Which Shakespeare works should I read next?
May 26, 2010 11:38 AM   Subscribe

Which Shakespeare works should I read next?

Based on what I've enjoyed so far, what should I read next? I appreciate dark humour, plot twists, irony, betrayal, clever jokes and my favourite character is Iago from Othello.

I've only read the plays, but I'm open to anything.

Bonus points: a brief note on why you recommend a particular work.

Here is a handy list of plays, sorted by type.

I loved:

I liked:
-King Lear
-Taming of the Shrew
-Twelfth Night

I heartily disliked:
-Midsummer Night's Dream
-Romeo and Juliet

Thanks in advance Mefites!
posted by cranberrymonger to Writing & Language (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Falstaff in Henry IV is one of the great Shakespeare characters. Read both parts of Henry IV for him, and then, if you're into it, The Merry Wives of Windsor - the comedy he wrote for Queen Elizabeth, who liked Falstaff so much she asked for another play with him.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 11:41 AM on May 26, 2010

The Merchant of Venice -- though it's classified as a comedy and sometimes treated, and produced, in broad strokes like the ones you say you disliked, when read with the (as I see it) correct eye, it's pretty dark in not just its drama but also its comedy.

I saw a production in Stratford (Ontario sadly) about 10 years ago that treated it this way and haven't read it the same way since.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:45 AM on May 26, 2010

Richard the 3rd is typically lumped in with Macbeth, as they both feature tyrant Protagonists. Richard 3 in some way is like Othello except Iago is the title character.

Julius Caesar has a lot of good intrigue and some dark humor too, but drags in the late acts IMO.
posted by French Fry at 11:45 AM on May 26, 2010

Oh yeah, definitely Henry IV (both parts) and Richard III. Two of my absolute favorites. Henry V is good, too,
posted by scody at 11:52 AM on May 26, 2010

On Henry IV and Richard III -- what you're missing from your list is histories. These would be great places to start. Or if you do Henry V you get the St. Crispin's Day speech!
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 11:59 AM on May 26, 2010

nthing Richard III. I came in just to say that.
posted by purpleclover at 12:04 PM on May 26, 2010

Measure for Measure and Merchant of Venice seem up your alley.
posted by Hurst at 12:04 PM on May 26, 2010

A Comedy of Errors has always been my favorite. It's swift and engaging.
posted by iconomy at 12:13 PM on May 26, 2010

Don't stay away from the ones you've disliked reading when it comes to viewing them. For example, performed well, Midsummer is hilarious. Remember they're not meant to be read as viewed during performance. That's when they shine.
posted by inturnaround at 12:20 PM on May 26, 2010

Possibly silly question... is it necessary to read the Henrys or Richards in order?
posted by cranberrymonger at 12:21 PM on May 26, 2010

Coriolanus!!! Seriously. Most underrated Shakes play ever.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:39 PM on May 26, 2010

Seconding the Henry IVs, as well as Titus Andronicus (dark, violent, surreal, funny). Also, not sure if you're interested in branching out to other Ren playwrights, but based on your stated preferences for dark humour, plot twists, irony, betrayal, clever jokes, you might really enjoy some revenge tragedy. Kyd and Webster are a good place to start there; also, Middleton's The Changeling.
posted by Bardolph at 12:49 PM on May 26, 2010

Richard III for sure.

The aptly named Bardolph is dead-on in suggesting Middleton, who's fantastic. Revenger's Tragedy (which is usually attributed to Middleton) is probably my all-time favourite Ren drama.
posted by pised at 1:28 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

You should read the multi-part plays (Henry IV and VI) in order. You should also probably read both parts of Henry IV before Henry V. On the other hand, it is not really necessary to read Henry VI before Richard III or to read Richard II before Henry IV, although it helps a little--read a plot summary or something. Henry VI and Richard II are pretty boring anyway (IMO); don't force yourself to get through them to get to the better plays.

I agree w/Richard III for the reasons mentioned above and the histories in general (although some of them are kind of a snooze), especially the Henry IV parts I, II, and Henry V sequence--it sounds like you'd like Falstaff and then there's all the twistiness that happens as prince Hal matures and his allegiances and responsibilities shift. I also think King John is underappreciated and that Falconbridge is a really funny character, sort of like Edmund if Edmund were a good guy.

Possibly Troilus and Cressida and Antony and Cleopatra--they have some really nice elements of darkness, humor, and betrayal, but may not be dark enough overall for you. Timon of Athens meets your requirements but it is not all that great as a play.
posted by phoenixy at 2:22 PM on May 26, 2010

(Oh, by "read the multi-part plays in order" I mean read 1 Henry IV before 2 Henry IV, not that you should follow up Henry IV with Henry VI, of course.)
posted by phoenixy at 2:24 PM on May 26, 2010

If you sort the list chronologically, most of the plays you liked/loved are from 1599-1605, which approximates his creative peak, and the ones you disliked are from earlier in his career. IMO, his creative peak starts around 1596 with Merchant of Venice and starts going downhill after Macbeth in 1605. (Caveat: I prefer the histories and tragedies to the comedies.) Richard III is great and I'd consider it an exception.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:40 PM on May 26, 2010

I'd say: read Richard III, and if you like it, read the Henry VIs as "prequels."

Ideally, yes, you should read the Henry VIs in order. Part I is very early Shakespeare, but has the bonus of Joan of Arc portrayed as a witch and a slut (as the English saw her). Part II is politics, murder, adultery and civil unrest. By Part III, the Wars of the Roses are in full swing and it's basically the Houses of York and Lancaster kicking the crap out of each other. But for the backstory on Queen Margaret, Richard and his family, Part III is really all you need.

Another play that has everything you ask for is Troilus and Cressida. It pits ideals (romantic love, chivalric warfare) against brutal reality, and unlike in King Lear, the ideal definitely comes off worst. By the end, you'll be feeling like Edmund is king, Juliet is whored and everyone's got VD. All this, plus the longest continuous insult in Shakespeare! Awesome.

One non-Shakespeare play you'll like is Women Beware Women by Thomas Middleton. Sex, betrayal, dark humour, and a last scene that piles up a huge number of corpses in the space of two or three pages.

Happy reading!
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:09 PM on May 26, 2010

Here is another vote for Titus Andronicus, as well as for Jacobean revenge tragedy in general. My favorite of the latter is Middleton's The Changeling. Titus has Aaron the Moor, one of the greatest pitch dark comic villains. The Changeling has it all: sex, murder, revenge, dark humor. Webster's The Duchess of Malfi also has those elements.
posted by apricot at 7:02 PM on May 26, 2010

Troilus and Cressida. The parallels between Othello and Twelfth Night are pretty remarkable, as Shakespeare really starts to test the boundaries of tragedy and comedy around 1600, and T&C fits well alongside the two, as it's generically ambiguous, and you get the acidic para-fool Thersites thrown in for good measure.

Definitely look at the Jacobeans for the same reason, especially Webster and his female protagonists
posted by holgate at 10:42 PM on May 26, 2010

I'm partway through Richard III and enjoying it! I think I'll try Troilus and Cressida next and then some non-Shakes plays. Thank-you everyone for your recommendations.
posted by cranberrymonger at 12:03 PM on June 28, 2010

Now I've read The Merchant of Venice and Webster's The Duchess of Malfi and enjoyed both. This is the thread that keeps on giving.
posted by cranberrymonger at 10:58 AM on February 16, 2011

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