Favorite and Least Favorite Shakespeare Plays

For your reading pleasure, and in (eager) anticipation of the upcoming Shakespeare Festival, we asked members of the CHFA community for their favorite or least favorite Shakespeare plays. Here’s the long and short of it! See the poster and list of events here.

Sherraine Pate Williams – MFA Student, Poetry

No one but Shakespeare’s Richard III does the individual’s conflicted inner turmoil any better:

“What do I fear? Myself? There’s none else by.
Richard loves Richard; that is, I and I.
Is there a murderer here? No. Yes, I am.
Then fly! What, from myself? Great reason why:
Lest I revenge. What, myself upon myself?
Alack, I love myself. Wherefore? For any good
That I myself have done unto myself?”

This play seems to highlight how language itself can be used to gain power, frightfully much like it is still used today:

“Conscience is but a word that cowards use,
Devis’d at first to keep the strong in awe:
Our strong arms be our conscience, swords our law.
March on, join bravely, let us to’t pell-mell;
If not to heaven, then hand in hand to hell.”

Ty Burrell as The Duke of Buckingham and Peter Dinklage as Richard, Duke of Glouster in RICHARD III at The Public Theater.


Miranda Wilson – Coordinator, Regional Academic Outreach

The Tempest is my favorite because of the magic and father/daughter relationship coupled with the more serious issues of slavery. My least favorite is Hamlet.  Try as I may, I do not like the main character, and the play as a whole is too depressing for my taste.

Miranda isn’t alone – Paul Rudnick wrote a gleeful satire called “I Hate Hamlet”

Matthew Evans – English and Philosophy alumnus; English teacher at McCracken County High School

Romeo and Juliet: mainly because most people misunderstand it. It’s my favorite to teach since everyone “knows” that it’s a beautiful love story, and you can have so much fun pointing out all the dirty jokes and ridiculous characters. That, and we all know that couple that get way too serious too quickly and it’s nice to know that people haven’t changed that much in 400 years.


As Mercutio in the 1936 Romeo and Juliet, John Barrymore (right) was out of touch as a 54 year old playing a teenager.

Katherine Summerfield –Theater Major

My favorite Shakespeare play is Macbeth. Hands down. Because of Lady Macbeth. She is a complex and well written character and the show is an amazingly well written story that has transcended time. My least favorite is Hamlet. I have studied/ read/ analyzed Hamlet more than I care to admit to. Public school flooded my English classes with Hamlet. And now I’m just sick of him.

Judi Dench as Lady Macbeth
Dame Judi Dench – M in the James Bond series – was an unforgettable Lady Macbeth.

David Balthrop – Chair, Theater Department

Favorite:  It’s a tie.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream (saw the best Royal Shakespeare Company production of this in London) and King Lear.  “You must bear with me.  Pray you now forget, and forgive; I am old and foolish.”  To this, I can relate!!!

Least Favorite:  Strangely enough…The Comedy of Errors.  I’ve seen too many bad productions of that one!

We wonder if Professor Balthrop would have liked this 1879 version of The Comedy of Errors


Andy Black – Assistant Professor, English and Philosophy

My favorite is Julius Caesar. I taught this for seven years to eighth graders, so even the most seemingly obvious lines have taken on extra meaning and race through my mind while I’m jogging or driving. At this year’s performance, I’m looking forward to hearing a skeptical Brutus ask Cassius, “Into what dangers would you lead me, Cassius, That you would have me seek into myself For that which is not in me?”

The 1953 film of Julius Caesar seemed troubling contemporary to an audience dealing with Joseph McCarthy’s witch-hunts.

Rusty Jones – Associate Professor, English and Philosophy

Favorite: The Winter’s Tale. I’m always deeply moved by the play’s depiction of the power of forgiveness and love.

Least favorite: Titus Andronicus. This play, to my mind, was just Shakespeare trying to out-gross Christopher Marlowe.

The 2000 film adaptation of Titus certainly was gross, and some thought it was also brilliant.

Helen Beckert – History Major

Much Ado about Nothing, mostly because my class wrote Christmas carols about the characters to study for our test over the play.

Much Ado About Nothing was performed at the 2015 Shakespeare Festival. The film version by Joss Whedon was shown at Cinema International.

Pamela Parker – English and Philosophy Adjunct Faculty

Favorite:  Othello, because it’s the most perfectly realized of the tragedies as well as the greatest love story.  Othello’s explanation of how he and Desdemona fell in love is one of my favorite passages in all of literature.  (Act I, scene 3, lines 127-169).  

Least Favorite:  The Merry Wives of Windsor gets my vote.  I couldn’t read it all the way through, despite multiple tries.

Paul Robeson was an unforgettable Othello in the 1930s.

Jeff Osborne – Associate Professor, English and Philosophy

  1. King Lear

This is the most powerful articulation of the essential tragedy of the human condition: our failure to recognize that human affection is the only source of meaning in an indifferent and often cruel and unjust world. Loving, rather than being loved, is our only chance for redemption. The cost of ignoring this is absolute and total despair. The play is almost intolerably heartbreaking.

  1. Macbeth

Macbeth captures the nightmare of the unconscious, the horrifying reality of another “self”–potentially more powerful than “I” am–lurking somewhere within. Macbeth acts despite himself, maybe even to spite himself. The most terrifying aspect of Macbeth’s tragedy is the idea that time reduces all human aims–those that hit and miss the mark–to nothingness.

  1. Romeo and Juliet

Whereas most tragedies seek to instruct us in the danger we pose to ourselves, to demonstrate in some fashion the causes behind our missing the mark, Romeo and Juliet reveals (terribly, almost nihilistically) that all our aims are at the mercy of the Untimely, the name Shakespeare uses to signify our fate to live as beings with aims in a world that is totally indifferent to them.

Before winning an Academy Award for Best Actor, Leonardo Dicaprio played everyone’s favorite melancholy lover in the 1996 version of Romeo and Juliet.

Ted Brown – Professor, English and Philosophy and Former Dean of CHFA

My two favorite Shakespeare plays are King Lear and The Tempest because they indelibly capture both the pain and the promise of human existence.

The legendary British actor David Garrick was King Lear in the 1760s


Peter Murphy – Professor, English and Philosophy

Just to be contrary, I’m going to vote for The Merry Wives of Windsor as my favorite. I know the critics rank this one way down on the list of his most accomplished work, but I love it. For one thing, it extends the character Falstaff beyond just his relationship with Hal and for another it has some of the truly great farcical scenes in drama.

In 2014, Rick Blunt played Falstaff at the Murray Shakespeare Festival and showed why Dr. Murphy might be right!

Festival director Rusty Jones allowed us to post a presentation he used about Julius Caesar for his Humanities  course. Julius Caesar opens the Murray Shakespeare Festival on Monday, March 8th at 7 PM.


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