Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Comedies - Shakespeare

This post is primarily about the four Shakespearean comedies that were chosen for the Great Books reading plan.  The four were:
There are 13 plays that are normally listed as 'comedies' in the list of Shakespeare's plays.  In choosing these four, the planners of the list left off:
  • Two Gentleman of Verona
  • Love's Labor's Lost
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream
  • The Merchant of Venice
  • The Merry Wives of Windsor
  • Much Ado About Nothing
  • The History of Troilus and Cressida (!)
  • All's Well that Ends Well
  • Measure for Measure
The most famous of these is 'Midsummer Night's Dream' and I'm not sure why it was left off.  It's more well known than any of the four that were chosen.  It's clearly a better play than 'Comedy of Errors' and arguably better than any of the other three. 
'Much Ado About Nothing' is better known now, but that's probably in large part due to the very successful movie version of it from the 1993 film.  Still, the play itself is great fun.  Other Shakespearean comedies also got film treatment in the 90's without reaching such fame.  Maybe the play itself has something special going for it.
I've read 'Merchant of Venice' before, but it was a long time ago.  The anti-Semitic angle is difficult today, but I don't know if it is as fully 'problematic' as 'Taming of the Shrew'.  My guess is that a modern director would finesse them both in the same ways.
The only other one that I've read before is 'Troilus and Cressida' (reviewed here).  (Notably, I've read the play but not seen it.)  I didn't remember that it is considered a comedy and looking back on it, I'm somewhat surprised.  The play itself is titled a history and it plays out more like a tragedy.  The ending is not really happy and the title couple doesn't end up together.  My favorite Shakespeare book, 'The Friendly Shakespeare' lists it as a 'problem' play, in large part because it doesn't fit neatly into the main categories.  I'm not bothered that it missed out on the Great Books list, though I did enjoy it more than the Chaucer version that did make the list.

Time permitting, I hope to see/read all of the Shakespeare plays this year.  I hope to have a more informed opinion of the comedies as a whole then.  As of now though, I don't really understand why these four were picked.

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