I won't give you a list for Shakespeare. Most people will just tell you to read "all of it," so let me say the same thing. Here you will find fellow playwrights from the Early Modern period, who deserve to be read and seen performed. The Red Bull Theater in the City does a good job at presenting one or two of these plays a year. Try to get a group together and see one or attend a reading. This list is by no means exhaustive or chronological—bear with me.
Do meet Doctor Faustus, an early exploration of the overreacher and his fate as he sells his soul to the devil.
And The Jew of Malta is delightful too. This play makes us question religion and whether one makes people better than any other. And Barabas is a villain-protagonist for the ages. He is right up there with Richard the Third. Tragedy? Comedy? Who knows. But it's a worthwhile read.
Edward II, whom you may have met in Braveheart as the inept young prince, is here explored well and thoroughly as a character. This play works impressively with politics and what power, politics, and ambition can do to people. Edward's death is quite spectacular and unnecessarily cruel.
Beaumont and Fletcher
The Knight of the Burning Pestle explores the class system and makes fun of the up-and-coming middle class, who value money and what it can buy more than anything. The comedy is bawdy and full of loaded puns. I find myself chuckling as I read.
The Maid's Tragedy works with corrupted rule and women caught in the failing system. Evadne's development is interesting to say the least, and great revenge is achieved.
'Tis Pity She's a Whore explores brother/sister incest. Strangely, students often start out finding this utterly "gross," but understand it at the end. Annabella, Ford's female protagonist, has several suitors, whom the audience very soon see are unfit for her. One is mentally deficient, another a brutal philanderer. Her only "real choice" is her brother Giovanni. Ford is clearly critical of the way women are socialized and married off.
The Chronicle History of Perkin Warbeck shows us the "return" of one of Richard III's victims, the younger "Tower Prince," an impostor, who challenges Henry VII's right to the throne. Perkin's development is moving and beautiful, and the language is impressive! This play deserves more than it has ever had!
Ford collaborated with several others on The Witch of Edmonton, a play that challenges beliefs in witchcraft and witches. Our witch is an old, stooped, marginalized widow, who is ill-treated and hence curses her fellow man. She is quickly found by a devil in dog form, who finally betrays her to the pyre. We are lucky enough to also have a comic subplot, or else this would have been too hard on the spectator or reader.
This is one of my favorite playwrights ever. A Chaste Maid in Cheapside is a city comedy that shows us the up-and-coming middle class and its hilarious sides. We also have thwarted young love coming up triumphant.
The Changeling is a wonderfully twisted tragedy starring Beatrice Johanna, and exploring her development and how a young girl is not socialized to cope with villains. DeFlores (and yes, deflowering is in the works) is a remarkable and unsettling villain.
The White Devil is not a student favorite—I have no idea why—but is a very rich play exploring gender roles, ambition, and the role of the church.
The Duchess of Malfi, on the other hand, is a wonderful read for all. It challenges the concept of the widow and explores the nature of mature love. The Duchess is a character you cannot help getting involved with, and the villain, Bosola, is one of the more interesting ones of his kind. To me, he is more complicated than and surpasses Shakespeare's Iago.
And don't forget Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy! It was in the Top 10 with Titus Andronicus for years!
I could go on for a very long time. For now, please email me if you need more plays to read.
Department of English, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794-5350 - Undergraduate: 631 632-7400 | Graduate: 631 632-7373