the battlefield. He and Hector duel the next day yet Hector drives him off. But Achilles later catches him unarmed and orders his men to kill him.

Plot Origin: Based on Homer’s Iliad and Chaucer’s tale Troilus and Criseyde.

Who Falls In Love: Troilus with Cressida but it doesn’t last. Then there’s Cressida having sex with Diomedes (but I highly doubt this is consensual). Also, Hector and Andromache (but he dies) as well as Achilles and Patrolcus (depending on your interpretation).

Who Dies: Hector gets killed by Achilles (though this is keeping true with the source material).

Reputation: Readers and theater goers don’t know how to react to this play since neither of the main characters die as so much as breakup. Also Troilus is kind of a dick asking Cressida to be faithful to him when she’s taken as a POW as if she’s totally in control of the situation (sorry, she’s not). And though he has every right to be pissed when she’s seduced by Diomedes, he acts like it’s her fault despite that female POWS are especially vulnerable to being raped. This is especially true in the Trojan War when the Greeks took every Trojan woman as a sex slave after Troy’s fall. Also, he never really promises her to keep it in his pants or rescue her. Still, this play has never been popular and hasn’t had performances between 1734 and 1898. John Dryden had a version in which Cressida stays loyal to her Troilus throughout which I think is even worse. And it wasn’t staged in its original form until the early 20th century mostly thanks to WWI owing to its cynical depiction of immorality and disillusionment.

As Told by the Bard: Part 4 – The Late Romances

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Relax, Miranda, Prospero doesn’t hate Prince Ferdinand. In fact, he’s perfectly fine with you being with him. After all, getting together with him was his idea but you wouldn’t know it.

While normally considered comedies since they have happy endings, these Late Romances are called us such for 2 reasons. First, they were written after Shakespeare’s prosperous company took over the Blackfriars Theatre in 1608 and began requiring texts different from those he’d been supplying earlier. Second, unlike the previous comedies you’ve read in my earlier posts, these tend to be more wishful, more melancholic, and more atmospheric than that preceded them. After all, the Blackfriars productions were stated at night in a closed, artificially lit environment and cost considerably more money. Not to mention, while the earlier comedies were open to pretty much everyone at the globe, the Blackfriars Theatre usually had a wealthier and better educated audience. And these people expected more emotional, heart-wrenching poetry, extravagant incident, extended suffering, and perilous escapes before the happy ending. Well, the Bard gave them what they wanted with these plays.

 

29. Cymbeline

Imogen: "Some jay of Italy,/Whose mother was her painting, hath betray’d him:/Poor I am stale, a garment out of fashion." - Act III, Scene 4

Imogen: “Some jay of Italy,/Whose mother was her painting, hath betray’d him:/Poor I am stale, a garment out of fashion.” – Act III, Scene 4

Genre: Tragedy, Late Romance, Comedy

Published: 1611

Plot: Despite the name, Cymbeline is a guy who’s a British king during the Roman Empire. Then again, the play should really be called Imogen since it’s more about his daughter. So Imogen falls in love and elopes with a poor nobleman named Posthumous which infuriates her daddy. So Cymbeline banishes his new son-in-law to Italy where he meets Jachimo who makes a bet that he can seduce Imogen and prove that all women are naturally unfaithful. Jachimo goes to Britain to see if Imogen would want a one night stand. She refuses so he resorts to trickery by hiding in a chest, watching her sleep while collecting details on her room, and stealing a bracelet Posthumous gave her. So when he returns to Italy, Jachimo has Posthumous fall for it hook, line, and sinker. And he tells his servant Pisanio to kill her over her infidelity. Pisanio doesn’t believe any of it and convinces her to disguise herself as a man and find her husband so she could tell him her side of the story. Meanwhile Pisanio tells Posthumous she’s dead. Yet, on her way to Italy, Imogen gets lost in Wales where she meets a nobleman and his two sons who are actually Cymbeline’s sons and her brothers that the nobleman kidnapped in revenge for being exiled. We then find out that Cymbeline’s evil queen convinced him to stop paying tribute to Rome which is about to attack. Due to crazy circumstances pertaining to killing the queen’s son, Imogen believes Posthumous is dead as Posthumous regrets murdering her. She mourns as he tries to kill himself by fighting for the Brits before switching to the Romans though Jupiter ensures he’ll protect the guy. As Posthumous is brought out as prisoner, each of the cast explains what the hell is going on and everyone lives happily ever after except the Queen who dies because she’s a bitch.

Plot Origin: Derived from part of Historia Regum Britanniae of Geoffrey of Monmouth about the real-life British monarch Cunobeline.

Who Falls In Love: Imogen and Posthumous

Who Dies: Well, the Queen and her son die but it’s not much of a tragedy.

Reputation: It was once held in high regard though not so in the 18th century since it’s kind of mishmash of plots Shakespeare used in other plays. John Keats liked it though and Harold Bloom thinks it’s more of a parody of the Bard’s own content. Made into a film in 2015.

 

30. Pericles, Prince of Tyre

Pericles: "I see that Time's the king of men,/For he's their parent, and he is their grave,/And gives them what he will, not what they crave." -Act II, Scene 3

Pericles: “I see that Time’s the king of men,/For he’s their parent, and he is their grave,/And gives them what he will, not what they crave.” -Act II, Scene 3

Genre: Comedy, Late Romance

Published: 1607-1608

Plot: A frame story narrated by Gower, Pericles is a virtuous adventurer who encounters many hardships on his road to happiness. Instances include getting in trouble for uncovering an incestuous relationship between a king and his daughter as well as sailing around the world to avoid assassination attempts. During his travels, he meets and marries another princess Thaisia. But on their way home she dies in as storm during childbirth that Pericles dumps her body at sea in a coffin. However, Thaisia actually survives and fearing her husband and newborn daughter are dead, she becomes a priestess in the Temple of Diana. Fearing that his daughter Marina will die before they get home, he leaves her with a family in Tarsus. Years pass and Pericles decides to retrieve her which is great because the governor and his wife in Tarsus aren’t so pleased with her being hotter than their daughter. They plan to kill her but she’s kidnapped by pirates and sold into slavery but miraculously never gets raped. She even convinces her kidnappers to leave and seek meaning in their lives as well as finds a job as a musician. But when Pericles gets to Tarsus, he’s told that his daughter is dead but luckily he finds her in Mytilene and thanks to the goddess Diana, he eventually finds his wife, too.

Plot Origin: Based on the medieval romance Apollonius of Tyre.

Who Falls In Love: Pericles with Thaisia.

Who Dies: No one we know on stage.

Reputation: Critical response of this play hasn’t been warm and ranks among one of the Bard’s least-known and least liked plays. However, it has seen a revival since 1929. Then this is Shakespeare we’re talking about so even crap like this has to be of superior literary quality.

 

31. The Tempest

Prospero: "Know thus far forth:/By accident most strange, bountiful Fortune —/Now my dear lady — hath mine enemies/Brought to this shore; and by my prescience/I find my zenith doth depend upon/A most auspicious star, whose influence/If now I court not, but omit, my fortunes/Will ever after droop." - Act I, Scene 2

Prospero: “Know thus far forth:/By accident most strange, bountiful Fortune —/Now my dear lady — hath mine enemies/Brought to this shore; and by my prescience/I find my zenith doth depend upon/A most auspicious star, whose influence/If now I court not, but omit, my fortunes/Will ever after droop.” – Act I, Scene 2

Genre: Comedy, Late Romance

Published: 1610-1611

Plot: Former Duke of Milan Prospero is a powerful sorcerer on an almost deserted island where he’s lived since he’s been usurped by his brother Antonio. And he rules over the island with only 2 other human beings at his command: an air spirit Ariel whom Prospero rescued from being trapped in a tree but would rather be free from service soon and the deformed son of a witch Caliban who tried to rape Miranda. When Antonio is sailing with a group that includes the King of Naples, Prospero has Ariel create a storm to shipwreck them on his island so he could have his revenge. Luckily, Miranda and Ferdinand fall in love and Prospero ends up forgiving those who wronged him. Ariel is set free and almost everyone gets off the island.

Plot Origin: It’s unknown where Shakespeare got this story from and may have been original. Well, it was partly inspired by a shipwreck in Bermuda.

Who Falls In Love: Prince Ferdinand with Miranda. However, Miranda falling in love with him at first sight is understandable since she’s lived a very sheltered life with very little human contact. Nevertheless, while Prospero pretends to hate her being with Ferdinand, he’s actually totally cool with it. In fact, it was his idea that they’d get together in the first place.

Who Dies: No one, but maybe some sailors.

