Shakespeare’s 400th death day comes up this weekend, so I’ve done some analysis for FiveThirtyEight on which of his plays wind up taught outside English class (and offered a few recommendations of my own):
Psychology students most often encounter Shakespeare’s great madmen: King Lear and Hamlet. Perhaps they’re the ones to blame for the more sexualized stagings of Hamlet’s confrontation with his mother. Oedipal productions of the play are such a trope that, in Jasper Fforde’s modern lit-nerd comedy novel “Something Rotten,” his Hamlet character credibly complains, “The good-night kiss with Mum has got longer and longer. That Freud fellow will have a bloody nose if ever I meet him.”
Assigning “Timon of Athens” to economics majors seems like it might be intended to do the same kind of filtering that organic chemistry does in pre-med. Timon, a rich man, discovers that his venal friends only love him for his riches and winds up so embittered that he retreats to a cave and tries to use the last of his money to commission an attack on his former home. If this is what riches buy, why not ignore your parents and major in art history, like you wanted? (But if you’re going to stick with econ, maybe grab “Richard II” to see how financial mismanagement kicks off the cycle of murders and ousted kings of the rest of the histories.)
And if you’d like a little more Shakespeare in unexpected places, Alexi Sargeant has a rewrite of Hamilton’s opening number in his honor:
Then the histories came, Wars of Roses ragedOur man saw his Richard limp, limping on the stageLost the lovers in their labours, asked a boy, “what’s in his name?,”Then he wrote Richard II’s reign…and Bolingbroke’s great shame!Word got around, they said, “These plays are insane, man…John Falstaff and Prince Hamlet springing from the same man’s brain panGet thee to the court and show the Queen how your lines scan, manAnd the world’s gonna know your name, what’s your name man?
And if you’re still not Shakespeare-sated, check out Good Tickle Brain’s Shakespeare flowchart to pick a play to read or watch: