The Best of William Shakespeare

Welcome, groundlings of the 21st century! Normally, I don't write too much about Shakespeare, mainly because the Immortal Bard has long since had his very own Guidesite -- and it's well-deserved as ol' Willy is without a doubt that most renowned playwright in the theater history.

Of course, not everyone loves him. And not everyone believes that William Shakespeare even existed. But many writers, scholars, and lovers of the stage have been personally transformed by his work, myself included.

In fact, I have just recently completed a long-time goal: I have finally finished reading every (confirmed) play penned by the Bard. (It's a task I should have completed a long time ago, but I procrastinated over Timon of Athens.)

Tot celebrate and to present my not-so-humble opinion, I hereby list the best of his comedies, tragedies, and histories:

10) The Taming of the Shrew:

Battle-of-the-sexes don't get much funnier (or much more politically incorrect) than Shakespeare's most boisterous and highly physical romantic comedy. I love the rivalry between Kate and Petruchio, but like a lot of modern readers, the ending bums me out. It's sad to see Kate's shrewish fire dwindle as she delivers a final speech filled with chauvinist sentiments. However, you'll note that many contemporary directors find their own ways of putting a feminist spin on this colorful romp. In any case, this literary roller coaster is a fun ride filled with some of Shakespeare's best insults.

9) The Merchant of Venice:

This is another problematic play, but instead of chauvinism we bear witness to antisemitism. Antonio is an amiable, kindhearted merchant. Well, maybe I should say he is kind hearted to people that have Christian beliefs. Anyone who happens to be Jewish, such as the antagonist Shylock, is spat upon.

Throughout the play, Shylock is insulted, demonized, publicly humiliated, robbed of his estate, and forced to convert to Christianity. Believe it or not, this is a comedy -- although typically today's theaters treat the subject matter quite seriously and Shylock is usually portrayed with sympathetic overtones, especially during the play's most famous monologue: "Hath not a jew eyes..."

(Although, I'd like to point out, my favorite monologue of The Merchant of Venice belongs to Lorenzo. He delivers a really sweet romantic monologue to his beloved Jessica.)

8) Othello

If you are wondering at this point when Macbeth will show up on this top ten list, it's not going to happen. True, I get a kick out of watching the Scottish Play, and I get even more of a kick freaking out my fellow actors by saying Macbeth in the theater every now and then, but I have never had any spot of empathy for the title character. Macbeth's bloody ending is his own making, peer-pressure from wife and witches notwithstanding.

The character of Othello, on the other hand, frightens and fascinates me. His crimes are heinous; even if Desdemona was guilty of adultery, Othello's murderous act would be repulsive, but because she is innocent the tragic nature of this play is intensified all the more.

Yet, we can't he but feel sorry for Othello as each step toward evil is guided by Shakespeare's most devilish trickster, Iago. (P.S. watch the 1995 film adaptation for Desdemona's heart-wrenching death scene in which, while being smothered by Othello, she uses her last moments to caress her lover, knowing that he will soon be devastated upon discovery of her faithfulness.

7) Romeo and Juliet:

The funny thing about this play: It's so popular that many Shakespeare fans don't care for it very much. have you ever like an underground band when they were scarcely known, and then all of a sudden they get a top forty hit and you can't stand the fact that everyone is singing that annoying popular tune. The same sentiments apply to Romeo and Juliet. it has been performed countless times. it has been studied in middle school, high school, and college.

And I count count how many times the storyline has been adapted or spliced. (I am guilty as one of this show's parodists.)

Although the play isn't in my top five, the popular of this romantic tragedy is not unwarranted. Shakespeare pulled out all of the stops in this one: fickle and forbidden love, sword fights, dance sequences, and one of my favorite characters of all time: The hilarious yet short tempered Mercutio. And do you like dramatic irony? Because Act Five is chock full of so much delicious dramatic irony that you'll want to rush the stage and scream, "Don't kill yourself, Romeo! She's not dead!"

Find out which plays scored even higher on Wade's Top Ten Shakespeare List.