Reputation: It’s said to be the last play Shakespeare ever wrote alone and considered one of his finest even to this day. However, there have been adaptations performed from the English Restoration to the mid 19th century. Though Ariel is a guy in the play, he’s sometimes played as a woman since most of the cast is male. There’s also a tradition of having Caliban played by a black guy which is kind of racist and disturbing. Is frequently performed and has been adapted to screen several times.

 

32. The Two Noble Kinsmen

Emilia: " It is the very emblem of a maid./For when the west wind courts her gently/How modestly she blows, and paints the sun/With her chaste blushes! When the north comes near her,/Rude and impatient, then, like chastity,/She locks her beauties in her bud again,/And leaves him to base briars." -Act II, Scene 1

Emilia: ” It is the very emblem of a maid./For when the west wind courts her gently/How modestly she blows, and paints the sun/With her chaste blushes! When the north comes near her,/Rude and impatient, then, like chastity,/She locks her beauties in her bud again,/And leaves him to base briars.” -Act II, Scene 1

Genre: Comedy, Late Romance

Published: 1613-1614

Plot: Two cousins Palamon and Arcite are captured as POWS in war. While in jail, they both fall madly in love with the fair which really drives a wedge between these almost inseparable buds. Then Theseus lets Arcite go while Palamon remains prisoner. But the jailer’s daughter has fallen for Palamon but lets him go, hoping that he’ll reciprocate. But he ignores her because he’s still obsessed with Emilia. He meets Arcite in the forest and the two decide to have a fair fight over Emilia. The jailer’s daughter meanwhile has gone mad and goes into the forest where she meets some Morris dancers as well as Theseus and Hippolyta hunting. When Theseus sees Arcite and Palamon fighting, he orders them arrested and executed. Hippolyta and Emilia intervene so Theseus decides to hold a tournament between them for Emilia’s hand with each warrior being allowed 3 companions to assist them and be executed if their champion loses. Arcite wins but falls off his horse and dies so Palamon gets Emilia.

Plot Origin: Derived from “The Knight’s Tale” in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.

Who Falls In Love: Palamon and Arcite with Emilia and the jailer’s daughter with Palamon. Also Theseus and Hippolyta. The jailer’s daughter also has a suitor. Also, Emilia likes both Palamon and Arcite but can’t really decide which guy she wants.

Who Dies: Arcite falls off his horse.

Reputation: This play doesn’t have a lot of performances and it remains rather obscure to say the least. However, it was once referenced on The Simpsons.

 

33. The Winter’s Tale

Autolycus: "No, good sweet sir; no, I beseech you, sir: I have a kinsman not past three quarters of a mile hence, unto whom I was going; I shall there have money, or any thing I want: offer me no money, I pray you; that kills my heart." - Act IV, Scene 3

Autolycus: “No, good sweet sir; no, I beseech you, sir: I have a kinsman not past three quarters of a mile hence, unto whom I was going; I shall there have money, or any thing I want: offer me no money, I pray you; that kills my heart.” – Act IV, Scene 3

Genre: Comedy, Late Romance, Problem Play

Published: 1610-1611

Plot: King Leontes of Sicilia unreasonably suspects that his wife Hermione got knocked up by his best friend. So when Perdita is born, he views her as a bastard and orders his manservant Antigonus to abandon her despite Hermione’s pleading. After his son and wife both die, Leontes realizes he’s made a mistake decides to grieve for his family for the rest of his life. Meanwhile Antigonus complains about how his job sucks as he leaves Perdita in a Bohemian forest before he exits pursued by a bear. She’s found by shepherd and his son and they care for her. 16 years later, King Polixenes of Bohemia isn’t pleased that his son Forizel has fallen for Perdita so he decides to spy on the shepherds at a sheep shearing festival. Florizel and Perdita flee to Sicilia pursued by everyone. There Perdita’s heritage is revealed as she reunites with Leontes as a statue of Hermione comes to life (but her big brother Mamillius doesn’t and gets screwed). But everything gets straightened up so no worries. Sort of.

Plot Origin: Based on Robert Greene’s pastoral romance Pandosto, published in 1588. By the way, Bohemia is in the modern Czech Republic and has no coastline. Not that Will cared.

Who Falls In Love: Leontes of Sicilia with Hermione but it ends up badly (though it gets better) Palina with Camillo, and Florizel with Perdita.

Who Dies: Mamillius dies due to being separated from his mom, Hermione dies (but she gets better), and Antigonus exits pursued by a bear.

Reputation: This play has only been intermittently popular throughout the years and it hasn’t been performed in its entirety until the second half of the 20th century but to varying degrees of success. The first part tends to play like a tragedy but the second part plays more like a pastoral comedy. Unfortunately, the name Hermione has a different association in modern literature these days like Harry Potter. Then again, the original Hermione was the daughter of Helen of Troy. Made into a 1967 movie starring Laurence Harvey.

As Told by the Bard: Part 3 – The Tragedies

Romeo-and-Juliet-before-Father-Lawrence-Karl-Ludwig-Friedrich-Becker

Friar Lawrence, do you think marrying these teenagers is a good idea? Seriously, they’re impulsive and immature teenagers who just met a few days ago and they now think they’re in love. Really that’s not a great way to start a healthy relationship. And I’m sure they’ll probably end up killing themselves. That’s not a great love story. That’s the Wire.

We move onto the tragedies which are among Shakespeare’s better known plays. Unlike comedies, the definition of “tragedy” hasn’t really changed much since Shakespeare’s time. You have a hero with a goal and a fatal flaw. But every time the hero overcomes an obstacle, they just make the situation worse. And eventually they do something stupid or make a bunch of dumb mistakes that makes their chances of happiness impossible and most likely die. But not before suffering a stressful heightened situation, ultimate ruin, or destroying everyone or everything they love. Shakespeare’s tragedies often have heavily symbolic, multilayered plots that clearly juxtaposed good and evil. Such elements are combined with the kind of psychological complexity that only a terribly unhappy character can put across, and you can see why modern audiences tend to appreciate the tragedies more than their earlier counterparts. Still, Shakespeare’s tragic titled characters usually die and they usually don’t tend to be heroic. In fact, some of them tend to be huge jerks or worse. However, you’re probably more familiar with some of these since you probably had at least read a few of these in high school.

 

20. Antony and Cleopatra

Cleopatra: "Where’s my serpent of old Nile?/For so he calls me." - Act I, Scene 5

Cleopatra: “Where’s my serpent of old Nile?/For so he calls me.” – Act I, Scene 5

Genre: Historical, Tragedy, Romance

Published: 1607

Plot: Focuses on the tragic fall of Roman general and triumvirs (a joint leader after Caesar’s assassination) Mark Antony who’s seduced by the Egyptian queen Cleopatra VII. He spends much of the play ignoring his duties while living with Cleopatra in Alexandria. Meanwhile Caesar’s nephew and fellow triumvir Octavius isn’t pleased because Rome’s involved in a war with Pompey (no, not that Pompey) and could really use his help. So Antony leaves for Rome, not realizing that Octavius is jealous of his distinction and wants to get rid of him after the war is over. Meanwhile, Cleo pines and beats up a messenger who proclaims that Antony has married Octavia. The plot gets more complicated from there with a lot of stuff happening. But since this is history, I’ll cut to the chase. So anyway, Pompey is crushed and accepts a truce but later, Octavius and Lepidus break it which makes Antony pissed. Antony returns to Alexandria, proclaims he and Cleopatra rulers of Egypt and a third of the Roman Republic while Octavius imprisons Lepidus, turns on Antony, and the two fight a war. Then there’s the Battle of Actium where Cleopatra flees with 60 ships and where Octavius tells Antony to give up already. Antony loses another battle which results in his troops deserting him and him denouncing Cleopatra. Cleopatra decides to win back his love by faking a suicide and locking herself in a monument, thinking he’ll come back to her in remorse. However, her plan fails since word of her “death” leads Antony to decide that his live isn’t worth living so he stabs himself. Fortunately, he learns she’s alive and dies in her arms. After that, Octavius tries to get Cleopatra to surrender but she angrily refuses so she’s captured. So she commits suicide to retain her dignity.

Plot Origin: Based on Thomas North’s 1579 translation of Putarch’s Lives. Nevertheless, while Cleopatra died in her 30s, Mark Antony was significantly older than her.

Who Falls In Love: Well, Mark Antony and Cleopatra for starters though in real life it’s hard to say since Cleopatra’s use of sex had more to do with protecting her realm and Antony needed a strong ally. And being a Ptolemy, Cleopatra fits the bill to a tee. Still, we’re not sure if they’re really in love or they’re just giving into a passionate lust. Either way, what they have for each other is destructive.

