The Play That Doesn’t Get Enough Credit Is …

…you tell me. The Defending Timon post was pretty enlightening, actually.  I thought about doing a whole series and tackling all the, what shall we call them, less popular plays?  Pericles, Cymbeline, etc… Instead let’s do it this way.  What play do you think doesn’t get enough credit, and why?  Plead your case. I will be disappointed if Measure for Measure and Two Gents don’t come up.

15 thoughts on “The Play That Doesn’t Get Enough Credit Is …

  1. Easy. Coriolanus. The political universality of the play is unmatched in almost all literature. It is constantly relevant, and yet, largely ignored. Fortunately, there's a film of it coming out in 2011!

    Honorable mention to Titus Andronicus.

  2. Easy answer for me: Henry VI Part 3. I think it's fairly obvious why it doesn't get enough attention; with a name like that, most people aren't going to approach it without first investigating Henry VI Parts 1 & 2, and that's a LOT of history! Which is a crying shame, because while it is obviously a follow-on from the first two, it is EVEN MORE SATISFYING as a prequel to Richard III, which people are more than happy to take out of context of the First Tetralogy.

    Just read Gloucester's great long speech at the end of 3.2. How awesome is THAT? It's a brilliant play, my favourite installment of the woeful saga of Henry, sixth king of that name, and gives BRILLIANT context to Richard III.

  3. Absolutely Two Gents! A large part of my thesis was actually defending this as a good play. There's good comedy, fun with wordplay and stichomythia, a cross-dressing heroine, outlaws in the forest — all these things that Shakespeare returns to later on, in their genesis here. (And I've totally solved the problem with the almost-rape and Silvia's silence at the end). This play is so ignored, and of the early comedies, it's easily my fav.

  4. I definitely think Measure is underrated. Northrop Frye gives a wonderful interpretation of the play ("Norhrop Frye on Shakespeare").

    Antony and Cleopatra is the most underrated tragedy. (I agree that Coriolanus deserves more credit, but I think Antony is a better play that gets little notice).

  5. It isn't as obscure or overlooked as some of the ones mentioned here, but I really do think that Richard II deserves more performances and more discussion. It is a brilliant political piece as well as a personal tragedy. (Depending on how you play it.) Plus some of Shakespeare's best, (but least quoted) lines.

  6. Carl–just read Frye's criticism again. You're right, it is a wonderful interpretation. Makes you want to read and/or see it, both.

    …Strangely… parts of his assessment somehow vaguely reminded me…of the Complete Works, Unabridged… in Tennessee…not quite sure why… 🙂

  7. I'd also answer 3 Henry VI simply because of Queen Margaret, who is in my opinion the most underestimated Shakespearean character.

  8. Heh, don't all of them save the major tragedies not get enough credit?

    From what I can tell, the critics absolutely adore Twelfth Night, but I've yet to meet many for whom Shakesperean comedy isn't something to mock (what a sad state of affairs…)

    Similarly, it's obvious that Henry IV is astounding and yet not many people approach the histories (Richard II is also fun but it's basically one long poem so it's difficult).

    I found Titus Andronic a light, enjoyable read, and yet it's blasted constantly; I found Comedy of Errors superbly tight (plus the "I to the world am like a drop of water" soliloquy is astounding); Troilus & Cressida is acerbic like no other play I've read and yet it rests in some kind of obscurity; and so on.

    To answer directly, if it's a matter of the public not giving enough credit, Twelfth Night and Henry IV.

  9. Yes Cass, do tell. That's always bugged me about Two Gents.

    I second (or third) 3 Henry VI. Great play, great set-up for Richard III, great lines: "I will not rest/ Until the white rose that I wear be dyed,/ Even in the lukewarm blood of Henry's heart." You can tell reading Richard/Gloucester in the play that Shakespeare's itching to give the character a play of his own. But he has plenty of competition in the play, as York, Margaret, Warwick, and King Henry all get their finest moments over the course of the history.

  10. I just looked at this again and realized people had asked me questions — so here it is, at least the short version. I wrote an 80-page thesis on this topic, so the full explanation is, well, lengthy. 😉

    I think the whole mess is meant to be satirical. Shakespeare just wasn't quite a practiced enough writer to make that obvious yet. When Valentine offers Silvia to Proteus, he's acting in perfect accord with the principles of amicitia — the bond of idealized male friendship which had been considered since Aristotle to be the highest and purest relationship any humans could have. The concept was a lot better-known in the 16th century than it is today. There was an old adage (which Erasmus wrote an essay on) saying that "friends hold all things in common" — including, in a lot of stories (particularly in the medieval tradition), wives. If you're truly devoted to your best friend, you'll give him what he desires, to make him happy, even if that thing is yours. This is why Valentine forgives Proteus and yields up Silvia. Shakespeare takes this from his source, Titus and Gisippus, almost exactly.

    Now, Proteus is just plain a cad however you cut it, and he's betrayed the principles of amicitia — though not so much by trying to rape Silvia as by declaring "I to myself am dearer than a friend" — his whole 2.6 soliloquy is an abandonment of the classical ideals. But his brutal behavior is narratively necessary so that Valentine can then make the gesture. It's something else Shakespeare picks up from his sources — this sort of thing wasn't uncommon in "romances of friendship" from about the 12th century on.

    Silvia's silence is what calls attention to the fact that this is not really acceptable behavior, despite the classical ideal. Ralph Sargent, back in the '50s, suggested that this was because she understands how amicitia works, accepts its principles, and keeps quiet so as not to detract from the significance of Valentine's gesture. I, however, find this manifestly unsatisfactory, and out of line with a woman who, throughout the play, has demonstrated no compunction about calling men out for jerky behavior. My suggestion is that her silence is meant to draw attention to the failing of these classical ideals — the whole play, really, illustrates amicitia's flaws too clearly to really support the principle. The rest of my thesis was about how Shakespeare's plays (at least the comedies) tend to promote the marital union, hopefully both sexual and friendly in nature, over homosocial bonds. (The other plays I focused on were Much Ado and Winter's Tale).

    It's just a hypothesis, and obviously we can't determine authorial intent, but accepting this hypothesis, in my opinion, solves a lot of problems with this play.

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