Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing, King Lear, Macbeth, The Tempest, Othello, The Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night's Dream
In Romeo and Juliet
, Shakespeare creates a world of violence and generational conflict in which two young people fall in love and die because of that love. The story is rather extraordinary in that the normal problems faced by young lovers are here so very large. It is not simply that the families of Romeo and Juliet disapprove of the lover's affection for each other; rather, the Montagues and the Capulets are on opposite sides in a blood feud and are trying to kill each other on the streets of Verona. Every time a member of one of the two families dies in the fight, his relatives demand the blood of his killer. Because of the feud, if Romeo is discovered with Juliet by her family, he will be killed. Once Romeo is banished, the only way that Juliet can avoid being married to someone else is to take a potion that apparently kills her, so that she is burried with the bodies of her slain relatives. In this violent, death-filled world, the movement of the story from love at first sight to the union of the lovers in death seems almost inevitable.
What is so striking about this play is that despite its extraordinary setting (one perhaps reflecting Elizabethan attitudes about hot-blooded Italians), it has become the quintessential story of young love. Because most young lovers feel that they have to overcome giant obstacles in order to be together, because they feel that they would rather die than be kept apart, and especially because the language Shakespeare gives his young lovers is so exquisite, allowing them to say to each other just what we would all say to a lover if we only knew how, it is easy to respond to this play as if it were about all young lovers rather than about a particular couple in a very unusual world. (When the play was rewritten in the eighteen century as The History and Fall of Caius Marius, the violent setting became that of a particularly discordant period in classical Rome; when Leonard Berstein rewrote the play as West Side Story, he chose the violent world of New York street gangs.)
, In The Tempest
, long considered one of Shakespeare's most lyrical plays, Prosperoa magician on an enchanted islandpunishes his enemies, brings happiness to his daughter, and comes to terms with human use of supernatural power. The Tempest
embodies both seemingly timeless romance and the historically specific moment in which Europe begins to explore and conquer the New World.
Its complexity of thought, its range of charactersfrom the spirit Ariel and the monster Caliban to the beautiful Miranda and her prince Ferdinand -its poetic beauty, and its exploration of difficult questions that still haunt us today make this play wonderfully compelling. The Tempest
is a play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 161011. It is set on a remote island, where Prospero, the exiled Duke of Milan, plots to restore his daughter Miranda to her rightful place, using illusion and skilful manipulation. The eponymous tempest brings to the island Prospero's usurping brother Antonio and the complicit Alonso, King of Naples. There, his machinations bring about the revelation of Antonio's low nature, the redemption of Alonso, and the marriage of Miranda to Alonso's son, Ferdinand., King Lear, growing old and too tired to reign, decides to divide his realm amongst his three daughters, leaving the largest share to the one who loves him the most. His two eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan, foolish and deceitful children, are rewarded for their insincere flattery. His youngest daughter, Cordelia, however, speaks honestly and truthfully, which enrages the old king. He disinherits Cordelia, and then drives himself to madness, left to wander the heath with only his Fool, his servant Caius, and the madman Tom OBedlam for company. Once reunited with Cordelia, Lear is too late repents his rashness, and must face the tragic consequences of his choices., Set in a topsy-turvy world like a holiday revel, this comedy devises a romantic plot around separated twins, misplaced passions, and mistaken identity. Juxtaposed to it is the satirical story of a self-deluded steward who dreams of becoming Count Malvolio only to receive his comeuppance at the hands of the merrymakers he wishes to suppress. The two plots combine to create a farce touched with melancholy, mixed throughout with seductively beautiful explorations on the themes of love and time, and the play ends, not with laughter, but with a clowns sad song.