Marley Rates Every Shakespearean Play*
Now that I have read every play by William Shakespeare* I think it’s time to do a rate of them all. Hold on to your horses, my friends, because this is probably going to get long.
Julius Caesar: 8/10 I liked this one better the second time I read it. I still think parts are a bit slow, and some of the inherent drama seems to take a weird pitfall after they actually kill Caesar, and then there’s the war that pops up out of nowhere and gives the plot a significant change midway through. Still, though, the dialogue? Perfect.
Antony and Cleopatra: 7/10 I liked this one worse the second time I read it. Antony and Cleopatra aren’t likable but their deaths are still upsetting and I really like the dynamics between most of the characters. Unfortunately this one suffers a bad case of ‘fifteen plot lines going on at once, also let’s go to Syria for Reasons’
Coriolanus: 6/10 This one starts off mega slow but gets considerably better later on. Points for the dialogue being so awkward at points that it’s amusing. Also points for being mega super obviously gay all over the place (even more so than most Shakespeare plays, honestly.)
Romeo and Juliet: 6/10 I like the idea and presentation of this one but it’s so overrated that it tends to get old quickly. It’s good but it’s not that good. Also, Capulet isn’t given enough credit for being a terrible father. Awful. The worst. 0/10 for good parenting. Also, WHAT HAPPENED TO BENVOLIO.
Macbeth: 7/10 high score for things like witches, pretty speeches, blood, ghosts, usurpations, and being short enough to not get tedious. Low score for “what, you egg” and “O, by whom?”
Hamlet: 3/10 This one really sells the point of wanting you to feel for these characters but they’re all so angst-ridden that I do not. Okay mostly Hamlet. Actually, almost exclusively Hamlet, but he’s on stage ALL THE TIME and never shuts up. Ever. (Although notably I didn’t like anyone else in the play either.)
Othello: 10/10 This play, of all the tragedies, hurts me the most. It might be the ONLY one that actually makes me feel a sense of tangible loss. Iago is brilliant and horrible, Othello is noble and the downfall of his character is painful to watch, Desdemona is wonderful and even the side characters like Cassio and Rodrigo are likable, even in their stupidity.
King Lear: 6/10 I WANT to like this one but Lear continues to not impress me and I don’t know why. I love Edmund, I love the sisters, heck I don’t even necessarily have anything against Lear. But I dunno. It just doesn’t do it for me. Maybe it’s cause I don’t care for Kent much.
Titus Andronicus: 5/10 This one has to be read as a comedy to keep from being ridiculous because otherwise what in the fresh hell. You tried, William. You tried.
Timon of Athens: 1/10 “Why aren’t there more plays about financial problems?” asked no one ever. And here’s why! Okay, yes, it’s about a guy who loses his money to his sleazy friends so he curses society and goes to live in a cave. And while that’s #relatable, any play about money tends to get dry after about 15.5 seconds.
Henry VI (part 1): 8/10 despite having almost no Henry and occasionally lapsing into weird moments like Mortimer dying and Excess of Talbot and Bedford being carried into the middle of the street whilst dying (?) it also has pretty awesome stuff like The French™ feat. Joan of Arc and Dunois, Talbot being cool, and the beginnings of the Wars of the Roses.
Henry VI (part 2): 6/10 This one was the least intelligible and most dry of the Henry VI plays in my opinion, but I need to reread it. I loved the Duchess of Gloucester, but the plot about the rebellion midway through came out of fucking nowhere and also went nowhere. It probably made sense if I knew the history but even after reading about Henry VI I still have no freaking idea what that was. Also, Margaret was pretty creepy in this one and I dunno.
Henry VI (part 3): 9/10 the best of the Henry VI plays, this one has the most coherent plot and starts to focus on character rather than circumstance. We get a clearer and more tragic view of Henry, Margaret becomes fully realized, York is in full swing and his sons are introduced and awesome. It’s still a bit cluttered but it really feels like Shakespeare hits his stride here and does it wonderfully.
Richard III: 9/10 I love this damn play so much. It stops worrying about throwing in a ton of history details and Shakespeare just goes ‘screw it, let’s go for broke on character’ and MAN does he deliver. Richard III is without a doubt Shakespeare’s best antagonist and probably in the running for best character. Also, the ending. Extremely satisfying. Also painful. Also there’s murder in like every scene and who doesn’t love a good off-stage death?
Richard II: 10/10 WHY DO MORE PEOPLE NOT KNOW OF THIS PLAY? You like amazing speeches? Check. You like ridiculous melodrama? Check. You like complicated, relatable tragic heroes? Check. You like crippling betrayal? well find a production that does that lmao but check I guess You like humor? Romance? Having your heart wrenched? Suspense? Intrigue? Existential crises? Gage throwing? Cameos of later famous characters (I see you, baby Hotspur) THEN GO WATCH THIS PLAY. GO. DO IT. DO IT NOW.
Henry IV (part 1): 8/10 Good shit: Hotspur. Falstaff. Hal’s arc. Henry’s crippling self-doubt over the overthrow and death of his cousin. The tension between Hal and King Henry. Hotspur’s “I’m gonna teach a bird to say Mortimer’s name and then give it to King Henry lmao” speech. Mortimer. Lady Mortimer! Bad shit: Excessive Falstaff? Hal being a jerkwaffle? Unnecessary use of Backstory that makes the play occasionally not make sense if you aren’t familiar with Richard II?
