Michael5000 vs. Shakespeare


Scholars traditionally divide the Works of Shakespeare into five categories:  
  1. The Ones I Know Reasonably Well
  2. The CDDFOCs
  3. The Ones About Which I Could Fake It, so Long as YOU Didn't Know Much About Them
  4. The Historical Four-Parters 
  5. The Ones I Have Never Engaged With.

Updated: 2/20/2018

The Ones I Know Reasonably Well

Cymbeline
Prominence/Obscurity Index: 6th most obscure (tie)
2009 Preconception: ...I have trouble keeping track of it. ...It has relatively little cultural footprint, and... its plot is so odd as to make you doubt that you are remembering it correctly.
2012 Update: I have read and seen a live performance... and have a pretty good sense of its plot.  I also kind of like it; it's a quirky beast.
2016: I might be in danger of losing my Cymbeline edge.
Hamlet
Prominence/Obscurity Index: First Place, most famous 
2009 Preconception: ...I've read it, read about it, and seen five or six cinema adaptations.... I've never seen a live performance, though.
2012 Update:I saw a production at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2010.
2016: All quiet on the Hamlet front.


A Midsummer Night's Dream
Prominence/Obscurity Index: 4th most famous 
2009 Preconception: The cute one. I know the plot in outline, and could name many of the characters and themes. There was a movie version about 10 years ago that I saw.  
2012 Update: I've read it and watched an older movie version within the last few months, and could reconstruct it in outline if all extant copies were somehow destroyed.

    Much Ado About Nothing
    2009 Preconception: This one was originally one of the CDDFOCs (see below).
    2012 Update: This is the one with Beatrice and Benedick (Hector Berlioz called his opera version Beatrice and Benedick, which was a real titling coup).  It's really funny in the first half and kind of grim in the second.

    The Tempest
    Prominence/Obscurity Index: 10th most famous (tie)
    2009 Preconception:  I like it a lot; along with Hamlet and Titus it made up my Shakespeare "Big Three" going into the project.
    2012 Update: I re-read this one recently, and have watched two film adaptations,including the new one that nobody likes except me.  It turns out that there's a lot more ambiguity in The Tempest than I thought, which makes it more interesting but perhaps a little less fun.

    Titus Andronicus
    Prominence/Obscurity Index: 4th most obscure
    2009 Preconception:  I have read, seen a live performance of, and twice watched the movie adaptation of Shakespeare's allegedly worst play. I like it a lot.
    2012 Update: I haven't revisited it, because it's probably the play I knew best coming in.
    2016: Titus feels more like minor Shakespeare to me these days, which is probably just a good sign that I have a better foundation in Shakespeare.


    The CDDFOCs -- Comedies Difficult to Distinguish From Other Comedies

    All's Well That Ends Well 
    2009 Preconception: I might have seen a performance of this one, or maybe it was one of those other ones.
    2012 Update: The CDDFOCs remain problematic.  I'm not sure I've learned anything about this one.
    2016: Still true!

    As You Like It
    2009 Preconception: A CDDFOC.
    2012 Update: A CDDFOC.
    2016: This is one of the first books I read in and because of The Game of Reading, so now I have a bead on it.  Light comedy in the forest, with lots of gags and songs.  
    • The Text (Arden Shakespeare, 1975).  July, 2016.

    The Comedy of Errors
    2009 Preconception: A CDDFOC.
    2012 Update: A CDDFOC.  It is about mistaken identities, but aren't they all?  It features estranged twins, and I have seen it performed in the park, but I think it was quite some time ago.

    Love's Labour's Lost
    Prominence/Obscurity Index: 10th most obscure (tie)
    2012 Update: This is the Four Brides for Four Dudes of the Navarrean Ruling Class one, with the goofy oath of chastity and the masque and what-not.  I saw the truly weird Ken Branaugh adaptation.

    Measure for Measure
    2012 Update: This is the one about whether or not you ought to sleep with the Assistant Duke when he threatens to kill your brother if you won't, and about how if you are the Duke it is interesting to leave your country's administration in the hands of an unreliable assistant, just for the hell of it.  It needs work.
    Twelfth Night or What You Will 
    Prominence/Obscurity Index: 10th most famous (tie)
    This is the CDDFOC about the cross-dressing girl, and the brother who turns out to have survived the shipwreck, and if music is the food of love, play on! I've seen a couple of filmed versions. It's a good'un.


    The Ones About Which I Could Fake It, so Long as YOU Didn't Know Much About Them

    Antony and Cleopatra
    2009 Preconception: I know almost nothing about this play beyond the basic plot, yet have a preconception that it is kind of frou-frou and lite.
    2012 Update: I think I've heard that this play is unusual for having a million scenes.  But, I haven't learned anything much new about it.
    2016: I saw a Shakespeare in the Park version in 2014 or 2015.  I bought a T-shirt!  So it has moved up into the "I Could Fake It" category.

    Coriolanus
    2012 Update: It's the one about the conflicted Roman general. 

    Henry VIII
    Prominence/Obscurity Index: 5th most obscure
    2012 Update: I got to see Henry VIII in performance.  It's a bit of a mess.

    Julius Caesar
    Prominence/Obscurity Index: 7th most famous
    I read this one in college.
    2012 Update: No particular change here.  I haven't done much with it because I don't have the sense that it is very interesting, outside of the well known speeches, which can stand on their own.


