So, I'm kind of a nerd and have owned The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, since the 7th grade. And yes, I asked for it for Christmas because I am cool like that. I have read almost all of Shakespeare's major works, and many of them multiple times. I know that Shakespeare can be hit or miss for a lot of people, and I think the reason is complexity and tragedy. A lot of Shakespeare's plays are just plain depressing and seem senselessly tragic. Personally, I think his comedies are probably his best works because they don't rely on death, war, and revenge as a tension device. Shakespeare actually explores human relationships, gender roles, and societal expectations in his comedies. Plus they are a hell of a lot more fun to read! Here are my personal faves.
This play has three basic story lines; the young lovers, the fairies and the actors. Lysander and Hermia want to get married but her father wants her to marry Demtrius. Helena is in love with Demetrius. The actors are practicing to put on a play for the ruler of Athens' wedding. Lysander and Hermia decide to runaway in to the forest where the fairies live with Demetrius and Helena following them. Queen Titania and King Oberon of the fairies are arguing and the King tells his first in command, Puck, to put a spell on the Queen and help the the poor lovers (Demetrius and Helena). Only he screws it up and chaos ensues.
If you like stories about paranormal or magical creatures like fairies, then you will love this play. The fairies are actually pretty funny too. They are tricksters that like to mess with the humans and each other. You never really know what they are going to do. I mean, Puck makes Queen Titania fall in love with a donkey-man. Classic. Also, to me, this is probably one of Shakespeare's most romantic plays because there is real love that endures multiple challenges and survives. Lysander and Hermia are my favorite Shakespeare OTP, and they should be yours too. Screw Romeo and Juliet and their ridiculous romance! Team Lysander and Hermia!
Claudio is a well decorated solider for the city of Messina and the ruler, Don Pedro. He is in love with Hero and at Don Pedro's celebration ball, he plans to discuss his feelings for her. His friend Benedick is against marriage entirely. Don John, Don Pedro's brother, wants revenge on his brother and uses the opportunity to stir the pot and make Hero look like she has been cheating on Claudio with Don Pedro and humiliates her. Benedick and Beatrice, Hero's cousin, try to right the wrong and get the young couple back together.
This play is all about the power of gossip, rumors and miscommunication. If you like contemporary dramas where the couple has a difficult time deciphering who to trust and how to make amends, then this is a great Shakespeare play for you. It's also about being honest with yourself and recognizing that people can change for the better when love is involved. So, I love this story because it's so frustrating. It's like come on guys; just get in a room and talk it out. But they never do, because they don't trust each other. There's so much tension pent up in the 'will they or won't they' aspect that would rival any modern day romance novel.
Viola and her twin brother, Sebastian, are shipwrecked. Viola comes ashore believing Sebastian dead. Out of fear, she dresses up as a young man named Cesario and proceeds to meet Duke Orsino. She falls in love with him and agrees to help him woo Lady Olivia in hopes of keeping them apart. Olivia falls in love with Cesario, not realizing he is a woman. Malvolio is also trying to win over Olivia by taking Cesario out of the picture. Eventually, Sebastian comes ashore where all hell breaks loose.
This play is so great and so funny because it is so confusing! It's just one massive love triangle or rather, quadrilateral, and nobody knows what's going on. But the best part about this is the exploration Shakespeare does about what it means to be a woman during this time and the differences in societal expectations between the sexes. Viola gets a taste of respect and camaraderie that she's never experienced before. She is appreciated for what she is and not what she can be traded for in a marriage. This makes the Duke and Viola's inevitable relationship more real than most, because he sees her as an equal rather than a commodity. Plus if you haven't seen the movie She's the Man, that's based on this play, go watch it now! It's perfect.
Prospero, The Duke of Milan, and his daughter, Miranda, have been abandoned on an island for 12 years by Prospero's jealous brother, Antonio. And survived with the help of a witches's son, Caliban. Prospero is a powerful sorcerer and uses his magical sprite named Ariel, to cause a massive storm that shipwrecks Antonio and his conspirators, Alonso and Sebastian on his island. All the conspirators believe the others to be dead. One group tries to rise up against Prospero and fails, while Prospero uses his magic to make Miranda and Alfonso's son, Ferdinand, fall in love. Ariel tricks the conspirators into seeing their betrayals. Prospero then seizes the moment to try and take back his kingdom from Antonio.
So, this play has a ton of religious references in it from classical mythology to Christianity to witchcraft. It questions whether religion is just another source of 'hocus pocus' that is controlling us. Do we truly have free will or is everything we do predestined? If you like books that involve sorcery, witchcraft and magical beings you will love this story. Or if you like books that discuss many different aspects of religion, then you will like this play. Shakespeare is so clever that you won't know who truly wins in the end.
After her father and her lover, Orlando, are banished outside the city, Rosalind and her cousin, Celia, flee into the woods in disguise. Rosalind becomes a young man named Ganymede and Celia a washer woman. Once in the woods where her father is living with rebels, they happen upon Orlando and Ganymede wants to help him with his relationship to Rosalind. Only another young woman, Phoebe, has fallen in love with Ganymede. Relationship triangles flourish, blossom, and die in this particular forest.
Okay, so this is probably the weirdest Shakespeare play, with some major plot holes. But in my mind, I love how he plays with equality in this story. Once, outside the city walls all the characters are on an equal playing field. Love flourishes because it does not because someone is a courtier or a barmaid. There are so many societal expectations about courting and marriage that are just thrown right out the window in this play. Plus, you still have the amusing love triangles and girls dressed as dudes. Isn't it weird to think that because all actors in Shakespeare's plays were male, that the boy cast as Rosalind, was a boy dressed as girl pretending to be a boy? Mind blown.
Let me know which Shakespeare play is your favorite!