Sigmund Freud. George Washington. Abraham Lincoln. While these figures cannot often be connected in any way, one similarity unites them all: a love of William Shakespeare. The famed playwright has garnered the adoration of millions, preserving his legacy for hundreds of years after his death. Spanning multiple genres, the Bard of Avon has proven that versatility does not have to come at the cost of talent. While Shakespeare has hundreds of published works that are worth a read, there are several that have especially enchanted the world for centuries.
Scholars believe that "Much Ado About Nothing" was most likely written over the course of two years, around 1598 and 1599. The plot centers around two couples, Benedick and Beatrice, who are tricked into confessing their love for one another; and Hero and Claudio, the latter of whom believed he has been the victim of the former's infidelity. "Much Ado About Nothing" has been adapted numerous times, most notably in the 1993 film version. Even in Shakespeare's own time, the play was popular. Poet Leonard Digges wrote in 1640 that the galleries and boxes were always full.
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Written in the style of a tragedy, "King Lear" has been called the greatest tragedy of all time by critics and writers alike, including Irish playwright George Shaw. The story follows the titular character's chaotic family relations, especially those with his three daughters Goneril, Reagan, and Cordelia, and his gradual descent into insanity. The criticism it has been subjected to, as well as psychological analyses into the unpleasant Lear, have helped to further the popularity and celebrated status as a model for all tragic writing.
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Quotes from "Romeo and Juliet" can be seen or heard everywhere, from bumper stickers to song lyrics. Based on an old Italian tale and written in or around 1597, it follows the story of the two title characters as their love and eventual death united their warring families. Pop culture references abound and can be seen in:
"Othello's" modern themes have easily allowed it to transition into the modern film and theatre repertoire. It was written in about 1603 and details the ruination of Venetian general Othello by the backstabbing and jealous soldier Iago. It was performed with great success, even shortly after its debut, in the early 17th century. The 1943 staging was the first to ever feature a black actor in the role of Iago and ran for twice as long as any other Broadway Shakespearean play. Enduring themes of racism, love, and ruination have helped "Othello" remain relevant.
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The date of "Macbeth's" writing is unknown but it was first performed in 1606. It is similar in some aspects to "Othello" and "King Lear," showing the effects of toxic ambition and a hunger for power. The main characters, general and eventual king Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, murder their rivals and, similar to King Lear, descend into madness. There have been screen, theatre, and music adaptations, as well as adaptations through other vehicles, such as a Japanese-style manga comic that was released in 2018.
Perhaps Shakespeare's most popular play ever, "Hamlet," tells the story of Prince Hamlet's quest to avenge his father's death, after the latter was murdered by Hamlet's Uncle in order for the latter to marry Hamlet's mother and become King. James Joyce, John Milton, and even Charles Dickens either adapted or drew inspiration from "Hamlet." Dicken's Great Expectations, in particular, had many Hamletesque elements. It is also one of the most quoted works in the English language.
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Many of Shakespeare's plays have been based on historical events and "Julius Caesar" is no exception. Despite the fact that it details Julius Caesar's rise to power and death, it focuses even more so on Brutus internal and moral struggles over betrayal and friendship. Coincidentally enough, Shakespeare enthusiast Abraham Lincoln's assassinator was an actor in a rendition of "Julius Caesar." It can be considered an inspiration for the 1963 classic Cleopatra, as was the next play.
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"Antony and Cleopatra" details the relationship of Julius Caesar's general Marc Antony and Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt and Caesar's former lover. It is another one of Shakespeare's tragedies, and adaptations have mainly been in theatre, with the exception of Cleopatra (1963). It has been dissected by critics and themes such as sexuality and hunger for power have contributed to its resonance with modern audiences.
Like "Much Ado About Nothing," "The Taming of The Shrew" is one of Shakespeare's comedies. It centers around Katerina and Petruchio, as Petruchio employs various tactics to force Katerina into submission and mold her into the perfect bride. The controversy around the play's misogynistic tones has helped it remain popular, as critics regularly dissect and discuss its themes.
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A "Midsummer's Night Dream" is a sprawling adventure play that follows a score of main characters. The wedding between Theseus, King of Athens, and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, is at the fore, but there is also a rowdy group of Athenians and six young actors, all of whom entertain the audience throughout out play. Its joyful calm, when compared to other works of Shakespeare, has played a large part in its popularity.