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. Yes sir keep cashing those 300K a year checks direct to IMS, while millions disappear from the teams like Rahal's. Guess there wasn't enough ka- ching going around to keep Sarah Fisher in business without their "merger". LOL._____.Meanwhile back in Realville the series with the "best racing in the world" drew what appeared to be about 5000 live spectators ( and probably 1500 of those Target "freebies", and was beaten in the ratings by a series that reportedly consists of "parades" and aired while most people are still sleeping. That will generate those big ka-chings for sure. :-). But, hey, as long as the Speedway gets the cash who gives a damn about the teams?

  2. Welcome to PETERSON LOAN AGENCY Company (A Personalized Service for All Your Financial Needs) We, Liberal Investment Company Providers offers loan at a very low interest rate of 2%, we offer Personal loans, Debt Consolidation Loan, Venture Capital, Business Loan, Educational Loan, Home Loan, and Loan for any reason and urgent needs!. with a maximum duration of 30 years. Have you been turned down by your bank? Do you have bad credit? Do you have unpaid bills? Are you in debt? Do you need to set up a business? Worry no more as we are here to offer you a low interest loan. Our loan ranges from $5,000-USD (Five Thousand US dollars) to $50, 000,000.00.(Fifty Million US dollars). We also lend in USA DOLLARS EURO and POUNDS ! Fill in this form and forward it to our email: PETERSONLOANAGENCY@GMAIL.COM 1. Your Full names:_______ 2. Contact address:_______ 3. Country Of Residence:______ 4. Loan Amount Required:________ 5. Duration:_____ 6. Gender:_____ 7. Occupation:________ 8. Monthly Income:_______ 9. Date Of Birth:________ 10.Telephone Number:________ 11. Purpose of loan:_________ Yours In Service, MR PERRY, PETERSONLOANAGENCY@GMAIL.COM

  3. If I could actually get the prices...I would do this on my own. We need laws that force provides to publish the costs they will charge. Everyone else gives you the price in advance...except hospitals.

  4. I was under the impression that fencing is not allowed on a front yard and that on a corner, both sides are considered "front" yards, therefore can't be fenced without a variance. Also impedes the visibility for drivers at the intersection. Am I understanding this correctly? Might be why a fence was not included in the plans and a request for a variance will have to be made?.

  5. I was a big fan of Cowards and Carrots, which I got a chance to see at the show. It's currently on Kickstarter, but the designer also put out What's He Building in There last year, which got a fair amount of buzz.

ADVERTISEMENT