What Are Your Top Five Shakespeare Plays?

Yeah, that’s right, I’m doing one of these. But, there’s a twist!

I think it’s impossible to take a list of 38 plays spanning tragedy, comedy and history and compare them equally. It’s like asking your favorite food, or song. You need some sort of context. Favorite for what? Relative to what?

Here’s mine:

Hollywood called. There’s a new rule that nobody can make any more Shakespeare movies without the approval of actual Shakespeare fans, so it’s up to us. We’ve got to make a list of the most desired “Please make a modern movie version of <play>” plays, and they get to choose from that list.

Go. Everybody gets 5, in order of preference. Feel free to elaborate whether you want to see a particular kind of adaptation / interpretation, but it’s not required. If I get enough people to play I’ll crunch the numbers and post the final list. Who knows, maybe there really are some movie producers out there looking for a new project? You have to put it out there in the universe if you want to see it exist!

My Selections

5) Much Ado About Nothing

I think the two most well-known movies we’ve got, Kenneth Branagh’s and Joss Whedon’s, are excellent. But I’ll take more. I think Much Ado is as close to the modern “romantic comedy” as any of Shakespeare’s plays might get, and it’s a perfect date night introduction to an audience that might not otherwise think about going to see Shakespeare.

4) Twelfth Night

I think the time is right for someone to really get in there and explore all the issues of gender and sexuality found in this one.

3) Hamlet

What can I say, I’m a bit of a purist. I don’t really need to see another Romeo and Juliet or Macbeth, but I can pick apart Hamlets all day. Look what David Tennant did, look what Benedict Cumberbatch did, look what Kevin Kline or Derek Jacobi or Laurence Olivier or Mel Gibson did. Where does it work, where does it fail, and why? Does this Hamlet love his father or fear him? Does this Gertrude know about Claudius’ guilt or not? There’s nearly infinite variety. As I write that I’m imagining some sort of “express Hamlet“, like a one-man show version, that all young up-and-coming actors must tackle so we have a baseline for how they do it.

2) King Lear

I want a modern retelling of Lear. This play is as much a challenge for the audience as it is for the actors. While I consider it a masterpiece and a true honor to witness a production, I am still hesitant to say to any friends and family, “Hey, come see King Lear with me.” Hamlet has been approachable enough for so long that it’s been stripped down to its elements and built back up. I want that for Lear, so more people can experience even a part of it. I hesitate to say it, but yes since people are no doubt thinking it, I’m open to a “Lion King for King Lear.” (And yes, for those others thinking it, I’ve seen A Thousand Acres)

1) The Tempest

So I’m predictable, sue me. I’ve loved The Tempest since my children were little. You can tell it as a fairy tale, as a romance, as a comedy, as a revenge (forgiveness?) story. I’ve written for years that I think Disney could do a version. I understand that it’s got some issues around “colonialism” but I’ve just never really chosen to look at the play that way. For me, it will always be primarily about a father literally positioning himself as a god over the bubble universe that he created for his daughter’s well-being and his realization and acceptance that he has to relinquish that power and let her go. I think we’re still waiting for a definitive version of this one.

3 thoughts on “What Are Your Top Five Shakespeare Plays?

  1. I love this idea! My picks.

    5) Measure for Measure

    This has modern day Hollywood morality tale all over it, with its sadly timeless and timely #metoo theme. Margot Robbie as Isabella would be awesome!

    4) Richard III

    Both the big screen and small screen love a villain – I’m thinking Hannibal Lecter or Frank Underwood. Tricky Dicky would be hugely popular. The only problem might be explaining why there’s no Richard I, that Richard II is another guy entirely… And why Richard VII: Return to Bosworth Field is ill-advised.

    3) Pericles

    Here I’m riffing off Tom Hanks a la Castaway with a bit of The Irishman-style reverse-aging tech used in the early scenes. Lots of Mediterranean sunshine and maybe even a musical version with Meryl Streep.

    2) Othello

    Another age-old story, which could be brought right up to date given the current state of racial politics. Hamlet and Macbeth already have definitive film versions, but Othello hasn’t yet made it to the big screen in a truly compelling way imho.

    1) A Midsummer Night’s Dream

    Surely the streaming behemoths could turn this into a charming and magical series (or five) along the lines of Once Upon a Time? I can imagine a sleepy mid-west community on the edge of a wild forest, where the love lives of its inevitably attractive inhabitants are disrupted by mischievous fairies… the mayor and his fiancée enjoy a fiery relationship… and the local am dram group causes chaos.

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