Which Would You Skip?

Continuing on the theme of our friend who considers it a lifetime milestone to read the complete works of you know who, let me ask you this:  If not all, then which would you skip?  Which plays are you going to recommend that your friend not even bother with?  After all, we’re not kidding ourselves to think that every play is another Hamlet or Lear, are we? I’m gonna throw “King John” out.  If it’s not a Henry or a Richard, I don’t hear anybody quoting it and I don’t see anybody performing it.  So other than getting the “big picture” of the histories as a whole, what else does this one bring to the reader?  The casual reader is interested in getting some value out of Shakespeare’s particular contribution, not a history lesson that they could have gotten from any text book.

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10 thoughts on “Which Would You Skip?

  1. If you throw out King John, you’re going to miss out on the Bastard.

    You really shouldn’t miss the Bastard.


    I’d skip All’s Well. Or maybe Henry VIII.

  2. I agree with David: the Bastard is the King of Awesome. And he says things like this:

    But this is worshipful society
    And fits the mounting spirit like myself,
    For he is but a bastard to the time
    That doth not smack of observation;
    And so am I, whether I smack or no;
    And not alone in habit and device,
    Exterior form, outward accoutrement,
    But from the inward motion to deliver
    Sweet, sweet, sweet poison for the age’s tooth:
    Which, though I will not practise to deceive,
    Yet, to avoid deceit, I mean to learn;
    For it shall strew the footsteps of my rising.

    Personally, I’d tell them not to bother with The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

  3. You cannot throw out King John! There are great characters, incredible speeches (speech about grief is amazing)and the most heart-wrenching scene in which Hubert is supposed to blind the child Arthur with a hot fire-poker. It is an amazing play.

  4. Fair enough, oh defenders of King John. But let me ask you this logical next question – why is it so underrated? Where are the movies, the performances in the park? Where are the high school students combing Google for the Cliff’s Notes version?

  5. Well, there are a lot of Shakespeare plays that haven’t been filmed, including some that are among the very best of the plays (e.g. nobody has filmed the Henry IVs unless you count Chimes at Midnight, which is admittedly brilliant, but very heavily adapted). Also, Americans in particular have a weird phobia about Shakespeare’s histories other than Richard III, on the grounds that people assume that without in-depth historical knowledge they couldn’t possibly keep up with them, although Shakespeare invariably tells you everything you need to know.

    And John *is* something of a tricky play to get into, but it’s worth the effort of reading.

  6. For first place, I would say Hamlet OR Romeo & Juliet.
    For last place, I would say All's Well that Ends Well OR Two Gentlemen of Verona.

  7. All's Well That Ends Well—If this is supposed to take place in Austria, why do all of the characters have Italian names?

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