Who Dies: Antony (bungled suicide through stabbing himself), Cleopatra (poison snake), Enobarbus who dies from despair after betraying Antony, Antony’s servant Eros who’d rather kill himself than his master and does, Sextus Pompey (for refusing to kill his enemies while they’re in a vulnerable position like drunk), Antony’s wife Fulvia (Octavius killed her before the play even starts), and a bunch of soldiers since it takes place during a war.

Reputation: You may not see it performed very often, but scholars still talk about this one since Wikipedia has tons of space dedicated to its analysis and criticism. However, they all agree that Cleopatra is by far the most complex female character in the Shakespearean canon and is portrayed as a captivating femme fatale as well as the skilled leader she really was. And the fact that a lot of the characters tend to be ambiguous. We’re not sure whether Cleo kills herself over her love for Antony or her lost power. And Octavius could be seen as either a noble ruler only wanting what’s best for Rome or a ruthless politician who only wants power for himself. Power dynamics, betrayal, and politics are other themes. Nevertheless, it’s seen as one of the better Shakespearean plays out there and perhaps one of the Bard’s most underrated. Still, there’s a 1972 movie adaptation directed and starring Charlton Heston.

 

21. Coriolanus

Coriolanus: "What's the matter, you dissentious rogues/That rubbing the poor itch of your opinion,/Make yourselves scabs?" - Act I, Scene 1

Coriolanus: “What’s the matter, you dissentious rogues/That rubbing the poor itch of your opinion,/Make yourselves scabs?” – Act I, Scene 1

Genre: Tragedy

Published: Between 1605 and 1608

Plot: Caius Martius is given the name Coriolanus after his more than adequate military success against various uprisings. While he is certainly brilliant, he’s arrogant and contemptuous of ordinary people that when we first meet him, he’s already being blamed for taking grain from the army which has led to food riots. As others try to calm the situation, Coriolanus that commoners aren’t worthy of grain since they haven’t done any military service. Soon after Coriolanus receives his reward, he becomes active in politics and seeks political leadership. However, not only is his temperament unsuited for the job, but two of his opponents conspire a popular uprising that gets him quickly deposed and kicked out of Rome after he made a bitter speech of how democracy sucks. In revenge Coriolanus offers his services to his old defeated enemies where they march onto Rome with the city at his mercy. But his wife and mom persuade him to spare Rome and he’s eventually murdered by Aufidius for his betrayal and that Coriolanus is much more popular than him.

Plot Origin: Largely based on the “Life of Coriolanus” in Thomas North’s 1579 translation of Plutarch’s Lives as well as other sources.

Who Falls In Love: Well, he’s married with a kid but I don’t think they get into much detail on that relationship.

Who Dies: Well, Coriolanus as well as a bunch of other soldiers and hungry poor people.

Reputation: Well, while it has been critically praised by scholars, critics, and writers, but it hasn’t been performed as often as some of the other Shakespearean plays mostly because Coriolanus is perhaps the least sympathetic Shakespearean protagonist and despite the name, isn’t a comedic figure at all. It was also banned in France during the 1930s and in Post WWII Germany. Made in to a movie with Ralph Fiennes in 2011. Nevertheless, Suzanne Collins must be familiar with this play since President Snow’s first name is Coriolanus who sees nothing wrong with exploiting his people and gets deposed by a popular uprising engineered by another power hungry politician.

 

22. Hamlet

Hamlet: "To be, or not to be, — that is the question: —/Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer/The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,/Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,/And by opposing end them? — To die, to sleep, -/No more; and by a sleep to say we end/The heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks/That flesh is heir to, — 'tis a consummation/Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep; —/To sleep, perchance to dream: — ay, there's the rub;/For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,/When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,/Must give us pause: there's the respect/That makes calamity of so long life." -Act III, Scene 1

Hamlet: “To be, or not to be, — that is the question: —/Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer/The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,/Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,/And by opposing end them? — To die, to sleep, -/No more; and by a sleep to say we end/The heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks/That flesh is heir to, — ’tis a consummation/Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep; —/To sleep, perchance to dream: — ay, there’s the rub;/For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,/When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,/Must give us pause: there’s the respect/That makes calamity of so long life.” -Act III, Scene 1

Genre: Tragedy

Published: 1602

Plot: Prince Hamlet of Denmark whose dad is dead from mysterious circumstances while his uncle Claudius has become king and his new stepfather, a fact which the young prince isn’t at all pleased. And to make matters worse, his dad’s ghost appears telling Hamlet that Claudius killed him in order to get the throne. So Hamlet decides to take revenge by taking some course of actions including staging a play depicting the murder and justifying it through faking insanity. But as the play progresses, we’re not sure if Hamlet is really faking it. Nor are we sure as to why he doesn’t just kill his uncle right after it becomes apparent that he did kill his dad which he confesses while he’s in prayer because he doesn’t want him to go to heaven. Seriously, it didn’t take much time for him to kill Polonius through a curtain. That way, it would’ve saved a lot of trouble like King Claudius trying to send Hamlet to England with a letter that the king kill him which he foiled by giving it to idiots Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Or Claudius telling Laertes that Hamlet is solely responsible for his dad’s death and his sister’s madness (as well as her eventually suicide by drowning). Because when Hamlet comes home, Claudius puts on a banquet designed for this purpose which leads to the deaths of almost everyone who’s left.

Plot Origin: Derived from the legend of Amleth, preserved by 13th-century chronicler Saxo Grammaticus in his Gesta Danorum. But the story is a lot different with Hamlet killing his uncle and becoming king, only to die in battle shortly afterwards. Also, in that story, Gertrude was forced to marry Claudius.

Who Falls In Love: Well, Ophelia is certainly in love with Hamlet but it’s ambiguous whether he’s in love with her. Not to mention, we’re not sure about Claudius and Gertrude’s relationship either though he seems to love her even if he doesn’t care for his nephew all too much.

Who Dies: Well, Hamlet’s dad before the play starts, Polonius who Hamlet stabs through a curtain, Rozencrantz and Guildenstern through Hamlet sending a letter with them which gets them killed, Ophelia who goes mad and commits suicide via drowning herself, Gertrude through drinking a goblet of poison that was meant for Hamlet, Claudius through Hamlet stabbing him, and Laertes and Hamlet engaged in a sword fight in which they kill each other. Thus, the only characters left are Horatio and Fortinbras.

Reputation: This perhaps one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays and perhaps one of the most influential works in literature and among the most quoted works in the English language. It’s been performed on stage and adapted onscreen numerous times as well as inspired numerous authors. If there’s a work that could be seen as Shakespeare’s masterpiece, this would probably be it.

 

23. Julius Caesar

Mark Antony: "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;/I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him./The evil that men do lives after them;/The good is oft interred with their bones;/So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus/Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:/If it were so, it was a grievous fault;/And grievously hath Caesar answer'd it./Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest, —/For Brutus is an honorable man;/So are they all, all honorable men, —/Come I to speak in Caesar's funeral./He was my friend, faithful and just to me:/But Brutus says he was ambitious;/And Brutus is an honorable man." - Act III, Scene 2

Mark Antony: “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;/I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him./The evil that men do lives after them;/The good is oft interred with their bones;/So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus/Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:/If it were so, it was a grievous fault;/And grievously hath Caesar answer’d it./Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest, —/For Brutus is an honorable man;/So are they all, all honorable men, —/Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral./He was my friend, faithful and just to me:/But Brutus says he was ambitious;/And Brutus is an honorable man.” – Act III, Scene 2

Genre: Historical, Tragedy

Published: 1599

Plot: This should really be called “Marcus Brutus” since he’s the main character in this anyway. Now Brutus is such a scrupulously honest, loyal, and patriotic statesman who’s nonetheless drawn by his friend Caius Cassius into a plot to assassinate increasingly powerful Julius Caesar. But poor Brutus is torn between his love for Caesar and his duty to Rome. And while other characters in the conspiracy have less spotless motivations, Brutus is only moved to act by his love for the Roman Republic. Then again, he could be a self-centered patrician whom Cassius flatters into betraying his former patron Caesar. But in either case, this is his tragedy and he’s the most sympathetic of the bunch. Sure Caesar is an ambitious decoy protagonist with kingly aspirations. But Mark Antony? Yes, he’s great at wooing the masses through his oratory skills so crowds can hand Caesar power. But when it comes to avenging his friend’s death, he really gets nasty that you think maybe he should chill out in Egypt with Cleopatra for awhile. Octavian? Oh, he’s just as ambitious like his uncle but he excels in the PR department so well that it takes knowledge of what happens historically afterwards (or in Antony and Cleopatra) to realize his villainy. Or what about Cassius? He’s resentful of Caesar’s power and just gets Brutus involved in the conspiracy he just wants to Brutus to be leader so he can control him. And he doesn’t care whether Brutus wants the job or not. In fact, the less he wants it the easier he thinks it will be. And the rest of Rome? Anyone who’s not a victim or a villain just ends up in mob stirred up by Mark Antony due to their fickle nature. So anyway, after Caesar’s assassination, Rome’s plunged into civil war and a number of characters from the first several acts die during the conflict, mostly through suicide.

