Literature, for all these years, has had one thing in common, always being pictured in the wrong aspect. The most obvious and at the same time absurd thing that comes in the way is, “ Oh! So you study literature, what does it have, stories! That’s boring”. But let’s face the irony of the statement, where all these people frame literature as boring storybooks, they also tend to applaud movies that have the same storyline or are an adaptation.
Well, the fact remains that literature ain’t about stories. Like they say, “literature is an imitation of life” and so it is. With all the distinct genres, eras and imitations, literature lets the seed grow of time that depicts the reality of a certain century, place or person. From Mahabharata to Iliad, every piece of literature carries reality curtained in words. And to celebrate this variant versatility, we bring to you the 15 greatest plays of all time.
Top 15 Plays That You Need To Have On Your Shelf
1. Rhinoceros | Eugene Ionesco
To start off with, we picked up for you the critically acclaimed author Eugene Ionesco and his 20th-century play, Rhinoceros. Now, the era of the 20th century had something for the absurd theory and not to forget, it was also the time of Theater of the Absurd. A lot of us might not know what exactly does the term absurdity or absurd theatre equates to. Well, for beginners let’s put in a layman’s language, where the point of this kind of literature, as well as theatre, is to depict the reality of human nature, of how a common thing is actually a reason we give to ourselves to live to save ourselves from the crisis of existentialism. Sounds heavy? Well, you don’t need to worry, for, on the surface level the play is a comedy that has tragedy and terrific conditions turned into laughter.
2. The Ways Of The World | William Congreve
This play is “Mera Naam Joker” of literature. Why would I say this? William Congreve made such a brilliant effort with this play but the saddening news was that the play was structured way ahead of its time and thus it was a fail for the critics even after having so much new to it. One thing that needs to be noted about the play is the fact that it was the first play ever where the female characters were played by females themselves or else before it all the characters, male or female, both were played by men. One another thing interesting thing about the play and also one of the reasons it failed is that, the female character in this play was given voice and power, where the lead female character was allowed to choose her own husband and on her own terms. Not to forget the marital affairs in the play. As we said, depicting reality, Congreve did it with stark moves where he portrayed how human relationships have come down to materialism and not love.
3. Doctor Faustus | Christopher Marlowe
In the books of playwrights, there are some names that will never die, like William Shakespeare, and his successor Christopher Marlowe. Although there have been a number of controversial debates about William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe when it comes to their career the undeniable fact remains that both of them have been and till date holds the position of being revolutionary playwrights. They had their own understanding and writing styles from the rest. For that matter, while some critics have also found similarities in their work, some regard them as a symbol of two different eras. So, coming back to Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, this play speaks everything about magic, power, afterlife, hell, Satan and redemption. It’s a play of scientists whose pride in his success ruins his life, so much so that he can not even die and live only in hell. A must-read play of all times.
4. A Streetcar Named Desire | Tennessee Williams
A play crafted on the broken hearts of the Americans, of a rich girl falling in love with an industrial revolution struck boy, who marries and moves to the other side of the country, and of a sister who pretends to be rich, happy and independent. A play of shallow lives, tortured souls, pain, grief and rape. Tennessee Williams pens in blood the reality of life after the industrial revolution hit the grounds, about how the aristocracy melted and how all of this not just affected the country’s economy but also personal souls. The play typically presents how a sudden evolution can actually lead to mental as well as nerves breakdown for people were things like values, god, love, faith, relations, everything fades to fall apart as a brutal, cruel reality.
5. Ghosts | Henrik Ibsen
If we just stand by the name of the play it might look like some horror story of supernatural powers. But that’s the thing about literature, it always gives you surprises. Not that the play turns out to be a comedy, no, in fact, according to what Henrik Ibsen wanted to portray, the ghost remains there, but the whole key is to find out what this ghost is. Probably the sudden call of death, the broken relationships, corruption in marriage, or sexually transmitted diseases. We would totally break the doors open for you but what’s the thrill in it! A very quick and short play, it is good to read for all those who probably want to foresee a different chapter in life.
