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Which are best: Shakespeare's comedies, tragedies, or histories? Show more Show less
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Shakespeare's plays are the most famous in the western canon, and are regularly performed both by theatre companies and amateurs. His plays are typically split into three genres: comedies, histories, and tragedies. For many modern audiences, the comedies are the most enduring and enjoyable, but tragedies are widely studied academically, and Hamlet, generally seen as Shakespeare's greatest work, is a tragedy. Histories, dealing often with the lives of kings, are less popular with the public but provide a hugely important historical and historiographical resource, and can often contain both tragic and comedic elements. So, which are the best?

The comedies are the best Show more Show less

Shakespeare's comedies are defined by their playfulness, irony, and wordplay. They feature themes of marriage, mistaken identity, family relationships, and foolishness.
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Shakespeare's comedies have been entertaining audiences for generations

Shakespeare's comedies deal with themes such as love, marriage and family relationships. Their universality has made them enduringly popular with audiences around the world. Theatre companies have directed many different versions of them, and televised versions are still regularly broadcasted.
Comedy Generations Shakespeare
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The Argument

Shakespearean comedy is highly popular with audiences. Seven of the top ten most frequently professionally performed Shakespeare plays are comedies. 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' is far ahead of the other plays, making up 7.1% of US performances and 7.7% of non-US performances compared to 6.7% for 'Romeo and Juliet' (US second most performed) and 5.9% for 'Hamlet' (non-US second most performed).[1] The comedies' relative popularity may be because they appeal to people who aren’t familiar with Shakespeare, indicating that the comedies are the more entertaining across generations. The Globe Theatre in London, the original performance place of Shakespeare's plays, frequently runs full seasons of Shakespearean comedy. Because Shakespeare's comedies deal with themes of relationships and love, marriage, family and friendship, they still speak to audiences around the world. Their humour, though sometimes complex and difficult to understand for a modern audience, still remains funny, and Shakespearean comedy performances sell out every year, especially in summer. This long-lasting popularity is much more uneven regarding the tragedies. The history plays are rarely performed now due to their complex historical plots. The comedies' popularity compared to history plays and tragedies, indicates how Shakespeare's comedies are the plays that have most stood the test of time.

Counter arguments

Shakespeare's other plays are still enduringly popular. His most famous plays, which are regularly performed and studied in schools, are all tragedies: 'Hamlet', 'Macbeth', and 'Romeo and Juliet', as noted by the London review magazine Time Out.[2] Whilst the history plays have not remained as popular as the comedies and tragedies, it could be a little extreme to suggest that the comedies are overwhelmingly more popular than the tragedies. 'Hamlet' is arguably Shakespeare's masterpiece, and actors around the world see playing the title role as a career-defining moment. To judge the comedies as better based on their overall audience popularity as a group of plays (not as individual plays) seems a little too easy.

Premises

1. Shakespearean comedy's themes mean it remains popular with audiences around the world. 2. The tragedies and histories don't enjoy the same reception, suggesting that comedy has best stood the test of time.

Rejecting the premises

1. Shakespeare's other plays, especially the tragedies are still incredibly popular (in some cases more so). 2. Judging the comedies only on audience popularity is difficult.

References

  1. https://priceonomics.com/what-is-shakespeares-most-popular-play/
  2. https://www.timeout.com/london/theatre/the-ten-best-shakespeare-plays-of-all-time

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This page was last edited on Saturday, 10 Oct 2020 at 10:39 UTC

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