Plot Origin: Based on Thomas North’s translation of Plutarch’s Lives.

Who Falls In Love: Well, Caesar seems to like Calpurnia enough (even though he had a kid to Cleopatra). And the Brutuses seem happy together for a time that Marcus is genuinely sad about Portia dying.

Who Dies: Caesar gets assassinated, Portia kills herself off-stage, poet Cinna is murdered by a mob, Cassius, Titinus, and Brutus all commit suicide.

Reputation: One of the first Shakespeare plays to be performed at the Globe Theatre and it was quite popular during the Restoration as well as the 18th century. However, this play has a tendency to be ruined as required reading in high school since teens tend to be more concerned with Julius Caesar getting killed off in the middle than anyone as noble and good as Brutus whose tragedy this really is. Also, despite it being more straightforward than most of the Bard’s work, its austerity isn’t for 16-year-olds, anyway. Still, Mark Antony’s speech is one of the highlights of the play since it reveals he’s really pissed off about Caesar’s assassination and really gets nasty. And no, he doesn’t believe that Brutus is an honorable man. Has 3 famed movie adaptations with one from 1950 starring Charlton Heston, one from 1953 starring Marlon Brando and James Mason, and one from 1970 starring Jason Robards, Charlton Heston, and John Gielgud. Opt for the one that doesn’t have Charlton Heston since it’s the most famous.

 

24. King Lear

Cordelia: "Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave/My heart into my mouth: I love your majesty/According to my bond; no more nor less." - Act I, Scene 1

Cordelia: “Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave/My heart into my mouth: I love your majesty/According to my bond; no more nor less.” – Act I, Scene 1

Genre: Tragedy

Published: 1605

Plot: Elderly King Lear wants to abdicate and decides to divide his kingdom among his 3 daughters Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia. But only if each one gives him a public acknowledgement of their love for him. Goneril and Regan kiss his ass while Cordelia calls this idea bullshit so she’s banished and sent to marry the King of France. But keep in mind, she’s the only one who truly loves him. So Goneril and Regan get a share while Lear retire only with conditions a hundred knights, the respect and title of a king, and free room and board at his daughters’ homes. But it doesn’t take long for Lear to wear out his welcome since his daughters, resentful and wary from the outset, quickly tire from the knights causing a ruckus as well as the lavish expense of keeping them on staff. And when Lear flips his lid once more and, rather than trying to compromise with them, he stubbornly denounces them. Thus, Goneril and Regan refuse to take in his knights and he’s caught in a thunderstorm as both his followers and family desert him. And only the Fool and the disguised Duke of Kent remain with him. Then there’s a sub-plot with the Earl of Gloucester who is tricked by his illegitimate son Edmund thinking his legitimate son Edgar is trying to kill him. Gloucester is duped so Edgar has to go on the run, disguising himself as a crazed hobo. Thankfully, he falls in with Lear. Meanwhile, Edmund can’t stop angsting about how the world hates him for being a bastard and he proceeds to bang both of Lear’s elder daughters (who are both married to other guys, by the way). A few deft moves soon makes him go from nothing to possibly becoming the most powerful guy in Britain. Thankfully, Cordelia’s new hubby sends some troops to Britain.

Plot Origin: It’s derived from a pre-Roman legend of Leir of Britain. First found in Geoffrey of Monmouh’s the Historia Regum Britanniae. But the original version doesn’t end tragically.

Who Falls In Love: Cordelia marries the King of France but this is political but at least he sends help and truly loves her for herself. The fact he proposes her during the most painful moment of her life doesn’t hurt either. Then there’s Edmund banging Goneril and Regan but there’s no love from that.

Who Dies: Duke of Cornwall gets killed by his servants over blinding the Duke of Gloucester (but that guy’s later killed by Regan), Cordelia is executed but Lear kills the executioner, Lear dies of despair and exhaustion, Edgar rightfully kills Edmund, Goneril commits suicide, Kent is implied to join Lear after the play, Regan is poisoned by Goneril, and Gloucester dies somehow.

Reputation: This play is one of the more extremely powerful in the Shakespeare canon that it was unpopular with critics and audiences alike because it made what was once a traditional happily ever after fairy tale ending massively depressing instead. It’s said that the ending was fully rewritten in 1681 so Cordelia survives and marries Edgar, which was more popular for over 100 years. The original King Lear didn’t get its current reputation until after WWII. Today it’s considered one of Shakespeare’s great tragedies. Made into a Kurosawa movie called Ran but has sons in place of daughters and Lady Kaede in the Edmund role.

 

25. Macbeth

Banquo: "But 'tis strange:/And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,/The instruments of darkness tell us truths,/Win us with honest trifles, to betray's/In deepest consequence." - Act I, Scene 3

Banquo: “But ’tis strange:/And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,/The instruments of darkness tell us truths,/Win us with honest trifles, to betray’s/In deepest consequence.” – Act I, Scene 3

Genre: Historical, Tragedy

Published: 1606

Plot: Fresh from putting down a rebellion against King Duncan in the Scottish Highlands, Macbeth meets 3 witches who relate a series of prophecies, one of them being that he’ll rule Scotland someday. When one of the other seemingly unlikely predictions comes true, scheming and heartless Lady Macbeth convinces her husband to commit regicide and off his heirs. Well, Macbeth does just that by inviting Duncan for dinner and killing him in his sleep. But once he becomes king, both he and Lady Macbeth are driven mad by guilt. Lady Macbeth copes with hers by sleepwalking and committing suicide, which is way less destructive than how her husband deals with it. Macbeth on the other hand, just enters into a paranoid frenzy, killing everyone in sight in order to consolidate power, especially since he thinks he’s now invincible now the witches say that “none of woman born” will slay him. Well, somehow he didn’t understand that this didn’t mean what he thinks it does. He’s then overthrown and killed by MacDuff who was born through a caesarian section when it became apparent that his mom wasn’t going to survive his birth.

Plot Origin: History as well as Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland from 1577. However, this play really plays fast with the history. While there was a real King Macbeth of Scotland, he reigned for 17 years with his rule being rather secure since he went on a trip to Rome for a time where he was blessed by the Pope. Not to mention, he’s celebrated as a generous and decent king. He also killed King Duncan in a fair fight since the latter was encroaching on his lands after a failed conquest in England. Duncan wasn’t an old king at the time either and was a tyrant and an ineffective ruler. However, James I was descended from the guy who overthrew him (Duncan’s son Malcolm) so you get play like this. As for Lady Macbeth, she had a son from a previous marriage and her name was Gruoch. Then again, with a name like Gruoch, you can understand why she’d be so evil.

Who Falls In Love: Well, Macbeth and his lady seem to have an interesting relationship. Not sure about MacDuff and his wife.

Who Dies: Duncan gets killed by Macbeth in his sleep, Lady Macbeth kills herself off stage, Banquo and MacDuff’s family are killed by Macbeth along with a bunch of others, and Macbeth is killed by MacDuff.

Reputation: It’s one of the classic Shakespearean tragedies as well as among the shortest and most violent. There’s even a lot of superstition related to this play in the backstage world of theater who think it’s cursed. Made into several movies. Nevertheless, it’s widely performed, widely adapted, and widely popular.

