Time for part 2 of my Best of the Bard series: my top favorite scenes from all of Shakespeare’s work!
Even after 38 plays, there are certain moments that stand out to me that took my breath away, made me squeal, broke my heart, or just in general kind of blew my mind. These are the scenes, exchanges, or moments that will always stay with me for one of those reasons. Or you know, all of them. Because Shakespeare. (Again, in no particular order.)
- Hal and Falstaff pretend to be Hal’s father, in Henry IV, Part 1. This is one of the best scenes in all of theater. The interaction between the young, irresponsible prince and the rascal Falstaff is so touching. There is plenty of humor throughout, but the scene ends in complete heartbreak. We see Hall change literally before our eyes, and it’s extraordinarily powerful and touching.
- Benedick “finds out” Beatrice loves him (a.k.a. is tricked into believing she loves him). This is one of the funniest scenes Shakespeare ever wrote. Whenever I think of this moment in Much Ado About Nothing, I can’t help but smile. In spite all of Benedick’s faults, he becomes nothing short of adorable as he suddenly feels smitten with the lovely Beatrice, barely moments after sparring verbally with her and swearing that he would never marry. It is comic gold.
- Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene. To me, this is one of the most tragic and heartbreaking scenes that Shakespeare ever wrote. When we first meet Lady Macbeth, she is a remarkable character full of strength, power, and dignity. In the sleepwalking scene, the last we ever see her on stage, what we see is a a shell of the woman who less than an hour before stood before us proud and confident. She is completely broken, and it is absolutely devastating to watch. (Or to read.)
- Rosalind pretends to be a boy (Ganymede) pretending to be Rosalind flirting with Orlando. Confused? No wonder. Rosalind is disguised as a boy. She comes across Orlando (her crush/love interest), who does not recognize her. (Since she is dressed as a boy.) As the page boy Ganymede, she pretends/offers to Orlando to cure him of his lovesickness and instructs him to pretend that he/she is Rosalind. You can imagine the comic potential of the scene with that setup, and it doesn’t disappoint. It is amazing.
- The big reveal in Winter’s Tale. There are few true surprises when you’re reading Shakespeare. Many of them have entered our collective consciousness, so you know the story even if you haven’t ever read or seen it. (I mean, who doesn’t know the story of Romeo and Juliet for example?) But I didn’t know much about Winter’s Tale before I read it, and it was such a lovely surprise to be taken back by what happened. I guess I saw part of it coming, but not how it happened, if that makes sense. I don’t want to be more specific because if you haven’t read it, I want you to go into knowing very little about it.
- The deathbed scene between Henry IV and V in Henry IV Part 2. The relationship between this royal father and son is very complicated, as we’ve seen from the opening moments of Henry IV Part 1, and even though it improved after their victory in battle, it was still fraught with difficulty. Watching this tender moment between the two of them is enormously touching. One of my favorite things about it is you can so clearly see how desperately Henry IV wants his son to have a better and happier reign than he did. He just wants things to be better. Not only is it touching, but the language is beautiful, and it is just an incredible scene.
- The opening scene of Macbeth. The opening of Macbeth is quite famous. I may be a little biased because I played First Witch in my sixth grade class’s production of this play, which meant those opening lines (a cackly “When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or in rain?”) were mine. But even aside from the personal nostalgia they fill me with, it is just such a delightfully creepy and unexpected way to begin a play and the words are so perfect for the mood.
- Hermia, Helena, Lysander, and Demetrius all get turned around in the forest. Because of a mistake made by Puck, things get all mixed up resulting in one of the funniest and best scenes Shakespeare ever wrote, which manages to be hilarious at the same time as rather heartbreaking. It is theatrical genius and an excellent example of the best Shakespeare has to offer.