Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Shakespeare in the Great Books List

These are the works of Shakespeare that are on the ten year reading plan for the Great Books:

Julius Caesar
Antony and Cleopatra
King Lear

Richard II
Henry IV (part one)
Henry IV (part two)
Henry V

The Comedy of Errors
Taming of the Shrew
As You Like It
Twelfth Night

That's seven tragedies, four histories and four comedies.  This past weekend, Google had a doodle that celebrated Shakespeare with his eight best known plays.  Three of those plays didn't make the Great Books list.  Those plays are 'Romeo and Juliet', 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' and 'The Tempest'.  Should those three have been included here?
It depends on what the reasoning behind the list is.  If the idea is to be exposed to the greatest ideas in Western Thought, then you probably have to throw 'Romeo and Juliet' and 'The Tempest' in.  If the idea is to have the most enjoyable experience for lay-people, then you throw in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'.  If the idea is to have a well-rounded education in culture, then you need to include all three.
But if the idea is to avoid things that they've probably already encountered?  Then maybe you go with the Great Books list as designed.  The obvious flaw with this approach is that the popularity of many of Shakespeare's plays has changed for better or worse throughout history and no doubt will continue to do so.
In honesty, I'm not sure what the approach was.

And in fairness, I don't know what approach I would take.  Shakespeare is given quite a bit of territory in the reading plan.  The fifteen plays are divided into six pieces (with Hamlet and Macbeth each being given their own place and not sharing with any other plays).  If I was picking fifteen plays, I don't think that these are the fifteen I would have ended up with.
I would probably have bumped Coriolanus for the Tempest.  And I definitely would have bumped Comedy of Errors for Midsummer Night's Dream.  And while I'm at it, I'd get rid of Taming of the Shrew in favor of Much Ado About Nothing.  And I'd find a way to include Romeo and Juliet.
Although that might all be my biases showing...  I'm certainly not sorry to have read the plays that I would have thrown out here.  And while fifteen plays is a lot, I could make the argument to up that number to twenty.  At some point, there is a limit to what you can really include.
For better or worse, these are the plays that were selected.  I can think of worse things than to have read them.  

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