Everyone has a favourite Shakespeare play. (This blogger is partial to Macbeth and Twelfth Night.) But over time, certain plays do become more popular than others, especially as tastes change. The wild and often outrageous comedy moments in a play like The Comedy of Errors don’t necessarily fit in with modern comedy tastes. Then again, Shakespeare’s most over the top scenarios could be something from a Judd Apatow film.
Even so, Shakespeare’s plays contain universal themes, and though The Winter’s Tale or King John may not be beloved, some of his plays certainly still are, 400 years later. What is Shakespeare’s most “popular” play, you may wonder. The answer depends upon the time period we’re talking about.
In Shakespeare’s day, the great age of the theatre during Elizabeth I’s reign, it’s hard to say exactly given the incompleteness of historical records, diaries, playbills and so on. However, it seems like the four plays (of his) that were performed the most during his lifetime were Henry IV Part I, Richard III, Pericles and Hamlet. Pericles is not quite as popular today, but Richard III and Hamlet especially both continue to be performed regularly all over the world.
Other sources tell us that Titus Andronicus was also quite regularly performed during Shakespeare’s day. For a while in our modern era it fell out of favour, as it’s very violent, for one thing. But it seems to be making a comeback, and is being performed at the Stratford Festival this year.
In the Victorian era (the mid to late 19th century), playgoers especially liked King John and Henry VIII, two plays that are all but forgotten to most modern theatre audiences.
If your blogger had to guess, she would say that Hamlet is probably Shakespeare’s most popular play overall (though not her personal favourite). For four hundred years it has been continuously performed, adapted, studied, quoted, and in the 20th century, filmed. Pretty neat! Romeo and Juliet is most likely a very close second, with Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Richard III and others not too far behind.