With about 38 plays to choose from, picking the best Shakespeare works can be quite a daunting task. Our ranking is based on the number of times each one of the books has been added to a member of The Reading Room’s bookshelf. Do you prefer comedies or tragedies? Perhaps something not on our list? Never fear! You can re-rank the plays below!
1.) Romeo and Juliet
The tragic tale of two “star-crossed lovers” definitely belongs in our top 10. The drama deals with the themes of love, death and a series of events that continue to disastrously unravel.
The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, is a play full of revenge. Hamlet’s desire to harm his uncle (who killed Hamlet’s father and married his mother) after his father returns in ghost-form is one of the most popular associations with this play…as is the famous question, “To be or not to be…” It also was one of the most popular plays during Shakespeare’s lifetime.
One of Shakespeare’s darkest plays, Macbeth tells the story of the titular Scottish general who receives a prophecy from three witches that he will become King of Scotland someday. His wife, Lady Macbeth, plays a big role in ensuring this happens—leading to death and madness all around.
The play within a play is one of Shakespeare’s most performed comedies. Taking place simultaneously in the woodland and Fairyland, there is everything from weddings and forbidden love to misunderstandings and deceit in this ensemble.
This comedy involves a ton of miscommunication, a masquerade ball and one manipulative brother. The story follows two couples, Claudio and Hero, and Benedick and Beatrice, as they have mishap after mishap when it comes to love.
Like most of Shakespeare’s plays, Othello involves serious miscommunication—mostly due to the worst friend ever: Iago. Iago is Othello’s “friend” but is bitter the he was not promoted to lieutenant. Thus he begins to spread lies and accuse other players falsely in the hope that they will turn on each other.
Although not the most modern of plays, The Taming of the Shrew involves two sisters (the eldest said to be “shrewish”) and their father who won’t let the younger one be married until the eldest is. What ensues is a comedy that involves courters of the younger sister trying to get the “shrew” married off.
8.) King Lear
King Lear wants to “retire” and in doing so decides to divide up his kingdom between his three daughters depending on how much they love him. The first two falsely declare their love for their father, while the third speaks bluntly which upsets the King. The consequences of their lies are enormous—sending the King into madness.
9.) Julius Caesar
The story of Julius Caesar more prominently tells the story of one of his main conspirators: Marcus Brutus. His closest friend, Brutus allows himself to be convinced that Caesar is turning the republic into a monarchy. The play deals with Caesar’s assassination and the aftermath of this decision.
10.) The Tempest
The magician Prospero and his daughter Miranda have been stranded on an island by Prospero’s brother, Antonio, for twelve years at the play’s opening. Seeking revenge and knowing that Antonio and his conspirators are on a ship nearby, he shipwrecks them and separates the conspirators—causing a frenzy.