I recently finished the extraordinarily good Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill, which I’ll write about soon, but it has inspired a few quick posts. A book full of short chapters about Hill’s books, reading, books in general, it provides lots of fascinating ideas for blog posts…
Towards the end of the book, Susan Hill decides to compile a list of forty books she’d choose, should she only be able to read those for the rest of her life. Not taking the get-out of Desert Island Discs, the Bible and Shakespeare’s Complete Works are not givens – not, in fact, is she allowed to count all of Shakespeare’s plays as one book. And so she tries to choose one…
Which led me to thinking: if I could only choose one Shakespeare play to read for the rest of my life, which would it be? Like Hill, I made a shortlist. Unlike Hill, I haven’t read them all (though I have read 24 of them, so quite a few to choose from… and that number includes no history plays). Here is my shortlist:
Much Ado About Nothing
The Taming of the Shrew
All’s Well That Ends Well
Some I love (like Twelfth Night) I know I would get tired of. Some I admire (i.e. The Tempest) but cannot much like. Some (The Comedy of Errors; As You Like It; Titus Adronicus…) were never in with a chance.
Which to keep. Much Ado About Nothing is my favourite Shakespeare play, but… if I had to read Beatrice and Benedict’s exchanges over and over again for the rest of my life, would I still find them funny, or simply infuriating? Would Hero’s silence and Claudio’s willingness to marry penitently someone who looks a bit like Hero not become more ridiculous each time? Cymbeline… I love the final scene, but that’s not enough to keep it. Hamlet. Hamlet, Hamlet, Hamlet. So much there, but… I still just want to shake him, and tell him to stop being a silly little boy.
In the end, I was surprised. The one to keep is not my favourite, but I have chosen… The Taming of the Shrew. Because I am continually fascinated by the question: was Katharine complicit? How should it be interpreted? So much that can be done, so many different readings, and often quite funny, to boot. Who’d have thought? I expect my choice will change in years to come. It’ll be interesting to keep track.
And now, of course, over to you. Shortlists, please, and the one play you’d keep…