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I assume you have read at least a few of his plays and wonder if you have a personal favorite (and why).
I would welcome a recommendation of a particular edition. Last night I bought the Folger Library edition of King Lear (ed. Louis B. Wright and Virginia A. LaMar) at a used bookstore for $1.98 simply because it wasn't heavily annotated, but I don't know if it is a good edition or not.
-- Y. Dobon, December 7, 1997
First, I can't recommend an edition because I'm unable to read Shakespeare and understand it. I don't try anymore. I just go to the plays and let the actors/director do the work of interpretation for me.
Some of the plays that I like the best are the ones that everyone else hates. I think Troilus and Cressida is the ultimate date play because Cressida vows eternal love and then transfers her affections when expedient. Coriolanus is good for your Ph.D. friends because the main character is so very like the average academic (Coriolanus is a patrician who can't believe how useless the average plebian is and isn't shy about saying so; he runs for political office but is eventually hounded from Rome because he is unwilling to pander to popular taste). Timon of Athens is great for the Age of the Microsoft Monopoly because it shows how people worship wealth and ignore character and personal quality.
N.B.: I told an MIT friend that I'd been to see Kenneth Branagh's 70mm movie version of Hamlet (done without any cuts). He asked "was it good?" I never know what to say in situations like this because I can't imagine that a binary opinion is useful. So I just said "the cinematography was great but the script was a little weak" :-)
-- Philip Greenspun, December 7, 1997
Im not sure if I have a favorite, but I do share Philip's fondness for _Troilus and Cressida_ and _Timon of Athens_ (a line of which, by the way, inspired V. Nabokov's wonderful _Pale Fire_). My field is contemporary American literature, and it's been years since I've read Shakespeare, but I seem to recall that I really enjoyed _Coriolanus_.
Regarding editions, the rather expensive Arden Shakespeare is often cited as the best paperback series, although the Penguin has its followers and the Folger seems to be the most widely available. I like the Arden as it has copious textual notes and is printed in quality trade-paper format; i.e. the pages are white, the ink doesnt turn your fingers black, and the book doesnt disintegrate in the course of reading.
If you don't mind a big, heavy, hardback volume, get a copy of Houghton Mifflin's The Riverside Shakespeare. It's a very good (the best?)one-volume edition, the notes are good, it's cheaper than buying decent single editions, and it includes the poetry (and some pictures). And when you're done, it looks very impressive on your bookshelf...:-)
-- Charles G. Ruberto, December 11, 1997
I'll second Charles G. Ruberto's suggestion to pick up The Riverside Shakespeare. Everything you could possibly want is in there. If you find you don't like the volume, it can be used as a foot rest or to bludgeon a would-be attacker into submission.
As to the "big four" tragedies: I like Othello best; Hamlet is a close second. King Lear is okay, but I never really developed much of a liking for Macbeth. Probably had something to do with being forced to memorize the "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow" monologue in 11th grade English class.
I won't bore you with my opinions of the comedies, histories, etc...
-- Russ Arcuri, December 12, 1997
When I rented Lawrence Olivier's Hamlet, my college roommate and I watched it twice in one sitting. Never really considered myself a Shakespeare enthusiast until then. It's been many years, but I remember being particularly impressed how Hamlet's feigned madness becomes real. The direction is brilliant -- camera angles subtly reveal point-of-view in the storytelling so you become drawn in to the puzzle of what is and isn't real. It's filmed in black and white with a beautiful luminous quality. Good moody music, too.
-- Ken Schwarz, December 15, 1997
My favorite has to be Hamlet because it is so open-ended, full of unexplained and unexplainable stuff - I don't think Shakespeare himself had worked out all the questions in the play.
The least favorite has to be Love's Labors Lost - I will never see the play again. Not because of its profanity (I could care less) but it is just a crappy play.
-- Kevin Kelleher, May 12, 1998
Shakespeare should definitely be read, and not just seen performed. The big four tragedies are extraordinary, not just in themselves, but for their range; Hamlet's intellectual claustrophobia; Othello for sickening inevitability; Macbeth for its brutality and the impossiblity of turning the clock back; and Lear for the extremism.
They come in and out of fashion; the C18th couldnt bear the tragedies, and preferred the history plays. The C19th loved the comedies (all those fairies and pre-raphaelite fake medievalism); while the absurdist C20th likes the tragedies and problem plays -- perfect for our bleak, black times.
For anyone interested in Hamlet (still my personal favourite), you could do a lot worse than read the introduction to Nietzsches Will To Power, and its definition of the Nihilist. Pure Hamlet.
Actually, there is no substitute for simply reading them all, one after the other. Sounds a masochistic thing to do, but I promise you, you wont regret it!
-- Martin Davidson, May 28, 1998
I agree. Shakespeare should definitely be read. Keep one of the plays on the night table, it's a sure cure for insomnia. Except, of course, for Hamlet. It is so pretentiously hilarious, that my significant other couldn't get any sleep, since I couldn't help but laugh out loud throughout its reading.
-- Rose-Marie Burke, October 9, 1998
This is an old question, but I can't pass it up, because Shakespeare is so wonderful to read. Martin is absolutely right. I was fortunate to have an English professor who forced me to learn HOW to read Shakespeare. He did this by giving quizes involving the most obscure scenes, and it was impossible to do well on them without reading and understanding every single word. No skimming scenes, no passing over unfamiliar words without checking the footnotes, no assuming familiar words hadn't changed meaning in the intervening centuries if a line didn't quite make sense (footnotes again). It takes longer to read the plays properly than to watch them performed; I estimated 4 or 5 hours average, and I'm a fast reader. But it was worth it to discover all the innuendo, humor, irony, range of emotion, food for thought, and sometimes just the sheer beauty of the language. There's no way it can all come through in a single performance. As Martin says, read them all - hours of delight.
-- Anne Pohli, February 17, 1999
"There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so"
-- Joe Hearst, May 23, 1999
I have read the complete works of Shakespeare and understood probably half of what I read. That does not diminish the joy that I got out of the experience. My favorite was "A Comedy of Errors"... If anyone gets the chance, find a copy of the performance by Hollywood Neuvue (sp) and The Brothers Karamotsov....absolutely wonderful!!! Jack
-- Jack Blake, October 10, 1999
I am not especially knowledgeable about Shakespeare like I am about some other areas of literature. However, I have read that the famous storm scene (I believe in King Lear, but I'm not sure) is considered the greatest dramatic scene in literature. Can anybody confirm this?
-- Steve Burwen, December 30, 1999
I'm a huge Shakespeare fanatic! My favourite being "Othello" the use of emotions and their power on humanity or 'inhumanity' is amazing. Iago is seriously messed up, but at the same time very intelligent he really gets you glued to the plot,it's a puppeteer and his puppets kind of thing,It is most definetely worth a read!
-- Steph Weph, April 15, 2002