I started this project, I was curious to see if I would find any new favorite
Shakespeare plays, or if my favorites would still be the same ones that I
already loved. As I was making this list, I realized that it’s the plays I am
most familiar with that I love the most (in general). That hardly seems a
coincidence, and I think it says a lot about the importance and value of rereading
list was originally much longer, but I wanted to make this just about the plays
that have touched and changed me, that I adore with my whole being, and that hold a truly, truly special place in my heart. There are others
(like Henry V, Julius Caesar, Henry IV
Part 2 and more) that I love deeply, but when I’m honest with myself, this
list is a more accurate version of the plays that mean the world to me
and that consistently take my breath away when I read or think about them.
Macbeth—If I had to pick just one Shakespeare play as
a favorite, I think it would have to be Macbeth.
It has fascinating characters, stunning writing, and is creepy enough to give me
goosebumps. I think it is one of Shakespeare’s true masterpieces, and it is one
I love to come back to again and again.
- Hamlet—I wholeheartedly adore this play. It’s so
heartbreaking to watch Hamlet’s journey towards its inevitable end, but I love
everything we see along the way. It is a very long play, but I find it
gripping, moving, and beautiful. This play deserves its status as perhaps the
greatest play of all time. Certainly it’s one with endless room for analysis,
interpretation, and discussion, which makes it an absolute delight.
- As You Like It—One of only two comedies to make even my
original extended list. This play warms my heart in a way that no others do. Rosalind is without
a doubt one of Shakespeare’s greatest creations, and it is nothing short of a
joy and pleasure to watch her on stage or the page work through everything that
happens. I feel like you can’t help but see her as your best friend by the time
you finish reading or watching As You
Like It. She is an absolute standout among a cast packed full to bursting of genius
characters, so that everyone you see on stage captures your heart and refuses
to give it back.
- Richard II—This one may not make it onto a lot of
other Shakespeare favorite lists, but I love it. The language is superb, it
asks interesting questions, and the characters are wonderful. More than any of
the other histories, it shows Shakespeare’s genius in taking real historical
events and editing them into pure artistic genius. It’s a fascinating play, and
is responsible for beginning my love of Shakespeare’s histories.
- Henry IV Part 1—This is an incredible play and an absolute treat to read
or watch. The characters are amazing, and Shakespeare finds a way to make it
all feel so personal even though I’m guessing none of us have been a roguish
and irresponsible prince or a disappointed king crippled by guilt. But in typical
Shakespearean fashion, it’s not about those things. It’s about a child who is struggling
under the burden of responsibility and a father who doesn’t know how to
communicate with that child. It’s about maturing and realizing that you have to
make difficult choices even though you’d rather not have to worry about any of
it. And it’s about becoming what others expect of you and reaching for the best
version of yourself.
- Much Ado About Nothing—The first 3 acts are the reason
that I had to include this play on my list. After that, my feelings about it
are much more complicated, but I adore the first part of Much Ado About Nothing so much that I couldn’t leave it off this
list. There are only a handful of moments in Shakespeare’s canon that are
better than the moments we see between Beatrice and Benedick at the beginning
of this play. To say they are delightful is not even strong enough. They are
delicious and hilarious and brilliant and an utter pleasure to read or watch.
It is for that reason, in honor of dear Beatrice and Benedick, that I include Much Ado About Nothing among my all-time
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (honorable mention)—I believe
there is no better stage comedy than Midsummer
Night’s Dream. Period. It only receives an honorable mention because I feel
it does not translate well when you read it, but as an actual piece of theater,
there is very little that can top it. It is a hilarious romp through some magical
mischief that feels unmatched anywhere else. It’s an absolute joy.