Greatest plays of all time?

May 23, 2008
Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
A few days ago in this blog, I mentioned Daniel S. Burt's book "The Drama 100: A Ranking of the Greatest Plays of All Time."

While we can all agree that such a list is highly subjective, we can probably also all agree that such lists are compulsively readable, fun to debate, and sometimes actually instructive. (Anyone out there attend the event I hosted a few years ago at the Indianapolis Art Center were we debated a list of the top musicals? Anyone?)

Anyway, a few of you e-mailed me asking what else was on Burt's list. While I don't want to take away any of his potential book sales, I will offer you his top 15 (with my notes). Here goes:

1. "King Lear." (I missed the IRT's recent production, but am still shaking from the Stacy Keach-starred version that played The Goodman Theatre in Chicago.)

2. "Oedipus the King."

3. "Hamlet." (I've seen about a half dozen productions, but that's makes me a piker compared to J. Trewin, who wrote the book "Five & Eighty Hamlets.")

4. "Oresteia."

5. "Macbeth." (IRT is offering a truncated version this season.)

6. "Long Day's Journey Into Night." (A major theatrical challenge. I don't expect to see another production as strong as the recent Broadway revival in my lifetime.)

7. "Othello." (While in high school I saw a production with Christopher Plummer amazing as Iago, James Earl Jones not quite up to high expectations in the title role, and then-unknown Dianne Weist awful as Desdemona.)

8. "Waiting for Godot." (Still waiting to see it live.)

9. "Medea."

10. "Twelfth Night."

11. "A Doll's House." (Some go with "Dolls," Burt goes with "Doll's.")

12. "The Cherry Orchard."

13. "Bacchae"

14. "The Importance of Being Earnest."

15. "Antigone."

One thing that should strike any Indy reader of the list is how unlikely it is that we'll have the chance to see productions of more than a handful of these in any given decade.

Your thoughts?
ADVERTISEMENT
  • Despite a couple of good performances, I'd say you missed little in the King Lear department. We usually have to depend on Universities for productions of Medea, Antigone or The Orestia, though I'd LOVE a chance to do the latter two. I can't disagree with the list per se, though I might toss in a Williams or Albee piece and drop Godot or Othello. Definitely a list that is a great argument starter .
  • Once you get into the top 20 or so, ordering is probably largely a matter of preference anyway, but I've always wondered what it is about Lear that makes some think it's better than Hamlet. It's unquestionably a masterpiece, but it's so relentlessly heartbreaking that for a couple of centuries it was performed with an alternate happy ending in which Cordelia lives, just to avoid emotional overload. Hamlet, though it features its own high body count, strikes me as being far more watchable and just as good.

    Just curious: Is this list supposed to be the greatest plays of all time from anywhere, or just Western plays? If comparing Ibsen to Sophocles is apples and oranges, then how do you compare either to, say, Noh or Chinese opera?

    Oh, and by the way, Lou, we were talking offline about (the rarity of) trilogies in which the third installment is better than the second . . . . The Oedipus plays definitely fall into that category. Antigone is electrifying, whereas Oedipus at Colonnus is just dreadfully boring.

    Whatever the case, this list is more fun to debate than the many movie lists, since those invariably put Citizen Kane at the top - probably because it's a convenient default and prevents people from having to figure out which of a dozen other films would be most deserving to take its place.

Post a comment to this blog

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
  1. How much you wanna bet, that 70% of the jobs created there (after construction) are minimum wage? And Harvey is correct, the vast majority of residents in this project will drive to their jobs, and to think otherwise, is like Harvey says, a pipe dream. Someone working at a restaurant or retail store will not be able to afford living there. What ever happened to people who wanted to build buildings, paying for it themselves? Not a fan of these tax deals.

  2. Uh, no GeorgeP. The project is supposed to bring on 1,000 jobs and those people along with the people that will be living in the new residential will be driving to their jobs. The walkable stuff is a pipe dream. Besides, walkable is defined as having all daily necessities within 1/2 mile. That's not the case here. Never will be.

  3. Brad is on to something there. The merger of the Formula E and IndyCar Series would give IndyCar access to International markets and Formula E access the Indianapolis 500, not to mention some other events in the USA. Maybe after 2016 but before the new Dallara is rolled out for 2018. This give IndyCar two more seasons to run the DW12 and Formula E to get charged up, pun intended. Then shock the racing world, pun intended, but making the 101st Indianapolis 500 a stellar, groundbreaking event: The first all-electric Indy 500, and use that platform to promote the future of the sport.

  4. No, HarveyF, the exact opposite. Greater density and closeness to retail and everyday necessities reduces traffic. When one has to drive miles for necessities, all those cars are on the roads for many miles. When reasonable density is built, low rise in this case, in the middle of a thriving retail area, one has to drive far less, actually reducing the number of cars on the road.

  5. The Indy Star announced today the appointment of a new Beverage Reporter! So instead of insightful reports on Indy pro sports and Indiana college teams, you now get to read stories about the 432nd new brewery open or some obscure Hoosier winery winning a county fair blue ribbon. Yep, that's the coverage we Star readers crave. Not.

ADVERTISEMENT