When making a list of the world’s greatest playwrights, William Shakespeare will undoubtedly be at the top. His work has endured for centuries and is still relevant today. Shakespeare lived from 1564 to 1616, and in that time, he managed to write and perform 37 plays. Of course, most people know only about four or five of the more popular plays, such as “Romeo and Juliet” and “Hamlet,” but there are many more obscure works. Here are four Shakespeare plays that you may never have heard of.
The play “Titus Andronicus” is one of Shakespeare’s earliest works. It was written some time between 1589 and 1592 when Shakespeare was in his twenties. Like many of his other plays, “Titus Andronicus” is a tragedy, but this one is unique. It’s so unique that some critics didn’t think it was written by Shakespeare at all.
What sets this play apart from the others is the over-the-top violence. Yes, violence is a common theme in Shakespearean plays, but “Titus Andronicus” is special. It features severed heads, cannibalism, torture, and dismemberment aplenty. At one point, a man is buried up to his chest in the ground and left to starve. The ridiculous level of gruesomeness probably has something to do with the play’s obscurity.
If you’d like to read the play, MIT offers the full text online.
For most people, if someone asks if you’ve read the play “Twelfth Night,” they’d probably say no. It’s not one of the typical Shakespearean plays students are forced to read in high school. But if you’re a movie buff with a soft spot for silly romantic comedies, you might know more about the play than you think. Check out this plot summary from Shakespeare.org:
Viola, separated from her twin Sebastian, dresses as a boy and works for the Duke Orsino, whom she falls in love with. Orsino is in love with the Countess Olivia and sends Viola to court her for him, but Olivia falls for Viola instead. Sebastian arrives, causing a flood of mistaken identity, and marries Olivia. Viola then reveals she is a girl and marries Orsino.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the exact plot for the 2006 Amanda Bynes comedy "She’s the Man." They didn’t even bother to change the names, although there isn’t any soccer in the original play.
Shakespeare had a fascination with histories. He wrote plays about Henry IV, V, and VII; King John; and Richard I and II. “Henry VIII” is a play about, obviously, King Henry VIII and his many political and personal actions.
“Henry VIII” is believed to be the last play that Shakespeare completed and was a collaborative effort with another playwright named John Fletcher. In the play, a cannon was required as one of the effects. During a performance in 1613, the cannon was fired and accidentally caught the theater on fire. The iconic Globe Theater sustained some damage but was eventually repaired.
Troilus and Cressida
In the 15th century, translations of Homer’s epic poem “The Iliad” gave people in the 1400s access to details about the Trojan war. Another English writer, Geoffrey Chaucer, wrote a story based on these events called “Troilus and Criseyde,” which is a tragic love story. Shakespeare had a different view of the Trojan war and thought that Chaucer’s story gave an inaccurate account of the events.
“Troilus and Cressida” was one of Shakespeare’s dark comedies written around 1601. It was written in stark contrast to Chaucer’s story, describing the events as cowardly and honorless. Shakespeare uses this play to make a critique on society, eluding to the disintegration of morals and politics.