    King Lear
    Prominence/Obscurity Index: 6th most famous
    I must have seen a movie version of this; I have a recollection of, if you will, eye-popping special effects. I have deep prejudices against Lear, which I -- wait! it's coming back! William Hurt as the Fool, yes? -- anyway, deep prejudices, because it has about the saddest and most depressing plot possible. Bums me out.
    2012 Update: No particular change here.  I haven't done much with it because of the deep prejudices.

    Macbeth
    Prominence/Obscurity Index: 2nd most famous
    OK, everybody knows Macbeth.
    This is the one we read in high school.
    2012 Update: No particular change here.  I haven't done much with it because, oddly perhaps, I don't have the sense that it is very interesting.

    The Merchant of Venice
    Prominence/Obscurity Index: 8th most famous
    I saw a performance of this one in college, but I feel like I know it quite well. Maybe I saw a film adaptation at some point or something?
    2012 Update: No particular change here.  I haven't done much with it because, despite my sense that it is very interesting.

    The Merry Wives of Windsor 
    2009 Preconception: I know nothing about this one, not even enough to throw it on the CDDFOC heap.
    2012 Update: I haven't read or seen this play, but I have assimilated the information that it features Falstaff of Henry IV fame, except in a different context.  And century.
    2018 Update: I've read it!  
    • The Text (Folger Shakespeare Library, 2004).  April, 2017.

    Othello
    Prominence/Obscurity Index: 5th most famous
    I saw a film version about 10 years ago, but know little except the bare outline.
    2012 Update: I saw a ballet (!) version of this one.  It turns out it's about people dancing.

    Pericles, Prince of Tyre
    Prominence/Obscurity Index: 2nd most obscure
    2012 Update: We saw a Shakespeare-in-the-Park version of Pericles.  It turns out that it's a comic farce that has nothing to do with, like, Pericles, and is all about shipwrecks and mistaken identities and  ludicrous coincidences.  Deserves to be a CDDFOC, and probably would be if it had a vaguer title, and didn't sound like an educational play about a Greek statesman and political theorist.

    Romeo and Juliet
    Prominence/Obscurity Index: 3rd most famous
    Well, duh. I know this one pretty well, of course.
    2012 Update: I even think it's pretty good.

    The Taming of the Shrew
    I know the basic plot outline here.
    2012 Update: No particular change here.  I haven't done much with it because, despite my sense that it is very interesting.


    Timon of Athens
    Prominence/Obscurity Index: 3rd most obscure
    2012 Update: I've read it.  There's a good reason it's not a greatest hit.
    • The Text (New Cambridge Shakespeare, 2001).  February, 2010.  Reposted 2013.

    Troilus and Cressida
    Prominence/Obscurity Index: 8th most obscure
    2012 Update: I've watched an adaptation.  It was every bit as good as Timon of Athens.


    The Winter's Tale
    2009 Preconception: I saw a staging of this one the year before last. It is rather marred by an excess of arbitrary occurrences, methought.
    2012 Update: In retrospect, complaining about arbitrary occurrences at the theater seems a bit dim of me.  I haven't revisited Winter's Tale, though.
    2018 Update: It's interesting that this play is most memorable for its sidebar absurdities: "seacoast of Bohemia" and "exit, pursued by a bear."


    The Historical Four-Parters

    Richard II / Henry IV, part 1/ Henry IV, part 2/ Henry V 
    2009 Preconception: Two of these are an old Kenneth Brannaugh movie!

    2012 Update: I've had the opportunity to see IV-1 and IV-2 live, and found that their most remarkable feature is that they are essentially the same play twice.  It's a pretty good play.
    • Richard II, from the Leaden BBC Adaptations, 1978.  November 2011.
    • Chimes at Midnight, the 1965 Orson Welles mashup of the Henry IVs plus a dash of Merry Wives of Windsor.

    Henry VI, part 1/Henry VI, part 2/Henry VI, part 3/Richard III 
    Prominence/Obscurity Index: 10th most obscure (tie) for 2 Henry VI
    2009 Preconception: I've seen Richard III both live and in an excellent film version!
    2012 Update: No progress here.


    The Ones I Have Never Engaged With


    King John  
    2009 Preconception: Oh right, there's a "King John"! For some reason, I know that in Victorian times this one was popular as an excuse to throw a patriotic Magna Carta pageant in the middle. And isn't it traditional to put it on when the British monarchy rotates over, or rather wasn't it so before Elizabeth the Immortal took the throne? Anyway.
    2012 Update: Still no idea.



    The Two Gentlemen of Verona
    2009 Preconception: No idea.
    Prominence/Obscurity Index: 6th most obscure (tie)
    2012 Update: Still no idea.


    The Two Noble Kinsmen
    2009 Preconception: Also, no idea.
    Prominence/Obscurity Index: Most obscure, by a long shot.
    2012 Update: Still no idea.


    The 2009 Summary: So, this is sobering: I'd say I'm quite familiar with three plays, somewhat familiar with an additional four, know the basics of ten more, and let my jaw hang open like the rustic yokel I am when confronted with the remaining fourteen (six of which are CDDFOCs). I actually thought I was considerably further along than all that.

    2012 Update: It looks like I've more than doubled the "Quite Familiar" category, to seven; vastly improved the "Somewhat Familiar" category, from four to eleven; have the basics of nine; and only gape at eleven.  The reason that there are six more Shakespeare plays than there used to be is that I'm counting the four-parters individually this time, which seems like a good sign.

    February 2018: I'm down to gaping at, let's say, six.  The last three there, plus All's Well and the three Henry VIs.  Oh, you know what?  Richard II as well.  Let's say seven.

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