Monday, May 16, 2016

The Comedies - Shakespeare

Now that I'm completely done with all 13 of Shakespeare's comedies, I thought it would be fun to try and rank them in order of how much I enjoyed them.  This list is completely subjective (of course) but I want to point out that most of these I have read, but not watched.  It's entirely possible that if I saw all 13 of them staged with good directors and casts, I'd move things around.  In reverse order:

13. Troilus and Cressida - This play is simply too unrelentingly dark for me.  Poor Troilus gives his heart away and then has his love taken from him.  Not only is she gone for him, but the poor sap then witnesses her betrayal of him.  It may be unfair to judge this as a comedy.  There has been debate over this for literally centuries and it's usually simply put as a 'problem play'.  But, this is how my sources had it pegged.  So I'm putting it last.

12. All's Well That Ends Well - Another 'problem play'.  The problem here is that I can't respect the love that the heroine has for her husband.  She pursues him and he runs away.  She only catches him by tricking him into her bed.  After that, it's all love and roses.  I can't buy it.  And, unfortunately, none of the rest of the play makes up for the hollow love story at the center. 

11. Taming of the Shrew - My big problem with this is that I simply can't respect how Petruchio treats Kate.  My modern reading just can't get past the 'punish her till she relents' treatment here.  Having said that, I enjoyed the version I watched (Taylor/Burton).  I've read in a few places that a well done performance can smooth the rough (for modern) edges.  That could certainly be the case here.

10. Two Gentleman of Verona - Another play where the fifth act undoes everything I enjoyed about the previous acts.  Here, Proteus has utterly betrayed his friend Valentine over love.  Then a simple apology is uttered and the betrayal is forgotten and Valentine is ready to hand over his love.  It's stupefying.  And right up until that, I enjoyed it quite a bit.

9. Merry Wives of Windsor - I came into this with a negative review from W.H.  Auden on my mind.  I was a bit afraid but I enjoyed it.  Well, not completely.  It has it's problems but it has the bones of a pretty good play.  With some editing and tightening up, it could be as good as (almost) any of the rest.

8. Comedy of Errors - One of Shakespeare's earliest plays and it kind of shows in terms of sophistication.  Any play that centers around two estranged sets of identical twins is going to be at least a bit zany.  But it works.  It's funny and it has heart. 

7. Love's Labor's Lost - I almost ruined this one by watching the awful movie version.  Fortunately, I went back to the text and enjoyed it quite a bit.  The love struck scholars are utterly defeated by the lovely courtly ladies and you can't help but be happy for the ladies. 

6. Merchant of Venice - This is another one where the modern attitude can't help but overshadow the Elizabethan text.  But there is enough nuance here to make it interesting rather than disgusting.  Shylock has an awful edge to him, that is certainly related to the way he has been treated, but does keep at least some sympathy back from him.  Plus, the interplay with the caskets is fascinating. 

5. Measure for Measure - After the other 'problem plays', I was afraid of this one but I really enjoyed it.  The problems are complex and interesting.  The solution is clear but the route to get there isn't.  This may be at the top of my list of plays I'd like to see live.

The top four are so hard to rank.  I'm sure the order would change depending on my mood of the day.

4. Twelfth Night - Another comedy with twins, but only one set so it's easier to work with.  Here the love story is interesting, but the subplot with Sirs Belch and Aguecheek is superb.  The trick played on Malvolio is wonderful and I enjoyed it all immensely. 

3. As You Like It - What a delightful play!  Rosalind is a complete joy and the entire interplay between her and Orlando in the forest is simply wonderful.  This one was new to me and I'll certainly seek it out again.

2. Much Ado About Nothing - An old favorite of mine and I wonder if that didn't color my rankings.  If I'd come at this fresh as the previous two, would I have put it ahead of them?  It doesn't matter.  I love, love it, love it.  Maybe the best duel of wits in the bunch.

1. A Midsummer Night's Dream - I like each of the plots here, and I'll always have a special place in my heart for the role of Puck.  There is a playfulness here that I love, in the whole twisty lovers plot.  However, what sells this for me, is the rude mechanicals and their awful play within the play.  To the delightfully named Bottom, my hats off to you.

Disagree?  Feel free to leave a comment.

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