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The Obscure Shakespeare

Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth – these plays could be considered the "Holy Trinity" for Shakespeare in academia; these plays seem to be the ones that are introduced to students most often and at the earliest ages (with an occasional Othello or King Lear thrown into the mix).

Why are these three plays seemingly the most prevalent in English classes? Some of the more "obscure" Shakespeare plays are, arguably, just as good for both reading and teaching as the aforementioned ones. Consider Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night, Coriolanus, or the history plays (Richard/Henry) and how they would fare as a student’s first exposure to Shakespeare, as opposed to Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Macbeth.

  • Although I would argue that Midsummer Nights Dream is up there as well as the most-often-done comedy. I think it would be interesting to ask how looking at more obscure plays would introduce new/different/more interesting aspects of Shakespeare. – Francesca Turauskis 5 years ago
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  • I'm not against first exposure to the "classic" Shakespeare choices that you mention, but I do agree that exposure to a comedic Shakespearean play would be more interesting and entertaining for newbies. I'll always love a good Hamlet in the traditional style or a basic Macbeth (ala Judy Densch as Lady Macbeth--all actors and set in full black, very sparse set, etc.) in which the language and beauty of the story can shine through without distraction. But they are heavy and violent, and some of the comedies are so irreverent and funny that they might help younger audiences appreciate the Bard more readily. This is a very interesting topic to me; I'd like to see how people explore the ideas. – TheatreLife24 5 years ago
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  • Never thought of Twelfth Night and Much Ado About Nothing as 'obscure' - I studied both of them before touching Macbeth. Obscurity for Shakespeare ought to be more of a question of going against type, or looking at his early material. – JekoJeko 5 years ago
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  • A lot of it has to do with the verse. Romeo and Juliet and Midsummer Night's Dream are usually the first Shakespearean plays to which middle/high school students are introduced (I disagree that Hamlet and Macbeth are the first). These plays also are written in much simpler iambic pentameter than his later works; as he developed as a playwright, the complexity of his verse increased. Plots also got more complex and convoluted; R&J and Midsummer are very easy to read and understand; additionally, the protagonists in these two plays are closer in age to teens, as opposed to Hamlet or Much Ado About Nothing (men and women in their late 20s/early 30s), and so are their love triangles and juvenile understanding of love. – Katheryn 4 years ago
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