Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Shakespeare Plays, Famous and Obscure -- Part II

A version of this post was published on my now-defunct blog "Renaissance Man" on September 1, 2009.

Continuing our groundbreaking analysis of how some Shakespeare plays are arguably more popular than others....

The Sporcle Index
The results of a "Sporcle" Quiz on the Plays of Shakespeare

The "Sporcle" Quiz site offers a quiz in which you are given three blank lists labelled "Comedies", "Tragedies", and "Histories", and your goal is to remember as many of the plays as you can in ten minutes. Once you've taken the quiz, you have the option of seeing everyone's aggregate score, which is a useful and unusually direct measure of how well-known each play is among the general public. Or at least among the general Sporcle quiz-taking public. The quiz does not distinguish among the Henry IVs and the Henry VIs, and insists on proper spelling, which may act to the detriment of tricky-to-spell plays like Cymbeline, Titus Andronicus, and Troilus and Cresseda.

The ten most prominent plays in the Sporcle index are:
1. Romeo and Juliet (listed by 95% of quiz takers)
2. Hamlet (89.6%)
3. Macbeth (84.8%)
4. A Midsummer Night's Dream (80.6%)
5. Othello (75.7%)
6. Henry V (69.7%)
7. King Lear (67.5%)
8. Taming of the Shrew (62.2%)
9. Henry VIs (62%)
10. The Tempest (61.5%)
And the most obscure....
1. (wait for it!) The Two Noble Kinsmen (15.3% of quiz takers)
2. Pericles (21.3%)
3. Timon of Athens (21.8%)
4. Coriolanus (22.6%)
5. Cymbeline (23.3%)
6. Measure for Measure (25.5%)
7. Troilus and Cressida (26.1%)
8. Love's Labours Lost (27.2%)
9. King John (31.5%)
10. The Winter's Tale (32.5%)

The Powell's Index
The number of copies of each play available on the shelves of Powell's on Hawthorne on Sunday a few weeks back

This index harnesses the relentless power of the invisible hand of market forces! It is based on the assumption that the good people at the City of Books have a pretty fine sense of what sells and what doesn't, and stock their shelves -- the three shelves devoted to individual Shakespeare plays at the Hawthorne location, in this case -- accordingly. A theoretical weakness, as Mrs.5000 gleefully pointed out, is that a run on editions of Timon of Athens, say, would work against the prominence of that play. If Powell's literally can not keep Coriolanus on the shelf, because people buy it up faster than they can stock it, that won't show up in this index. But I think we can let common sense prevail.

The ten most prominent plays according to the Powell's Index
1. Hamlet (a whopping 23 books)
2. Macbeth (13 books)
3. A Midsummer Night's Dream (10)
3. King Lear (10)
5. The Taming of the Shrew (9)
6. Romeo and Juliet (6)
6. Othello (6)
6. Henry V (6)
6. As You Like It (6)
10. The Tempest (5)
10. Richard III (5)
10. All's Well That Ends Well (5)
The ten least prominent plays according to the Powells Index
1. Henry VIII (no books available)
1. The Two Gentlemen of Verona (0)
1. Titus Andronicus (0)
1. Love's Labours Lost (0)
1. Cymbeline (0)
1. Pericles (0)
1. The Two Noble Kinsmen (0)
1. 2 Henry VI (0)
1. 3 Henry VI (0)
10. 2 Henry IV (1)
10. 1 Henry VI (1)
10. Richard II (1)
10. Much Ado About Nothing (1)
10. The Comedy of Errors (1)
10. Timon of Athens (1)
10. Troilus and Cressida (1)
10. Coriolanus (1)

The OSF Index
The number of times each play has been produced by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

On one hand, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival has right there in its mission statement that it's going to put on the whole canon of Shakespeare plays. On the other hand, they are no fools, and are surely cognizant that 3 Henry VI is not going to bring vast crowds flocking to remote little Ashland, Oregon, excellent restaurants and boutique shopping notwithstanding. They might put on the whole canon, but they're going to rotate Othello on a tighter turnaround than they are Two Gentlemen of Verona.

In the early days of the festival, before they got all professional, productions of some of the plays would extend over two or three years. I counted those as single productions for our current purposes. Oh, and I counted up through the 2010 season.

The ten most prominent plays according to the OSF Index
1. Hamlet (a whopping 20 performances)
2. As You Like It (13)
2. Twelfth Night (13)
4. A Midsummer Night's Dream (11)
4. The Taming of the Shrew (11)
4. Romeo and Juliet (11)
4. The Merchant of Venice (11)
4. Much Ado About Nothing (11)
9. The Comedy of Errors (10)
10. Macbeth (9)
10. Othello (9)
10. The Tempest (9)
What we notice here, relative to other indicies, is the surprising strength of the CDDFOCs (Comedies Difficult to Distinguish From the Other Comedies). It's almost like the Festival is privileging light, funny plays that make people laugh over difficult downers about children abusing their fathers, friends turning against each other, and so on. Well, I'm sure they know which side their bread is buttered on.

The ten most obscure plays according to the OSF Index
1. The Two Noble Kinsmen (with only 1 performance. The OSF apparently finds this play only semi-canonical.)
2. Timon of Athens (3 performances)
3. Pericles (4)
3. Titus Andronicus (4)
3. Henry VIII (4)
3. Troilus and Cressada (4)
7. 3 Henry VI (5)
7. Cymbeline (5)
7. Coriolanus (5)
7. 1 Henry VI (5)
7. 2 Henry IV (5)
7. King John (5)
7. Measure for Measure (5)

The Quotations Index
The number of quotations each play has yielded in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, 3rd Edition.

Now, this index is a bit indirect, but is a reasonable measure of the cultural impact of a play. If King John, for instance, had introduced more well-known quotations into the culture than had Hamlet, we could safely assume that King John was the more influential play. Let's find out!

The ten most prominent plays according to the Quotations Index
1. Hamlet (257 quotations)
2. Macbeth (125)
3. Othello (115)
4. Julius Caesar (112)
5. The Merchant of Venice (110)
6. 1 Henry IV (104)
7. Antony and Cleopatra (94)
8. Twelfth Night (91)
8. King Lear (91)
10. As You Like It (74)
And, the ten most obscure plays according to the Quotations Index
1. The Two Noble Kinsmen (0 quotations. Ouch!)
1. The Merry Wives of Windsor (0)
3. The Comedy of Errors (1)
4. Pericles (4)
4. Titus Andronicus (4)
6. 1 Henry VI (6)
6. 3 Henry VI (6)
8. All's Well That Ends Well (10)
9. The Two Gentlemen of Verona (13)
10. 2 Henry VI (14)
Next Time: The Exciting Final Analysis!

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