 

26. Othello

Othello: "O balmy breath, that dost almost persuade/Justice to break her sword. One more, one more!/Be thus when thou art dead, and I will kill thee,/And love thee after./One more, and that's the last!/So sweet was ne'er so fatal. I must weep,/But they are cruel tears. This sorrow's heavenly;/It strikes where it doth love. She wakes." - Act V, Scene 2

Othello: “O balmy breath, that dost almost persuade/Justice to break her sword. One more, one more!/Be thus when thou art dead, and I will kill thee,/And love thee after./One more, and that’s the last!/So sweet was ne’er so fatal. I must weep,/But they are cruel tears. This sorrow’s heavenly;/It strikes where it doth love. She wakes.” – Act V, Scene 2

Genre: Tragedy

Published: 1603

Plot: Othello is a Moorish general in the Venetian army who has just acquired 2 new enemies. Roderigo hates him for marrying Desdemona whom he was interested in. And Iago hates him for promoting a young man named Cassio over him. Now Iago convinces Roderigo in a plan to ruin Othello’s life by using Cassio as a patsy. But Roderigo has no idea how much Iago is willing to manipulate and backstab everyone to get his revenge. So Iago and Roderigo plant Desdemona’s handkerchief (obtained through Iago’s wife Emilia) in Cassio’s house. Othello sees this and he’s incredibly pissed. It doesn’t help that Iago goads Cassio into talking about his affair with a courtesan Bianca but whispers her name so quietly that Othello thinks they’re talking about his wife. Enraged and hurt, Othello makes Desdemona’s life miserable despite her protests that she didn’t cheat on him (which Emilia backs up) and eventually smothers her. Cassio fights of Roderigo which leads to Iago to cut up Cassio’s leg and kill Roderigo. However, after Othello kills his wife, Emilia comes forward to tell him that Iago cooked up the whole thing and Desdemona was innocent. Iago kills her. Othello stabs Iago but he refuses to explain his motives and vows to remain silent. And Othello commits suicide before he’s arrested. But Iago gets apprehended and sent to Cassio for punishment.

Plot Origin: Based on the story Un Capitano Moro (“A Moorish Captain”) by Cinthio from 1565. In this version, Othello doesn’t even have a name and it ends with Desdemona saying that interracial marriage is evil.

Who Falls In Love: Othello with Desdemona but it doesn’t turn out well. Not sure about Iago and Emilia since she seems unhappy with him, unsurprisingly.  I’m sure Cassio just wants to sleep with Bianca.

Who Dies: Well, Desdemona gets smothered by Othello, Iago secretly stabs Roderigo, Emilia is killed by Iago, and Othello commits suicide. Also, I don’t think Iago has much time to live after this play.

Reputation: This play has been very popular from the very start since it has a very detailed performance record and it was one of the few that’s never been adapted or changed during the Restoration or the 18th century. Due to its varied and enduring themes of racism, love, jealousy, betrayal, revenge and repentance, this play is often performed by professional and community theater groups alike. It’s also been adapted to opera and film. However, I tend to recommend any movie on Othello that was made in recent times since it was very common for the title role to be played as black by white actors. The first black guy to play Othello was Paul Robeson in 1943. However, the play never explicitly states that Othello is black but he’s always considered the Other in Venetian society so he can be played by any guy. But if you’re a white guy playing, just play him as an Arab. Or maybe you should opt for Iago who’s seen as one the best known Shakespearean villains to date and is considered the main character of this play anyway.

 

27. Romeo and Juliet

Juliet: "O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?/Deny thy father and refuse thy name;/Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,/And I'll no longer be a Capulet." - Act II, Scene 2

Juliet: “O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?/Deny thy father and refuse thy name;/Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,/And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.” – Act II, Scene 2

Genre: Tragedy

Published: 1591-1595

Plot: Two teenagers fall in love at first sight. But their families hate each other. So they secretly get married because Juliet’s dad wants him to marry some other guy she’s not really interested in. And besides, despite being 13, her mom’s 26. But Romeo gets into a fight where Juliet’s cousin Tybalt kills his friend Mercutio. This leads to Romeo killing Tybalt so he has to skip town. Juliet decides to run away to a grotto and fake her death. Thinking she’s dead, Romeo poisons himself. After she wakes up, Juliet finds Romeo dead so she puts her knife to her chest. Grief-stricken families reconcile.

Plot Origin: Based on an Italian tale translated into verse as The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet by Arthur Brooke in 1562, and retold in prose in Palace of Pleasure by William Painter in 1567. But in this version Romeo and Juliet are 16 and they don’t get married until 9 months in.

Who Falls In Love: Well, Romeo and Juliet but it doesn’t turn out well.

Who Dies: Mercutio is killed by Tybalt, Tybalt is killed by Romeo, Paris is killed by Romeo, Romeo poisons himself, Juliet stabs herself, and Lady Montague dies from grief.

Reputation: This is the most famous Shakespearean play and one of the most popular and best liked. During the English Restoration and 18th century it was heavily revised with several modified scenes and removing so-called indecent material. One version omitted much of the action and added a happy ending. Performances in the 19th century restored the original text. Opinions of this play can depend on the quality of actors seen performing it or whether one accepts the notion of love at first sight at face value. If it’s in a production involving middle aged actors who don’t look at least 30ish in the title roles, then it just doesn’t make any sense. Adapted numerous times for stage, film, musical (West Side Story), and opera. Still, kind of prefer the Nurse, Benvolio, and Mercutio. Still, as TV Tropes says, “If Romeo and Juliet was intended as condemnation of hormonal teenagers who think their first relationship is true love and go to melodramatic extremes to prove that it is love rather than simply lust, it failed horribly.” Yet, they still make kids read this in their freshman year in high school. Remember kids, this play doesn’t provide a model for a good relationship.

 

28. Titus Andronicus

Titus Andronicus: "Is dear Lavinia, dearer than my soul./Had I but seen thy picture in this plight/It would have madded me: what shall I do/Now I behold thy lively body so?/Thou hast no hands, to wipe away thy tears: /Nor tongue, to tell me who hath martyr'd thee: /Thy husband he is dead: and for his death /Thy brothers are condemn'd, and dead by this." - Act III, Scene 1

Titus Andronicus: “Is dear Lavinia, dearer than my soul./Had I but seen thy picture in this plight/It would have madded me: what shall I do/Now I behold thy lively body so?/Thou hast no hands, to wipe away thy tears: /Nor tongue, to tell me who hath martyr’d thee: /Thy husband he is dead: and for his death /Thy brothers are condemn’d, and dead by this.” – Act III, Scene 1

Genre: Tragedy

Published: 1588-1593

Plot: Roman general Titus Andronicus returns to Rome with captives in tow consisting of Goth queen Tamora, her 3 sons, and her lover Aaron the Moor. Since he’s lost all but 4 of his 25 sons in the war with the Goths (don’t ask), he sacrifices Tamora’s eldest son to honor their spirits. Tamora needless to say, ain’t happy. Emperor Saturinus then chooses Tamora as his empress after his fiancée Lavinia dumps him for his brother and who happens to be Titus’s daughter. Though her surviving brothers help her escape so it’s 22 down, 3 to go. Unfortunately, Saturninus obviously was really stupid to marry Tamora for she has Bassainus killed and frames 2 of Titus’s sons for it. Still not satisfied, Tamora gets her two surviving sons to gang rape her as well as cut off her tongue and hands so she can’t tell anyone. After Titus’s two sons are found and incriminated, Aaron says they’ll be spared if Titus cuts his own hand. He does this but the two guys are beheaded anyway which hits him hard. His remaining son Lucius is banished for trying to bust his brothers out before the execution. He joins the Goths and attempts to attack Rome. With the revelation of Lavinia’s rape and horrific mutilation, Titus sinks into despair and goes nuts. But it turns out he’s faking it so he can go snooping. When he finds out that Tamora’s behind it he kills Tamora’s last two sons, cooks them in a giant pie a la Sweeny Todd, and serves them to Tamora without her knowing. The last scene is a bloody battle where Titus kills both Tamora and Lavinia (for her own good) before being killed by Saturinus which leads to Lucius committing regicide. Lucius becomes Emperor of Rome, a fair and wise ruler for all. Oh, and he buries Aaron up to his neck and lets him starved to death but he deserved it.

Plot Origin: We’re not sure where Shakespeare got his sources for this play.

Who Falls In Love: Well Roman Emperor Saturinus chooses Tamora as his bride we’re not sure if he’s over Lavinia running away from him. But marrying her really proves to be a dumb idea. Then there’s Aaron the Moor and Tamora being involved but Saturinus doesn’t seem to mind. Also, Bassainus runs off with Lavinia.

Who Dies: Well, 3 of Titus’s sons get killed, all 3 of Tamora’s sons are killed by Titus (2 made into pies), Aaron’s son is killed by Tamora’s 2 sons, a nurse is killed by Aaron, Lavinia is killed by Titus for her own good, Tamora is killed by Titus, Bassianus is killed by Tamora, Saturinus is killed by Lucius, and Aaron gets buried alive and starved by Lucius. A bunch of other soldiers die, too.

Reputation: This was Shakespeare’s first tragedy and his goriest play ever. However, while extremely popular in its day, it had fallen out of favor by the 17th century and was disapproved primarily because of what was considered to be a distasteful use of graphic violence. And for awhile it was Shakespeare’s most maligned play. But since the mid-20th century, its reputation has improved. As S. Clarke Hulse says, Titus Andronicus is a play with “14 killings, 9 of them on stage, 6 severed members, 1 rape (or 2 or 3, depending on how you count), 1 live burial, 1 case of insanity and 1 of cannibalism—an average of 5.2 atrocities per act, or one for every 97 lines.” Has a 70+% death rate for named characters. Also, who knew Titus made human meat pies before Mrs. Lovett? Think of it as a Shakespearean play for anyone who’s into slasher horror movies or Quentin Tarantino. Made into a movie in 2006. In fact, Quentin Tarantino, if you want to do Shakespeare and think Macbeth isn’t violent enough, this is the play for you. Not sure about casting Samuel L. Jackson as Aaron the Moor though. Definitely not for the whole family.

