After the unfortunate cancellation of theatre performances in 2020, UTM’s Theatre Erindale has planned and adapted for an exciting pandemic-friendly season this year. From February 5 to 7, Theatre Erindale performed Romeo and Juliet “on stage” via Zoom. It was an unparalleled theatrical experience—with stellar student performances and a remarkable production considering the technical limitations.
For those who missed the live performance of Romeo and Juliet, fret not! The UofT library offers an extensive catalogue of Shakespeare’s plays online, with original texts, live theatre, and film adaptations to feast thine eyes upon. I recently watched a recording of Midsummer Night’s Dream from the Globe Theatre. Can you believe that? I felt as though I was in London, standing among the crowd in Shakespeare’s Globe, a pleasant reminiscence of my trip to the U.K. before Covid-19 struck.
If you’re fed up with Hollywood rom coms, below is a list of Shakespeare’s greatest plays you can access with your UTORid. We could all use some good old riotous, rhythmic, rhyming rivalry, and below are some of our favourites.
Romeo and Juliet
(dir. Erica Whyman, Royal Shakespeare Company, 2018)
The play opens with the now infamous lines: “Two households, both alike in dignity. In fair Verona, where we lay our scene. From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, where civil blood makes civil hands unclean…”
Romeo and Juliet are two teenagers defying the long-simmering hatred between their families, the Montagues and the Capulets, and falling in love at a terrible cost. Teenagers can be rather reckless.
Midsummer Night’s Dream
(dir. Emma Rice, Shakespeare’s Globe, London, 2015)
This comedy takes place in Athens and comprises several subplots revolving around the marriage of Theseus and Hippolyta. One subplot involves a conflict between four Athenian lovers in the woods at night. What are those unmarried couples doing there?
The play is two hours long but easy to follow because Rice offers a more modernized adaptation of an Old Elizabethan style. One will also see Shakespeare’s iconic literary technique—“a play within a play.”
(dir. Robert Icke, Almeida Theatre, London, 2017)
In high school, perhaps you read Hamlet, Shakespeare’s longest play at 30,577 words. Set in Denmark, the play depicts a ghost with a shocking secret, a daughter devastated by loss, and a deadly duel. Hamlet feigning madness to avenge his slain father is among the most iconic tragedies Shakespeare ever quilled to paper. You’ll surely be spellbound before the first act ends.
(dir. Tim Carrol, Shakespeare’s Globe, London, 2012)
Shipwrecked on the coast of Illyria, and believing her twin brother drowned, Viola disguises herself as a man and enters the service of Duke Orsino, only to find herself entangled in a triangle of unrequited love. Meanwhile, in the household of Countess Olivia, Sir Toby Belch and his unruly companions trick Olivia’s censorious steward, Malvolio, into believing that she loves him. Don’t you love the twists?
(dir. Justin Kurzel, film adaptation, 2015)
If you like gore, Macbeth will top your list. The play is a haunting story of civil wars and bloodbaths as the military hero, Macbeth, and his wife conspire to seize Scotland’s throne. It’s about the violence and destruction wrought when ambition goes unchecked by moral constraints.
(dir. Oliver Parker, film adaptation, 1995)
Undeterred by their different backgrounds, life experiences, and prejudices surrounding them, Othello and Desdemona unite in marriage. But deadly malice lurks where the newlyweds least expect it. Soon, whispers of suspicion breed irrational jealousy in this gripping psychological drama, one of Shakespeare’s most-celebrated tragedies.
The Merchant of Venice
(dir. Polly Findlay, Royal Shakespeare Company, 2015)
Pursuing a girlfriend took a lot of effort and money in the 16th century. Traditionally, the man would buy a bouquet and other gifts to court a girl. In The Merchant of Venice, Antonio is an anti-Semitic merchant, who instead takes a loan from a Jewish “Shylock” to help his friend to court a young woman named Portia. Antonio cannot repay the loan, so Shylock demands a pound of his flesh. Will the heiress Portia, now the wife of Antonio’s friend, save Antonio?
(dir. Phyllida Lloyd, Donmar Warehouse, London, 2017)
A sorcerer, Prospero, former Duke of Milan, is marooned with his daughter on a remote island populated only by spirits and his monstrous servant, Caliban. Prospero uses his magical arts to raise a storm at sea, bringing him face to face at last with those who deposed him twelve years earlier. With his enemies in his grasp, Prospero now faces a choice: to exact revenge or to build a brave new world for the next generation.
(dir. Richard Eyre, film adaptation, 2018)
Many said Shakespeare wrote King Lear during a plague. Very timely for our quarantine binge. The play is about many things: a Kingdom divided, a family destroyed, the faithful banished, and the hateful left to wreak inhuman havoc on the realm. Four hundred years after it was written, King Lear still resonates. History and family dynamics always repeat themselves.
Between about 1590 and 1613, Shakespeare wrote at least 37 plays and collaborated on several more. All plays can be accessed here: