BOOK REVIEW: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare – Comedies

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare has fourteen plays in the “comedies” section. Most – if not all – share some of the same themes & characteristics:

  • Separations of family or loved ones
  • Disguises & mistaken identities, often leading to humorous situations & big reveals
  • Main plot deals with love, relationships, sex,etc.
  • Secondary plots deal with a variety of other issues, like putting on plays, banishment, & financial concerns
  • Word play, witty banter, & annoyingly similar character names (like “Viola” & “Olivia” in Twelfth Night; or, What You Will, & “Shallow” &”Slender” in Merry Wives of Windsor)
  • End in marriage, reunion, or happy relationships

Since a lot of the comedies are so similar, I can’t remember all the plots & get them confused. Still, some of Shakespeare’s comedies stand out, either due to their plot, or a special personal significance:

  • The Tempest – This is the first play in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.  The editors classified it as a comedy, although it doesn’t exactly fit the “typical” structure.  Some people call The Tempest a “problem play.” I love this play because it’s one of the reasons my parents named me“Ariel” – Shakespeare created a sprite character named Ariel, who Prospero (the main character) rescued & Ariel serves Prospero in repayment.  This play creates a display of early colonization beliefs & attempts.  The Duke banished Prospero before the play starts & Prospero takes control over the inhabitants & resources of the island on which he lands.  However, in the end, Prospero & his daughter, Miranda, plus all the Italian courtiers that Prospero enchanted to get onto the island via shipwreck, leave the island.  Prospero vows to give up his magic, & the island’s original inhabitants – the magical Ariel & the “savage” Caliban –are left to their own devices.  It’s almost as if Shakespeare is silent in his opinions on colonization.
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream – I think this is one of Shakespeare’s more popular comedies.  The mix of fantasy, magic,faeries, crazy couples in love chasing a disinterested party in a love quadrangle, & possibly my number one favorite character – the mischievous Puck.  I got to play him in a scene in High School, & even got to write a prologue in iambic pentameter that has since been lost to the ages.  I think we won an award for costuming (I believe I had pigtails, a tank top with horizontal rainbow stripes, & bright green leggings; it was hilarious.)
  • Taming of the Shrew – Ah, old-timey sexism.  Of course, this play has a lot of flaws,but I still love the banter between Petruchio & Katharina.  Also, it led to one of my favorite movies of all time, “10 Things I Hate About You” (RIP Heath 😢 ).

 In total, there are 365 pages of comedic goodness.  Don’t worry; I won’t give a summary of them all:

  • The Tempest
  • Two Gentlemen of Verona
  • Merry Wives of Windsor
  • Twelfth Night; Or, What You Will
  • Measure For Measure
  • Much Ado About Nothing
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • Love’s Labour’s Lost
  • The Merchant of Venice
  • As You Like It
  • All’s Well That Ends Well
  • The Taming of the Shrew
  • The Winter’s Tale
  • The Comedy of Errors

Join us next time when I’ll review Shakespeare’s historical (fiction) plays!

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