As Told by the Bard: Part 2 – The Comedies

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Here we have Malvolio trying to impress Countess Olivia in his brand new manly tights that really accentuate his calves and make him stand out like a PennDOT worker. All he’s doing is making an ass of himself. But Maria thinks it’s so hilarious that’s she’s trying not to laugh.

Now it’s on to the Shakespearean comedies. Keep in mind, that in Shakespeare’s day, the definition of “comedy” was rather loose so I’m not putting all the ones considered as such on the post. But during the Renaissance, for a play to be considered a comedy it must have a happy ending and a generally optimistic viewpoint. Many of Shakespeare’s comedies usually revolve around temporarily troubled love affairs which made the romantic comedy his forte. However, some of his “comedies” tend to be less comedic which I’ve put down as either as his Late Romances that seem to have a more romantic or his Problem Plays that tend to be more ambiguous with endings you wouldn’t necessarily call “happy” except that no major character dies. I’ll shed a little more light on these in later posts. Nevertheless, what I’ve listed in this posts are some of the genuinely funny Shakespearean comedies everyone usually considers as such. You might some of these more enjoyable than the ones you’ve probably read in school. Still, ladies, if you’re in a Shakespearean comedy, dressing in drag will seriously mess up your dating life. Also, expect that many of these plays don’t really give great relationship advice and tend to have many characters marrying their sweethearts within a short timespan of meeting them. Then again, Much Ado About Nothing does kind of show you what not to do when you suspect that your girlfriend is cheating on you. Nevertheless, many of these plays at least have some of Shakespeare’s most endearing female characters. So if you’re a woman who’s into romantic comedies, I’m sure these plays will satisfy you except maybe Taming of the Shrew.

 

11. As You Like It

Jacques: "'All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts." - Act II, Scene 7

Jacques: “‘All the world’s a stage,/And all the men and women merely players:/They have their exits and their entrances;/And one man in his time plays many parts.” – Act II, Scene 7

Genre: Comedy

Published: 1599

Plot: Duke Senior gets usurped by his brother Frederick and flees to the Forest of Arden with some servants and friends. His daughter Rosalind is permitted to stay since she’s best friends with Frederick’s daughter Celia. They meet two young noblemen named Oliver and Orlando who instantly falls in love with Rosalind. But his brother Oliver kicks him out so he’s forced to flee into the Forest of Arden. Meanwhile, Frederick gets sick of Rosalind that she escapes into the woods with Celia and Touchstone the Clown. Both women don disguises to protect themselves with Rosalind dressing as a guy named Ganymede. They meet up with some of the Duke’s supporters (which includes the melancholy Jacques) who take them in but they don’t meet him immediately like Orlando does. Yet, a lot of this play is mostly spent on the romances. Orlando writes love poems to Rosalind and hanging them on trees. “Ganymede”attracts the affections of a shepherdess named Phoebe who being crushed by a fellow shepherd named Silvius. Even Touchstone the Clown is involved in some romantic entanglement. But eventually it all gets straightened out with Oliver and Frederick mending their ways and returning power to their brothers, 4 marriages, almost everyone living happily ever after, and the melancholy Jacques and Frederick joining a monastery.

Plot Origin: Based on Thomas Lodge’s Rosalynde, Euphues Golden Legacie, written 1586-7 and first published in 1590. His is based upon “The Tale of Gamelyn.” Still, Duke Frederick is killed in the forest in the source material.

Who Falls In Love: Well, Rosalind and Orlando fall in love with each other as Oliver and Celia do later on. Yet, Rosalind and Orlando’s relationship faces obstacles like exile and her dressing as a man that she gets unwanted attention from Phoebe who’s being crushed by Silvius. But Silvius ends up with Phoebe once Rosalind reveals that she’s a girl and it’s not going to work out. Touchstone falls for a shepherdess named Audrey but has competition with another shepherd named William. But Touchstone and Audrey eventually marry.

Who Dies: The deer whose death Jacques laments over. Sometimes Adam’s death is implied.

Reputation: Scholars tend to disagree about this play’s merits. Some critics might see it as the Shakespearean equivalent to a mediocre crowd pleaser. Others see it as a work of great literary value and point to how Rosalind as one of the Bard’s greatest, most lovable, and most fully realized heroines. Not to mention, the melancholy Jacques speaks many of Shakespeare’s famous speeches. Still, despite critical disputes, it’s one of Shakespeare’s most frequently performed comedies that has several film adaptations. So whether it’s a crowd pleaser or a work of great merit, it works.

 

12. The Comedy of Errors

Dromio of Ephesus: "Let’s go hand in hand, not one before another." - Act V, Scene 1

Dromio of Ephesus: “Let’s go hand in hand, not one before another.” – Act V, Scene 1

Genre: Comedy

Published: Between 1589 and 1595

Plot: Follows the adventures of two sets of identical twins that were accidentally separated at birth but are given the same names. And one set acts as servants to the other set. You can bet these guys get mistaken for one another because asking for Antipholus and his valet Dromio isn’t going to cut it unless you be specific with location since one lives in Ephesus and the other in Syracuse. The story beings with their merchant dad Aegon looking for his other son and his servant and getting arrested by the Duke of Ephesus and is sentenced to death unless he pays a fine. Meanwhile, Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse arrive at Ephesus he finds that his long lost twin brother and his servant are alive and well but also happen to share the same name. So when the Syracuse Antipholus sends his Dromio to pay for a hotel, he somehow switches places with the Dromio of Ephesus. Even funnier when the Syracuse Antipholus and Dromio arrive, everyone in Ephesus seems to know who they are. When they meet the friends and family of their twins, a series based on mistaken identities lead to wrongful beatings, a near seduction, the Antipholus of Ephesus, as well as false accusations of infidelity, demon possession, theft, and madness. But everything gets sorted out and there’s a happy ending with all brothers, parents, and lovers reunited. Though there may be confusion over their mom entering an Ephesian convent before such a facility even existed. But I’m sure Shakespeare didn’t care.

Plot Origin: Based on an English translation of the Menaechmi by Plautus which is from Ancient Rome.

Who Falls In Love: Nell the kitchen wench has it for the Dromios and the Ephesian one reciprocates. The Antipholus of Ephesus is married to Adrianna but they have a very complicated relationship (and he’s known to cheat).

Who Dies: No one.

Reputation: For centuries, scholars found little depth to this play and it wasn’t a particular favorite in the 18th century despite considering that it gave us Tom Jones, you’d think they’d go for a play like this. However, modern audiences tend to like this since it was made into a Rogers and Hammerstein musical called The Boys from Syracuse, a hip hop musical, 2 operas, and several films. So while it’s not Shakespeare’s A-list quality, it’s still popular since it’s pure sitcom that works well on the modern stage.

 

13. Love’s Labor’s Lost

Berowne: "For where is any author in the world,/Teaches such beauty as a woman’s eye?/Learning is but an adjunct to ourself;/And where we are, our learning likewise is." - Act IV, Scene 3

Berowne: “For where is any author in the world,/Teaches such beauty as a woman’s eye?/Learning is but an adjunct to ourself;/And where we are, our learning likewise is.” – Act IV, Scene 3

Genre: Comedy

Published: 1597

Plot: The King of Navarre and his attendant lords make a vow to devote 3 years of their lives to scholarship and keep the male hormones at bay. Unfortunately, they run into a French princess and her ladies in waiting. This script is 90% poetry and jokes and 10% plot. Ends with the French princess receiving word of her dad’s death which means that the weddings have to be delayed for a year.

Plot Origin: Doesn’t have an obvious source.

Who Falls In Love: Don Armado with Jacquenetta, King Ferdinand of Navarre with the French Princess, Berowne with Lady Rosaline, Longueville with Lady Maria, and Dumaine with Lady Katherine.

Who Dies: The King of France which means the princess has to delay getting married for a year so she could try being queen.

Reputation: It’s possibly Shakespeare’s first comedy and was probably originally catered to Elizabethan college students.  Never been among the most popular but it’s better known for its sophisticated wordplay, puns, and literary allusions and is filled with clever pastiches of contemporary poetic forms. This could be more demanding among modern theater goers. Made into a 2000 movie by Kenneth Branagh.

