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Definitive Shakespeare play

Revealed: William Shakespeare’s best play as voted for by the public

Will Longman
Will Longman

To celebrate Shakespeare Day on 23rd April, we've been asking LondonTheatre.co.uk readers to let us know what they consider the definitive play by the Bard, and now, we can reveal the winner.

William Shakespeare wrote 39 plays throughout his career, including 16 comedies, 11 histories and 12 tragedies which have been revived, adapted and performed countless times across the world.

With such variation, deciding only one could have proved difficult. However, the public has spoken and a clear winner can be crowned.

Here are the top five Shakespeare plays as voted for by you:

5. Twelfth Night - 6%

Written as a piece of entertainment for the 'Twelfth Night' Christmas holiday in the early 17th century, the play sees Viola, who is separated from her twin in a shipwreck, and becomes embroiled in a love triangle as she disguises as a man. Tamsin Grieg recently starred in a major production of the play at the National Theatre, which is to be streamed for free as part of National Theatre at Home.

4. A Midsummer Night's Dream - 6%

A popular comedy, most of this play comprises of numerous subplots that take place in a forest inhabited by fairies controlling the characters, which lends directors an opportunity to create magical moments on stage. Gwendoline Christie starred in a production directed by Nicholas Hytner last summer at the Bridge Theatre, where immersive Shakespeare productions are programme staples.

3. Macbeth - 12%

You can't mention the name of this play in a theatre, but you certainly enjoy watching it. A Scottish military general sees a prophecy from three witches that he will become the King of Scotland, and spurred on by his wife, goes to extreme lengths to fulfill the vision. Christopher Eccleston recently starred in a production at the Barbican for the Royal Shakespeare Company, which is also available to view on BBC iPlayer during the lockdown.

2. Hamlet - 17%

Following the death of his father, the Prince of Denmark sees the ghost of his father, and sinks into a deep depression as he comes to realise the personal circumstances of his father's demise. Its 'To be or not to be' soliloquy makes the titular role an iconic one, and in the past, our audience has voted Andrew Scott's performance as the best rendition of the monologue.

1. King Lear - 23%

You have voted King Lear - aptly, a play William Shakespeare wrote while in quarantine from the plague - as the definitive Shakespeare play. This tragedy charts a monarch's descent into madness as he divides his power and land amongst his daughters who proclaim their adoration for him. Ian McKellen has played the role twice in the West End, most recently in 2018, in what he described as his 'final Shakespearean role'.

Originally published on

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