Today's Top Five List


Introduction:

William Shakespeare is commonly thought to be the greatest writer who ever lived, certainly the greatest English speaking writer. To be educated is to know a bit about Shakespeare and his plays. The following are a few of his best known.

Hamlet

Hamlet is one of one of the better known Shakespearean tragedies, one in which all of the primary characters die in the end. Hamlet begins with the appearance of the ghost of the recently deceased King Hamlet. (King Hamlet was married to Queen Gertrude, who, after her husband's death married his brother, Claudius, with somewhat unseemly haste.) When Prince Hamlet, the king's son, is brought to see the ghost, the ghost declares himself to be his father's spirit, and reveals that he was murdered by his brother Claudius. The ghost ordered his son to seek revenge on the man who took his throne and his wife. Prince Hamlet resolves to avenge his father, but isn't sure what to do, and descends into seeming madness, going about and talking to himself. Polonius, the lord chamberlain, suggests Hamlet might be mad with love for his daughter Ophelia, which does not seem to be the case, as Hamlet tells her to join a nunnery. When a group of traveling actors comes to the castle, Hamlet seizes upon an idea: he has them act out a scene resembling how he imagines his uncle killed his father, and to watch Claudius for a reaction. At the crucial moment, Claudius jumps up and leaves the room. Hamlet follows him to kill him, but finds him praying. He does not kill Claudius, fearing to do so as he prayed would send his soul to heaven. Instead, he goes and confronts his mother in her bedchamber, where Polonius is hiding behind the curtain. Detecting the presence of someone behind the curtain, and assuming it to be Claudius, Hamlet draws his sword and thrusts it into the curtain, killing Polonius. Ophelia goes crazy with grief and drowns in a river. The plot gets thicker and thicker, and at the end involves a duel with Laertes, Ophelia's brother, a poisoned sword, a poisoned goblet of wine, and as you can imagine, people who were not intended to drink the wine and get cut with the sword, do, and everyone dies in the end. As the royal family lie dead, a Norwegian prince, Fortinbras, enters the scene. He takes control of the kingdom, and having heard the truth of the story from a scholar named Horatio, he has Hamlet's body carried out with all of the honor befitting a slain hero.

Macbeth

Macbeth, another of Shakespeare's tragedies, begins with three witches who prophesy that Macbeth, a Scottish general in the army, along with Banquo, will become Thane of Cawdor (thane is a rank of Scottish nobility) and eventually the King of Scotland. When the first prophecy comes true, Macbeth wonders if the second prophecy might indeed be true, that it might be his destiny to become the king of Scotland. He writes to his wife of the witches' prophecy. She ambitiously desires the kingship for her husband and wishes him to kill the current King Duncan. This he does, also killing Duncan's two chamberlains, in a pretended assumption and rage that they were responsible for his own crime. He also kills his fellow general Banquo, and tried to kill Banquo's son, Fleance, who succeeded in escaping. (The wittches had also prophesied that Banquo would sire a line of Scottish kings, and Macbeth was trying to ensure this did not happen.) This plot, too, continues to thicken, with murder leading to murder, and Macbeth is eventually killed in battle and King Duncan's son, Malcalm, takes the throne.

Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet, yet another tragedy, is the original "star crossed lovers" story. It is also perhaps the Shakespearean play with which people are the most familiar. Romeo is from the Montague family, and Juliet from the Capulet families, and these two families hate one another worse than the Hatfields and McCoys. Romeo and Juliet have fallen in love, and secretly plan to marry, despite the fact that Juliet is supposed to marry her cousin, Paris. In a scheme to get out of marrying Paris, Juliet fakes her death by taking a poisonous potion that renders her unconscious for a couple of days. She sent Romeo a message, telling him of the plan, but the message went astray, and when Romeo arrives at her tomb, he is overcome with grief, and poisons himself just before she awakens to find him dead. Juliet then takes her own life with Romeo's dagger.

Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night is a comedy about mistaken identity, when twins Viola and Sebastian, are separated when shipwrecked in a storm, and each believes the other has died. Viola disguises herself as a boy and becomes a page in the service of the Duke Orsino, promptly falling in love with him. Orsino loves Olivia, who is in mourning for her dead brother and refuses to entertain suitors. Orsino uses Viola (now known as the page Cesario) as a go between to carry his messages to Olivia. Olivia falls in love with Cesario. It takes the reappearance of Sebastian to enable everyone to find their correct mate and live happily ever after.

Julius Caesar

Another tragedy, Julius Caesar, begins with concern on the part of two of Julius's long time friend, Marcus Brutus, and his brother, Cassius, who are concerned with Caesar's growing popularity. If the people were to name Caesar king, it would cause the overthrow the Roman republic. Cassius plants forged letters that indicate the public's growing concern, knowing that Brutus, even though he is Julius' friend, will support a plan to remove him from power if he believes it to be what the people want. The plotters stab Caesar to death at the Senate, and the rest of the play is devoted to telling the story of the revenge sought and wrought by Caesar's supporters, who are led by Mark Antony, the differences of Brutus and Cassius, their pangs of guilt, and eventual defeat and suicide.

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Comments

  • PeytonDrew 4/3/2011

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    Romeo and Juliet is hardly the original star-crossed lovers tale --it was based on Brooke's Italian story Romeus and Juliet.

  • goodselfme 3/23/2011

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    Shakespeare did a wonderful job as you did in compiling his great works here.Thank you for the wonderful memories. I do enjoy reading and seeing his plays reinacted.

  • cuteordeath 3/22/2011

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    Hamlet and Macbeth are my favorite, though I have to love The Tempest, too (I have the same name as one of the characters. ^_^)

  • penelope7 3/22/2011

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    I love MacBeth, Romeo and Juliet. They said that Shakespeare wrote all of that genius with a quill pen in ink, taking years to complete each one. Can you imagine this man's focus. I love him. H5

  • BonnieDossKnight 3/21/2011

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    Awesome research and summaries. Thanks for making it easy to understand Shakespeare. HI5

  • Nyla 3/21/2011

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    This is very detailed, thanks!

  • UponRequest 3/21/2011

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    Hamlet's at the top of my list too. High5

  • sparkybates 3/21/2011

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    It is great to know some Shakespeare. Personally, I quickly lose interest because of the old style English that these plays from so long ago are written in. It is important, though, to understand the genius of his work. Thanks for the great list!

  • dashboardc33 3/21/2011

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    Wow! Long list and great job! high 5!

  • snowfence 3/21/2011

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    Great list of plays Shakespeare wrote. H5

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