 

14. The Merry Wives of Windsor

Mistress Page: "What a taking was he in, when your husband asked what was in the basket!" - Act III, Scene 3

Mistress Page: “What a taking was he in, when your husband asked what was in the basket!” – Act III, Scene 3

Genre: Comedy

Published: 1597-1602

Plot: Falstaff tries to bang two married ladies named Mistress Page and Mistress Ford since he’s broke and needs cash. But since neither’s impressed by him, they conspire to subject him to a series of pranks. Then there’s Page’s daughter Anne whose parents want her to marry but can’t agree on which of her suitors she should choose. Meanwhile Anne prefers a guy neither of her parents like.

Plot Origin: Based on the 14th century tale Il Pecorone by Giovanni Fiorentino, which was published in Milan in 1558. Still, it’s possibly one of the few plays in which Shakespeare might’ve come up with an original plot.

Who Falls In Love: Well, Falstaff goes after 2 married women, but it’s for cash. But you can call it love when pertains to the Pages and the Fords. Anne with Fenton, to her parents’ dismay though Slender and Dr. Caius are among her suitors.

Who Dies: No one.

Reputation: Though popular for a long time, it’s considered one of Shakespeare’s weakest plays and was probably written quickly for a commission by one of Falstaff’s fans. The characters are all stock. The A and B plots are barely even aware of each other, the exposition is clunky, and it’s mostly formula. But at least Falstaff is very much the same though it’s not like Henry IV. And Anne’s failed suitors are complete idiots. There’s a story that it was commissioned by Queen Elizabeth I who wanted to see Falstaff in love but it’s most likely not true. But it does show that fans meddling in fictional characters’ love lives was common in the 16th century. However, Shakespeare knew better and created a plot for him that was more believable for his character. Seriously, could you see Falstaff falling in love? No. Could you see him wanting to bang two married women for cash? Probably yes. Was made into a few operas, one by Salieri and another by Verdi. With a good cast, this is a good way to kill an hour and a half.

 

15. A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Oberon: "What thou seest when thou dost wake,/Do it for thy true-love take,/Love and languish for his sake:/Be it ounce, or cat, or bear,/Pard, or boar with bristled hair,/In thy eye that shall appear/When thou wakest, it is thy dear:/Wake when some vile thing is near." - Act II, Scene 2

Oberon: “What thou seest when thou dost wake,/Do it for thy true-love take,/Love and languish for his sake:/Be it ounce, or cat, or bear,/Pard, or boar with bristled hair,/In thy eye that shall appear/When thou wakest, it is thy dear:/Wake when some vile thing is near.” – Act II, Scene 2

Genre: Comedy

Published: 1590-1597

Plot: Hermia and Lysander are in love. Unfortunately, Demetrius likes her, too and her father likes him better than Lysander. Fortunately, Helena is angry that Demetrius chose Hermia over her. They go to court, where Theseus rules in Egeus’ and gives Hermia the choice to marry Demetrius, be executed, or become a nun (an unusual choice in Ancient Greece. Priestess might be more like it). Hermia decides to run away with Lysander that very night but she tells Helena not to tell anyone. So naturally, Helena spills the beans to Demetrius so she could get back to his good graces. Demetrius follows Hermia and Lysander and the four get lost in the same forest. Meanwhile, the fairy royal couple Oberon and Titania are having marital problems and Oberon seeks to humiliate her so he’ll get his way with the help of magic and a love potion. But when Oberon sees Demetrius treating Helena like shit, he sends Puck to use a love potion on “a youth in Athenian garb,” traveling in the woods with a woman. However, Oberon should’ve been more specific because Puck applies the potion to Lysander instead and then Oberon applies the potion to Demetrius later after finding out that Puck really messed things up. This results in both guys being in love with Helena who thinks they’re making fun of her. Meanwhile, Oberon applies the potion to Titania’s eyes and really makes a literal ass out of a resident ham from a community theater group and leads him to Titania. Titania wakes up and ends up smitten with him and Bottom doesn’t seem to mind. Eventually, Oberon and Puck manage to straighten things up and everyone lives happily ever after. Also, Bottom and his fellow actors perform a hilariously terrible play during the wedding reception.

Plot Origin: We’re not sure where Shakespeare got his source for this story, other than in Greek mythology and some ancient and medieval stories.

Who Falls In Love: Theseus with Hippolyta, Hermia with Lysander, and Helena with Demetrius of which we can’t dispute. Oberon and Titania are married but are having problems. Titania with Bottom but she’s under a spell and he doesn’t seem to mind too much. Then there’s Lysander and Demetrius who seem to like Hermia in the beginning but then switch to Helena until they fall asleep and Puck straightens things out so no loves would intersect and everyone would live happily ever after. Well, sort of. Still, if you’re familiar with Greek mythology, it doesn’t end well with Theseus and Hippolyta.

Who Dies: Nobody.

Reputation: After the English Civil War, this play wouldn’t be performed in its entirety until the 1840s. Made into several films and had music composed by Felix Mendelsohn that’s been played at most weddings. Today it’s regarded as one of the Bard’s best and most popular comedies and is widely performed. However, this didn’t stop Samuel Pepys saying it was the most ridiculous film he’s ever seen. Bottom has been played by the likes of James Cagney and Kevin Kline. I recommend the 1999 film with Kevin Kline since you have Ally McBeal as Helena, Batman as Demetrius, Caesar Flickerman as Puck, and Jimmy McNulty as Lysander. Besides, while the 1930s version has James Cagney play a solid Bottom, Mickey Rooney’s Puck is annoying as hell. On Youtube, you can find performance of the play at the end by the Beatles.

 

16. Much Ado About Nothing

Benedick: "That a woman conceived me, I thank her; that she brought me up, I likewise give her most humble thanks; but that I will have a recheat winded in my forehead, or hang my bugle in an invisible baldrick, all women shall pardon me. Because I will not do them the wrong to mistrust any, I will do myself the right to trust none; and the fine is, — for the which I may go the finer, — I will live a bachelor." - Act I, Scene 1

Benedick: “That a woman conceived me, I thank her; that she brought me up, I likewise give her most humble thanks; but that I will have a recheat winded in my forehead, or hang my bugle in an invisible baldrick, all women shall pardon me. Because I will not do them the wrong to mistrust any, I will do myself the right to trust none; and the fine is, — for the which I may go the finer, — I will live a bachelor.” – Act I, Scene 1

Genre: Comedy

Published: 1598-1599

Plot: When some soldiers arrive at Leonato’s home in Messina, his daughter Hero and niece Beatrice attract the attentions of Claudio and Benedick. Claudio and Hero fall in love but are set to wed. Whereas, Beatrice and Benedick hurl witty insults at each other but everyone thinks they’d make a great couple. So other characters hatch a scheme to have Beatrice and Benedick fall in love with each other and stop arguing that proves successful. But all is not well, since for Don Pedro’s sullen and bitter illegitimate brother Don John can’t stand being unhappy with his lot. So he decides to stir trouble by having his companion Borachio make love to Hero’s servant Margaret at Hero’s window. That night he brings Don Pedro and Claudio to watch. Believing the worst, Claudio humiliates Hero, accuses her of being a slut, and jilts her at the altar. Hero’s family members decide to hide her away until the truth about her innocence comes to light. Fortunately, the night watchmen overhear Borachio about the incident and arrest him and a friend. By the time Claudio hears about Hero’s innocence, he thinks she’s dead and mourns for her. Leonato then has him punished by making Claudio tell everyone that he was wrong to suspect anything about Hero. And he also has him marry his “niece” who resembles Hero (but it’s really her). So Claudio enters the church thinking he’ll marry a woman he’s never met but he’s overwhelmed with joy when Hero reveals herself. Beatrice and Benedick decide to marry. And the four take part in a double ceremony.

Plot Origin: We’re not sure about the Bard’s original source for this play but it’s probably based on several stories.

Who Falls In Love: Claudio with Hero though they have problems and Beatrice with Benedick who initially hate each other or so it seems.

Who Dies: No one.

Reputation: This is considered one of the best Shakespearean comedies since it combines elements of robust hilarity with more serious ideas about honor, shame, and court politics. It’s said to be a forerunner of the romantic comedy as well. It was very popular in its early decades as it has been ever since. However, most of its fans usually watch it for the Beatrice and Benedick romance since it involves witty repartees and great chemistry. In fact, Charles II called this play “Benedick and Beatrice.” This makes a lot of sense Benedick doesn’t act as much of a jerk to Beatrice as Claudio does to Hero who basically accuses her of cheating on him on the altar on what was supposed to be their wedding day. And while he starts as a self-proclaimed woman hater, Benedick is virtually the only male character who doesn’t participate in Hero’s shaming (excluding the priest). Not only that, but he’s the one who calls Claudio out on it. Besides, Benedick and Beatrice seem to enjoy insulting each other even when they start off being in total denial of their feelings. Made into a movie in 1993 and 2013.

