Sunday, July 13, 2014

Shakespeare Challenge: Eight Plays

8. Play [1] Hamlet


What can I say about Hamlet, the character or the play? They are never ending, fascinating puzzles, portrayed and interpreted countless times. The plot follows a young prince driven to avenge his father’s murder. Along the way, the audience is treated to existential meditations about the human condition. Don’t worry, though, there’s humor as well. Filled with iconic quotes and characters, the play is considered by many to be a remarkably modern study of an individual’s grapple with purpose, life, and death.

8. Play [2] Othello


Though written four hundred years ago, Othello deals with racism, sexism, and psychopathy. It includes gorgeous language and well-drawn characters. Othello is a black “Moor,” a former slave who becomes a renowned general. He and Desdemona, a young white daughter of a senator, fall desperately in love and marry. Unfortunately, Iago, one of Othello’s comrades and closest friends, takes the opportunity to play upon Othello’s weaknesses. The audience watches in fascination and frustration as a one of the most wicked villains of all time torments sympathetic but highly flawed protagonists. Sometimes problematic, always controversial, the play is one of Shakespeare’s most painful tragedies.

8. Play [3] Much Ado About Nothing


Much Ado About Nothing follows two couples, one young and innocent, the other slightly older and much more cynical. When slander drives their small community apart, the play veers awfully close to tragedy. Thankfully, it remains a delightful comedy, with scintillating banter, buffoonery, and a battle between the sexes. In spite, or perhaps because, of the play’s genuine tension and heartbreak, one leaves Much Ado thinking of the ridiculous wonders of love and how “man is a giddy thing.”

8. Play [4] Measure for Measure


A very dark comedy, Measure for Measure includes sexual coercion, the threat of beheading, and lots of prostitution. The few “moral” characters are, at best, hypocrites. There is some hilarious and ribald humor deriding draconian laws and pious attitudes, particularly when it comes to sex.

8. Play [5] The Winter’s Tale


The Winter’s Tale is a beautiful play of grief and loss, joy and restoration. A king, in a mad fit of jealousy, disrupts his court and destroys his family. The character “Time” divides the play in two. The second part takes place years later, where the warmer spring winds offer second chances and fresh hope. There is a hint of the supernatural, but perhaps it is simply the power of love that renews the human soul.

8. Play [6] A Midsummer Night’s Dream


At first, I thought A Midsummer Night’s Dream was a remarkably silly play. But now I couldn’t do without the enchanting setting and abundant humor. Mismatched lovers, bickering fairies, magic spells, a hilarious troupe of actors, and one ridiculous play within a play add up to make one of Shakespeare’s most memorable comedies.

8. Play [7] Antony and Cleopatra


I’ve only read Antony and Cleopatra once, and, truth be told, I don’t remember it in detail. I do remember the vivid, plausible characters who grew on me over the course of the play. The romance initially comes across as overwrought and gendered before revealing itself as complex and mature. It is ultimately a moving and complicated political story of the end of an era and a love between two great figures with personalities to match.

8. Play [8] Romeo and Juliet


This tragic story of two very young lovers has been adapted both before and after Shakespeare’s version. It is filled with beautiful poetry and lively characters, such as our heroine’s bawdy nurse and our hero’s wild friend. The love story illuminates the rashness and innocence of youth in a community fraught with prejudice and violence.

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