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Underexplained Lists

Shakespeare’s Plays, Ranked

Falstaff sits with a woman, holding a tankard, in an illustrated scene from the Shakespeare play, 'King Henry IV,' Act II, Scene IV. (Kean Collection/Getty Images)
Kean Collection/Getty Images

This here? This is a sports blog. We were talking about the big England-Denmark match, you see, so talk naturally got around to the two nations’ most famous shared cultural legacy: Hamlet. Opinions were offered—someone said Hamlet is the least interesting character in Hamlet, someone else got close to pulling a knife on them for that take—but it was generally agreed that Hamlet, the play, slaps. That naturally segued into talk of which of William Shakespeare’s other, non-Danish plays slap. That naturally transitioned into a ranking.

The Defector staff rated each of the Bard’s plays from the First Folio on a 10-point (except for Ray, who rated them from “226” to “leprosy”). Plays we have not seen we did not rate (“What the shit is King John?” was asked), and those plays not rated by enough voters were tossed out of the list. We are ignoring the whole authorship question entirely. The ratings were averaged to produce these conclusive rankings, and let me tell you, there are few experiences more absurd than looking at a timeless classic work, one which has endured in the public imagination for centuries, one generally held to be among the pinnacle of English-language literature—and thinking, “you know what, that’s an 8.”

  1. Hamlet
  2. Macbeth
  3. Othello
  4. King Lear
  5. Henry V
  6. Romeo and Juliet
  7. The Tempest
  8. Henry VI, Part III
  9. Julius Caesar
  10. Much Ado about Nothing
  11. Troilus and Cressida
  12. Love’s Labour’s Lost
  13. Twelfth Night
  14. A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  15. Henry IV, Part I
  16. Henry IV, Part II
  17. Henry VI, Part I
  18. Measure for Measure
  19. The Taming of the Shrew
  20. Merchant of Venice
  21. As You Like It
  22. Richard II
  23. Coriolanus
  24. Henry VI, Part II
  25. The Merry Wives of Windsor
  26. All’s Well That Ends Well
  27. Cymbeline
  28. Timon of Athens
  29. Titus Andronicus
  30. Richard III
  31. The Comedy of Errors
  32. The Winter’s Tale
  33. Henry VIII
  34. Getting hit by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
  35. Antony and Cleopatra

Note: King John and The Two Gentlemen of Verona did not receive enough rankings to qualify. Edward III, The Two Noble Kinsmen, and Pericles, Prince of Tyre were not included in the First Folio and are generally believed to be collaborations, and were not considered here.