We voted back in 2010and Hamlet was clearly the winner in the “best play” selection. I agree and would go further and say Hamlet is the greatest work in English literature.
In our vote back in 2010, King Lear was the runner up and Macbeth was right up there. Kind of predictable.
What play of Shakespeare’s is the most underrated, though? Why do you think so?
Twelfth Night is my pick. It is a wonderful play and could be the masterpiece of many other authors. It has some of the funniest moments in Shakespeare and I think Malvolio’s moment smiling, wearing yellow socks, and cross garters one of the funniest moments on stage.
My favorite Shakespeare play is A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I don’t think it’s underrated, necessarily, but maybe underestimated. In general, I think the comedies are under-taught, and if A Midsummer Night’s Dream were taught in high school instead of the OVERrated Romeo and Juliet, more people might discover they like Shakespeare.
A play I enjoy, and hardly ever get to see produced, is* Troilus and Cressida*. I think Cassandra is a great character role for a young women who isn’t a Juliet. But I’ve been told that I’m alone in my love of this play. It would be my pick for “underrated,” if I weren’t worried about getting laughed at.
Personally, I know lots of people who love Twelfth Night, so I don’t know if it’s really underrated.
I’m going to say that All’s Well that End’s Well is probably underrated, because of all the plays, it least lends itself to being read, and most needs to be seen, well-acted. It needs to be carefully cast and have a strong director, then it can be a great play, but it can fall apart as an amateur show. Hamlet is a great work of literature, and it reads well; All’s Well that End’s Well does not read well, and can leave the reader puzzled over fundamental things, like why the main love interests would ever be attracted to one another. However, cast two actors who are reasonably attractive, have on-stage chemistry, and talent, and it needs no explanation.
I wouldn’t call Twelfth Night underrated; it’s one of the two Shakespeare plays in the Norton Anthology of English Literature and thus, easily one of the ones most commonly taught at the undergraduate level. I’d also bet that it’s somewhere in the top ten most frequently performed, and there are at least half a dozen versions available on film.
My pick would be Measure for Measure – it’s got a plot that resonates in almost any era (“hypocritical family values politician gets caught in a sex scandal”) and lots of knotty, complicated questions about law, religion, and human frailty, plus one of Shakespeare’s most eloquent and outspoken female characters.
I think it’s hard to call any of Shakespeare’s plays underrated: I mean, they’re all Shakespeare, and everyone knows that. Though I suppose that the title might go to one of the less well-known ones like The Winter’s Tale or Troilus and Cressida.
Some of the history plays tend to get overlooked, especially if they come in two or more parts. It’s hard to think of a better Shakespeare play outwith his major tragedies; Falstaff, teenage angst, comedy, drama, Prince Hal, Harry Hotspur and more Falstaff. Just the right amount of high & low, comedy & drama.
I say Cymbaline. It’s a fantastic play with great characters and sparkling dialogue that, for whatever reason, no one really knows.
I love A Winter’s Tale, and that was almost my knee jerk answer, but there are really good reasons why that play is less well known (even though the bear is awesome! It’s a good read, but it’s actually a better read than it is a performance piece). But I don’t know why Cymbaline isn’t as well known as Romeo and Juliet or Othello. It’s every bit as good (maybe better than R&J).
I do enjoy part 2 as well. Part 2 is overlooked even more than part I. There is a really terrific version filmed at the Globe of both plays with Roger Allam as a wonderful Falstaff. They were both on youtube but were pulled for copyright reason. I believe they are available on the Globe website for a small fee. A small taster below:
I’d say Troilus and Cressida. Written around the same time as Hamlet and showing the same absolute mastery of language Shakespeare is on fire here, the words and conceits (ie imagery) come thick and fast and leave the auditor or reader spellbound. The prefatory epistle to the quarto edition states that the play was “never clapperclawed by the palms of the vulgar”, ie never actually staged, perhaps for the reason that it would have been ‘caviare to the general’, unappreciated by the general public.
I love it too, but I have to admit I’ve never seen a staged version. It’s another play, like Winters Tale, that makes me wonder about how viable it is as an actual stage play. Though what do I know, I wouldn’t think Hamlet would actually work as a stage play if I hadn’t seen it so maybe I’m too narrow minded.