Monday, 28 April 2014

What Is Shakespeare's Greatest Play?

To mark William Shakespeare's 450th birthday (generally believed to be April 23rd), Portsmouth Point blog asked PGS staff to tell us their favourite (and least favourite) Shakespeare plays, favourite characters and favourite productions. Here are responses from Ms Burden, Mrs Walsh and Mr Lister.

Ms Burden

Twelfth Night (directed by Trevor Nunn)

What is your favourite Shakespeare play and why?
When I was a Sixth Former I adored Hamlet; in my twenties I loved Twelfth Night. Now, to teach I prefer Othello but my favourite plays away from the classroom are Measure for Measure and The Winter’s Tale. The latter is the consummate tale of redemption and renewal. In addition to the plays, I enjoy the poetry, particularly The Rape of Lucrece.

What is your least favourite Shakespeare play and why?
This may seem odd considering that I like The Winter’s Tale, but I’ve never really engaged with Cymbeline. Perhaps it’s a case of the complexities of the plot obscuring characterisation.

Who is the greatest Shakespeare character and why?
I’m going to turn this one into pair of characters – Beatrice and Benedick: the ultimate romantic duo, whose repartee and movement from hatred to love presages Austen’s novels in so many ways.

Who is the greatest Shakespeare villain and why? (unless this is also your answer to question 3)?
Although I’m tempted to say Richard III, how can Shakespeare’s greatest villain be anyone other than Iago in Othello? Coleridge famously called one of his soliloquies “the motive hunting of a motiveless malignancy” and it’s a memorable phrase because it is so apt: Iago puts forward a number of reasons for destroying Othello and Desdemona but none is satisfactory. At the end, his silence suggests that he is unable to justify his actions even to himself.

Which Shakespearean character would you be most likely to fall in love with and why?
Someone wholly dependable if slightly dull such as Horatio –  a character who isn’t self-obsessed, constantly away at war or who has the propensity to murder me in my bed.

What is the best production of a Shakespeare play that you have seen and why (theatre, film or both - choose as many examples as you wish)?
My favourite Shakespeare film is Trevor Nunn’s version of Twelfth Night: the nineteenth century setting enhances our sense of class difference and music is key to the production. Over the years I have seen many excellent productions but the most unexpected was The Taming of the Shrew in Washington DC a few years ago – I went in unsure what to expect but it was the most entertaining version I’d seen of what today can be a challenging play.

Mrs Walsh





The Tempest: Roger Allam as Prospero and Colin Morgan as Ariel (Globe Theatre)


What is your favourite Shakespeare play and why?
Anthony and Cleopatra – because Shakespeare gives equal billing to both eponymous characters.  The strength and weaknesses of both Anthony and Cleopatra are explored showing how they were trapped by the expectations placed upon them by societies of the East and West. 

What is your least favourite Shakespeare play and why?
I’ll have to pick one I’ve never read, listened to or seen performed, so, randomly, Winter’s Tale

Who is the greatest Shakespeare character and why?
Imogen (Cymbeline) as she is honest, virtuous and maintains her dignity throughout.

Who is the greatest Shakespeare villain and why?
Cloten (Cymbeline) because he is arrogant and evil planning to rape and murder Imogen. Iago (Othello) because he is an evil, manipulative and jealous character who double crosses everyone. 
     
Which Shakespearean character would you be most likely to fall in love with and why?
Benedick (Much Ado About Nothing) because he is witty, noble, handsome and not afraid of commitment!

What is the best production of a Shakespeare play that you have seen and why (theatre, film or both - choose as many examples as you wish)?
Much Ado About Nothing with David Tennant and Catherine Tate
Midsummer Night’s Dream – with only 3 actors! (performed at Port Solent) 
The Tempest with Roger Allam as Prospero and Colin Morgan as Ariel at Shakespeare’s Globe
Macbeth at Shakespeare’s Globe
Hamlet – Portsmouth Festivities 2013

Mr Lister



The RSC's 2012 production of The Merry Wives of Windsor

What is your favourite Shakespeare play and why?
King Lear – the most profound and moving of his plays.

What is your least favourite Shakespeare play and why?
Titus Andronicus  - historically ridiculous – gratuitously and almost comically violent.

Who is the greatest Shakespeare character and why?
King Lear – encapsulates the strengths and weaknesses of the human spirit

Who is the greatest Shakespeare villain and why? (unless this is also your answer to question 3)?
Richard III – shamelessly self-serving with some brilliant speeches

Which Shakespearean character would you be most likely to fall in love with and why?
I’ll pass on that one!

What is the best production of a Shakespeare play that you have seen and why (theatre, film or both - choose as many examples as you wish)?
Merry Wives of Windsor( RSC) – set in 1950s – brilliantly inventive and full of energy


See also What is Shakespeare's Greatest Play: Mr Richardson, Mrs Godfree and Mr Burkinshaw

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