What Are Shakespeare’s Hidden Gems?

In some random bit of spammy email marketing I saw the term “hidden gem” (and subsequent discussion about how to use this term in your marketing :)).  Well, this week I learned that I like Coriolanus much more than I thought I would.  It’s easy to talk about Hamlet and Lear and Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet for years on end.  Something like Coriolanus doesn’t get nearly as much love.

So, let’s talk “hidden gems.”  Which of Shakespeare’s plays is not commonly known, that should get more love?  The Great Tragedies are off limits – everybody’s seen and discussed those a thousand times.   No Dream, no Much Ado About Nothing.  We all know about those gems.

What else ya got?

12 thoughts on “What Are Shakespeare’s Hidden Gems?

  1. 3 Henry VI. Origin story of Richard, phenomenal powerhouse of a woman in Margaret, poetical musings on kingship from Henry, lots of battles. All of the Henry VIs are under-rated (as are all of the early plays, really; I also champion Two Gents and, to a lesser extent, Comedy), but Pt 3 really brings it.

  2. When I first read Coriolanus I loved it, maybe even more than Julius Caesar. My favorite is Twelfth Night, but I'm sure that (like As You Like It) is already a gem!

    I think the biggest "hidden gem" for me is Titus Andronicus. The play is amazing, has some incredible lines ("I tell my sorrows to the stones"; "Rome is a wilderness of tigers, and tigers must prey…Rome afford no prey except for me an mine," etc). It's also really poignant, recalls tons of Ovid (which is great), and the cycle of revenge makes it fitting for our time (the Public Theater here in NYC did a production where everyone wore military fatigues to make the US/Iraq parallels really striking). Some say it's excessive, tries to be funny, and can come off as awkward and extreme, but I love it. It definitely needs more love!

  3. Well, if that's what you're worried about, we could always call it The True Tragedie of Richard Duke of Yorke, and the death of good King Henrie the Sixt, with the Whole Contention betweene the two Houses Lancaster and Yorke. ;P But yeah, it totally works as a stand-alone. It doesn't rely on what came before more than any other history play, and Shakespeare tells you what of that you need to know.

  4. To just look at it as gory is to completely remove the poignancy of it, though. Yes, it's gory, but it's also beautiful, and powerful, and haunting. The ache of the characters is what really moves me; and I'm sure a good production would do the same. The collection gasp of the audience at Lavinia's first post-rape appearance forces you to be moved haha. I think it's worth a re-read, definitely. Even Julie Taymore's "Titus" is worthwhile. Not as good as the play itself, of course (and she does some weird things with graphics that I wasn't crazy about), but for a film it handles the play nicely.

    But I also have a soft spot for Timon of Athens (which I would not consider a hidden gem haha, it's not famous for a reason), so I might be crazy 😀

    Definitely adding the H6 plays to my last! Glad to hear that they're awesome 🙂

  5. Can 3H6 be handled standalone? You see "Part 3" and think "Don't I have to see the first two first?"

    I don't know about Titus. Like Coriolanus before this week, I can't say anything more about it than "Yes I read through it a couple of decades ago." I've never seen a production, film or stage. I might end up feeling the same way. I fear that I will find it hard to get beyond the "This is Shakespeare's gore play" issue.

  6. I'm a heavy supporter of Measure for Measure. It's been getting more and more of its due recently, but it's still relatively frequently overlooked.


  7. I loved Antony and Cleopatra! Well, actually I have a funny story about that… Near the beginning of the play (I read it) I thought that Cleopatra was the biggest jerk and I held on the Antony only because he was awesome in Julius Caesar. But then when people started dying and things started to get serious I fell in love with it. That was the first one that came to mind but there are a lot I liked. All's Well, Love's Labors Lost, Troilus and Cressida, and (though it's a collaboration) 2 Noble Kinsmen. Though Kinsmen is there mainly because I absolutely adore the Jailer's Daughter's monologues.

  8. Measure for Measure absolutely. Definitely a play whose time has come. The same could be said for Troilus and Cressida. One feels these plays struggled for recognition for a long time when people (starting with the Victorians) wanted their Shakespeare neat and linear and morally unambiguous. Nowadays, with popular culture exemplified by shows like The Wire and Game of Thrones, we're ready to delve into Shakespeare's gnarliest and most doubtful explorations of the human condition.

    Speaking of Game of Thrones, I wholeheartedly endorse Cass' suggestion of Henry VI, Part 3. Despite the box office poison title it was saddled with by the Folio editors, this play is a riotously entertaining read, packed with action, treachery, and delicious speeches. I move we change the name to Richard III Part 1 and put it on much more often as a prequel to the play that directly follows it.

    Finally, I think Cymbeline doesn't get nearly enough love. It's essentially Shakespeare riffing on every theme from his earlier plays, mixing uproarious self-parody with haunting lyricism to create the national myth England never knew it had.

  9. Cymbeline: It is as if Shakespeare backed up the truck and dumped every one of is tropes, gimmicks, themes, and character types into one play and said "Let's give this a shot, shall we?"

    You've got a bright, charming young woman disguised as a man, a creepier-than-creepy Iago figure (who reforms!), another character who sounds like Iago but changes, a forbidden romance, a ring bit as in Merchant, nobles in hiding disguised as barbarians, jealousy, the threat of war, father-daughter conflicts, an evil stepmother, a dolt of a villain, Jupiter riding in on an eagle, the weirdest wake-up call ever (I won't spoil it.), and about seventeen endings.

    Plus some great poetry, songs, and characters. This would make a great movie, too.

    Saw a version of it done with about seven actors in an abandoned store that was stunning. A group in New York did it with four. Deserves big-stage and big-screen treatments. Would make a great movie.

  10. I support Coriolanus, Measure for Measure and Antony and Cleopatra too. And I personally would add Troilus and Cressida, for I found its absurdist depiction of wars and ancient heroes interesting and memorable. A very ambitious investigation of human nature. Technically it may be a bit messy, but the true jewel is there.

  11. I've seen the phrase "hidden gems" used more about interesting unnoticed bits within works as opposed to the works themselves.

    My favorite list of hidden gems is one that is compiled by Entertainment Weekly's PopWatch blog of viewer comments on random things that happen on episodes of Dancing with the Stars (which are often things like "the way the light was shining made it look like Tom Bergeron had horns" or "the woman behind Len totally looked like Nancy Reagan.")

    So my hidden gems for Shakespeare would be more like Lady Macbeth's line, "Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?" being a reference to the humors/temperaments, and suggesting to an Elizabethan audience that King Duncan was sanguine.

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