Henry IV (part 2): 4/10 Basically just Part 1 except with the good bits taken out, and longer, and more boring. And Henry dies. A few good speeches but eh.
Henry V: 10/10 because Charles is in it. Yeah that’s right. I’m giving this play a 10 because it put a cameo of my son I’m nothing if not predictable. But also, it has Fluellen, and Henry being an Ambitious and Confident Young King who is Trying To Prove His Worth. And also, tennis ball and horse jokes because those are needed (and yes, they really are.)
King John: 2/10 what the fuck. To expand: Death by Monk as an actual plot point. A character dies, and the Surprise! I Lived Bitch and then dies anyway? Also a king gets killed and no one talks about it. Also one character is named Richard and then his name is Philip and no one knows what to make of that so they just call him The Bastard. Lots of random offscreen dying, and (bad) plot twists. Have fun.
All’s Well That Ends Well: 4/10 No, all is not well that ends well because this play ended well but it wasn’t good. It would have worked better if Bertram had just been gay and then him avoiding his wife would have made more sense instead of him being a jerkass, also what the fuck Helena. DIVORCE HIM. I liked the Countess though she was cool.
Much Ado About Nothing: 7/10 Again with the WHAT THE FUCK DIVORCE HIM plotline except, Hero and Claudio. Beatrice was amazing though and so was Benedick. Not sure about Don John. Although, I guess having no motive except “I’m just a little shit who likes to make people sad” is kind of relatable in a sense, but he went to far. Dude, chill.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream: 9/10 despite being overrated I love this play. I mean it doesn’t get much better than fairy divorce court being the root of everyone’s problems. It’s just such an utter cavalcade of ridiculousness and yet manages to make all the subplots weave nicely together unlike SOME plays (ie King John).
Twelfth Night: 10/10 go look at my URL and then ask me why. But no, really, Twelfth Night is wonderful. I love every character, I love the plot and the subplots blend nicely, it has a nice emotional undertone and some dark themes to give it a bit of impact as you’re laughing at the antics of this group of beautiful idiots. I adore it.
The Comedy of Errors: 7/10 this play is just really, really funny. Like it’s kind of a stupid premise but it manages to make it work because it’s SO stupid that it’s awesome. It’s also maddeningly frustrating, which is the highest form of humor. Maybe.
The Merry Wives of Windsor: 5/10 FALSTAFF SPINOFF but actually pretty good. The added characters were cool and the cameos from Henry IV were nice to see. Mostly just hilarity. I don’t have a ton to say about this one, but it was enjoyable.
The Taming of the Shrew: 4/10 I kind of feel bad for not hating this one as much as everyone else in the fandom does but I don’t totally hate this play. Yeah, it’s mad sexist. Yeah, it’s not particularly funny. But I thought the subplot with Bianca and Lucentio was cute, and I really liked Tranio in general.
As You Like It: 7/10 for cool foresty atmosphere, and having the ‘all the world’s a stage’ speech, and Touchstone, and crossdressing, and having a female character who actually had a ton of lines, and Evil Brothers. Minus 3 for OliverxCelia. Shakespeare what were you thinking. Also, he somehow managed to name two characters Jaques.
The Two Gentlemen of Verona: 5/10 Okay. PROTEUS IS THE WORST CHARACTER EVER AND I HATE HIM AND I WISH HE HAD DIED. WHAT THE FUCK. THAT WAS LIKE IAGO-LEVEL VILLAINY RIGHT THERE AND HE GOT FORGIVEN AND GOT OFF SCOT FREE LIKE NOTHING HAPPENED. THIS GUY MAKES CLAUDIO AND DEMETRIUS LOOK LIKE SAINTS. Also, doggy. On stage. Good puppy.
Love’s Labors Lost: 6/10 This would make more sense if it had about 10 fewer characters and more cohesiveness. But I actually liked it. The ending was nontraditional for a comedy, and some of the scenes were kind of funny and cute.
The Winter’s Tale: 7/10 Leontes is the worst. We can all agree on that. Does that stop me from crying when his statue-wife comes to life and forgives him? No it does not. Also, Time is a character and shows up which is… cool, and a little weird, but also cool. Also, RIP Antigonus.
The Tempest: 9/10 Monsters and magic and spirits and islands and BETRAYL and… a witch named Sycorax, and also Miranda being wonderful and having a lot of really nice lines about discovering the world for the first time. Good play. I’m enamored of Ariel from a character perspective.
Troilus and Cressida: 5/10 I wanted to like this one but… eh. It was all right. It was just kind of slow. You spend the whole play waiting for Hector and Ajax to fight and then it’s over and… well. Also the title couple felt like an awkward sideplot. I gotta say though, Thersites was great even though he was awful and a shithead.
Etc. (you know the ones):
Measure for Measure: 8/10 I love the characters in this one and both Isabelle and Angelo give me feelings in different ways. It’s… not an easy plot to get comfortable with, and the dynamics and way it pans out eventually really hit home. That said, WHAT THE FUCK VINCENTIO.
The Merchant of Venice: 3/10 Okay remember when I rated Timon of Athens and I said plays about finances were not a good idea? Well here we are again. This one was actually slightly better because it was more comprehensive, and Portia exists. Of course, there’s also the uncomfortable amount of anti-Semitism that makes one pause and wish this wasn’t happening.
*Minus Cymbeline, Pericles, and Henry VIII which I haven’t read yet, but I’ll update when I’ve read them.