 

17. The Taming of the Shrew

Petruchio: "You lie, in faith; for you are call'd plain Kate,/And bonny Kate, and sometimes Kate the curst;/But Kate, the prettiest Kate in Christendom,/Kate of Kate Hall, my super-dainty Kate,/For dainties are all cates: and therefore, Kate,/Take this of me, Kate of my consolation;- /Hearing thy mildness prais'd in every town,/Thy virtues spoke of, and thy beauty sounded,/(Yet not so deeply as to thee belongs,) —/Myself am mov'd to woo thee for my wife." - Act II, Scene 1

Petruchio: “You lie, in faith; for you are call’d plain Kate,/And bonny Kate, and sometimes Kate the curst;/But Kate, the prettiest Kate in Christendom,/Kate of Kate Hall, my super-dainty Kate,/For dainties are all cates: and therefore, Kate,/Take this of me, Kate of my consolation;- /Hearing thy mildness prais’d in every town,/Thy virtues spoke of, and thy beauty sounded,/(Yet not so deeply as to thee belongs,) —/Myself am mov’d to woo thee for my wife.” – Act II, Scene 1

Genre: Comedy

Published: 1590-1594

Plot: Baptista Minola has 2 daughters. His younger daughter Bianca is kind, beautiful, and is sought by suitors everywhere. His older daughter Katerina is a complete foul-tempered bitch nobody likes but has an attractive dowry. And Baptista won’t marry Bianca off until someone marries Kate first. So gold digging Petruchio enters in and marries her over her objections since everyone wants Kate out of the way. After the wedding, Petruchio strives to tame her to his will with various methods of psychological torture. He ultimately succeeds in breaking her spirit, proving a woman’s natural need for a man and she becomes a compliant, obedient wife. When Petruchio returns to her family, they don’t believe in Kate’s new obedience and Baptista gives him a second dowry. The play ends with 3 happy marriages and a speech by Kate arguing that women should obey their husbands because they love them and only want what’s best for them (so how do you explain domestic abuse, adultery, and marital rape?).

Plot Origin: There’s no specific source for this play, though it’s based on a lot of common tales and there’s a lot of debate. But the earlier versions emphasize a woman’s inferiority and builds up string of humiliations that’s truly shocking in its violence.

Who Falls In Love: Petruchio with Katerina and Lucentio and a bunch of other guys with Bianca. Hortensio marries a rich widow but institutionalized gold digging was a thing at the time.

Who Dies: No one.

Reputation: This play has attracted considerable controversy due to some of its misogynistic elements and there are so many interpretations. Fell out of favor during the 17th century and the original wasn’t performed at all in the 18th century and won’t be until 1844. And its popularity has increased considerably during the 20th century despite the ironic rise of feminism. Now it’s one of Shakespeare’s most frequently staged plays and it’s been adapted numerous times on stage and screen and it’s as popular as it was when it was first written. Which is ironic because you’d think people from the earlier centuries would be into stuff like this but modern audiences have liked this play much more. Then again, the rise of romantic comedies might have something to do with it. The 1967 film starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor is the most famous screen version. Still, while some feminists might obviously have a problem with this play since it portrays domestic abuse in a positive light, but we have to acknowledge that a lot of romances tend to promote unhealthy behaviors. And sure Kate and Petruchio aren’t a model for a great relationship but the play has more critical acclaim than the Fifty Shades Trilogy or the Twilight Saga. And both works make this play look like a feminist drama in comparison.

 

18. Twelfth Night

Olivia: "O, what a deal of scorn looks beautiful/In the contempt and anger of his lip!" Act III, Scene 1

Olivia: “O, what a deal of scorn looks beautiful/In the contempt and anger of his lip!” Act III, Scene 1

Genre: Comedy

Published: 1601-1602

Plot: Twins Viola and Sebastian are separated in a shipwreck. Since Viola doesn’t have skills other than singing and playing an instrument, she decides to dress up as a boy named Cesario so she might find a job under the Duke Orsino who’s said to have a good reputation. However, she’d rather serve Countess Olivia but she’s heartbroken by the loss of her dad and brother as well as sworn off male company for the time being. So she’s probably not hiring. Anyway, after 3 days in Orsino’s service, the Duke is so charmed by “Cesario” that he sends “him” off to woo the Countess on his behalf. Olivia isn’t pleased to see “him” and has grown sick of Orsino’s wooing. But since Viola has fallen for Orsino in the meantime, she’s undeterred. As Cesario, she banters and challenges Olivia that she’s finds herself falling for the spirited “chap.” So when Sebastian shows up the fun is just getting started. Meanwhile, you have Olivia’s steward Malvolio who now looks down on her uncle who’s taking advantage of Andrew Aguecheek by convincing the poor guy that Olivia likes him. However, Olivia has no intention of the sort. Malvolio comes down hard on Sir Toby Belch so Sir Toby and a handmaid named Maria play a little trick on him. All while Feste is now charged with watching over Olivia’s uncle. But it all gets sorted out to make it happily ever after except for some people.

Plot Origin: We know that Shakespeare based this play on something, we just don’t know what.

Who Falls In Love: Viola with Duke Orsino, Olivia with “Cesario,” Orsino, Andrew Aguecheek, Malvolio, and Sebastian with Olivia, Olivia with Sebastian, Antonio for Sebastian, and Orsino with Viola.

Who Dies: No one.

Reputation: This is one of Shakespeare’s best known comedies and is often as his funniest play. Samuel Pepys called it a “silly play” but watched it 3 times anyway as a guilty pleasure. The late 17th and early 18th century saw only adaptations but the original text was revived in 1741. It’s still highly popular, often staged, and made into several adaptations in opera, stage, and film.

 

19. Two Gentlemen of Verona

Valentine: "And why not death, rather than living torment?/To die is to be banish'd from myself;/And Silvia is myself: banish'd from her,/Is self from self: a deadly banishment!/What light is light, if Silvia be not seen?/What joy is joy, if Silvia be not by?/Unless it be to think that she is by,/And feed upon the shadow of perfection." - Act III, Scene 1

Valentine: “And why not death, rather than living torment?/To die is to be banish’d from myself;/And Silvia is myself: banish’d from her,/Is self from self: a deadly banishment!/What light is light, if Silvia be not seen?/What joy is joy, if Silvia be not by?/Unless it be to think that she is by,/And feed upon the shadow of perfection.” – Act III, Scene 1

Genre: Comedy

Published: 1589-1593

Plot: 2 Veronan gentlemen Proteus and Valentine are sent by their dads to the court of Milan. There they fall for the duke’s daughter Sylvia. Unfortunately Proteus has a girlfriend named Julia back home. Also, Sylvia’s dad wants her to marry a rich idiot named Tyrio. But Julia decides go after Proteus dressed as a boy named Sebastian while Sylvia likes Valentine who gets exiled after falling into some thugs that she thinks he’s dead. She flees into the forest where she and a friend are kidnapped by outlaws but little do they know that Valentine is their leader. Meanwhile, Proteus tries to hook up with Sylvia who’s just not that into him while Julia tries to get her man back. So when Proteus threatens to rape Sylvia in the forest, Valentine blows his cover and intervenes. Proteus feels ashamed of himself that he broke the code of bros before hos. Valentine forgives him and lets him have Sylvia because he’d rather not ruin their friendship which causes Julia to faint and reveal herself. Proteus realizes he loves Julia and hooks up with her. Also, the Duke and Tyrio are brought as prisoners as well which gives the Duke the opportunity to see how much of an idiot Tyrio is. So he’s perfectly fine with his daughter being with Valentine and everyone lives happily ever after.

Plot Origin: Based on the Spanish prose romance Los Siete Libros de la Diana (The Seven Books of the Diana) by the Portuguese writer Jorge de Montemayor.

Who Falls In Love: Proteus and Valentine with Sylvia and Proteus with Julia. Not sure about the rich idiot Tyrio and Sylvia but she doesn’t like him. Also, Sylvia eventually chooses Valentine by the way.

Who Dies: No one.

Reputation: This is one of Shakespeare’s earliest comedies and it’s regarded as one of his weaker plays for good reason. Nevertheless, its earliest recorded performance in the original text was in 1784 whereas earlier stagings were alterations. But it’s more popular in Europe than in the English speaking world and there have been significantly few English productions. Also, Launce usually tends to steal the show by the way.