6. Silence! The Court Is In Session | Vijay Tendulkar
Modern era literature to most of us remains most remarkable for we can easily relate to its characters, situation and speech. While we are just witnessing #metoo, plays like these had already had such themes decades ago. A play within a play as it is mostly acknowledged as, Vijay Tendulkar’s play is originally in Marathi, where it reached heights of fame, whenever the play was translated into English so as to reach a wider audience. The play, Silence! The Court Is In Session, shows how the character of an unmarried woman was questioned by her own colleagues in the form of a mock court trial.
The entire play portrays how the male-dominated society questioned the woman for not marrying, for having a relationship with a married professor and for getting pregnant before marriage. The irony that Vijay Tendulkar wished to present was how even other women questioned their own sex and no one pointed at the act of cheating that the professor was involved in where he was in an extramarital affair with some other woman. The play talks about the hypocrisy of modern society, where we say we are modern and pertain to a broad mindset, but in reality, we do not.
7. Hamlet | William Shakespeare
Hamlet is probably that one play about which everyone has heard, either in school or in college or just in conversation. It is undoubtedly one of the most famous plays of all time that has witnessed a lot of adaptations either in theatres or cinema. Not to forget, the movie Haider, starring Shahid Kapoor was a clear adaptation of the play. To be or not be is the question that pertains throughout the play. Not put as a fancy line but as the perplexity of the mind of Prince Hamlet, where his father has been killed, his mother has cheated him by marrying his own uncle who plotted at killing his father. Prince Hamlet deals with failing relationships, hatred and family corruption all at the same time. Now how does all of this ends is something to read about.
Read also – Top 15 Must-Read Classic Novels
8. Oedipus Rex | Sophocles
How many of you have heard the term ‘Oedipus complex? Have you ever heard the concept that a son is close to his mother and when he looks for a life partner he tries to find the attributes of his mother in his wife? Now here is a play that gave way to this concept. Oedipus Rex by Sophocles is among the oldest plays ever written wherein at Oedipus’s birth was it was prophesied that he would kill his own father to marry his mother. Although he was abandoned soon after his birth, the play is all about understanding his journey and the power of fate. Did he marry his mother or did he not??
9. Othello | William Shakespeare
One of the most talked-about plays of its time, Othello reached a great of liking back in the days of Shakespeare. And the fact that Shakespeare did not write tragic plays very often made it steal the limelight even more. Also, Shakespeare writing about a black man who got all the powers and respect but later killed his own white wife gave him both good and bad criticism. Bagging the light of the audience and the critics all at once, this play has always stood as a must-read on our shelves.
10. Twelfth Night | William Shakespeare
Not that we are a Shakespeare fan, but when you talk of literature, especially plays, you just can’t neglect Shakespeare. Just as we told you in the above pointer, it is rare for Shakespeare to write a tragedy play, so here we bring to you one of his comedy plays- Twelfth Night. Well, we won’t disclose the key of laughter and puns for you here, but one thing which we can uncurtain for you is how the play is full of disguises, gypsy lifestyle and love stories.
11. Death Of A Salesman | Arthur Miller
A very modern play once again, where Arthur Miller as a playwright has closely captured the difficulties of human nature with the correct amount of industrial revolution and loss of confidence pinched into the dialogues of the play. Death of a Salesman is the story of every middle class man who is trying to lift the standard of living for himself and his family. It is a play of the people and for the people, where the protagonist fails, outshines and then fails again but in different aspects and relations.
12. Andha Yug | Bharati
Andha Yug, as the name pertains, is an Indian play adapted from the popular Mahabharata where the characters of the play are named after the characters in the Indian mythology but depict in a very embellished form the then political scenario of the country. Bharati has closely used the personality of political figures like Jawaharlal Nehru and Gandhi among others, named as the characters of Mahabharata. Like it has been always said that literature in its way depicts the reality of the times the piece was written in, so does Andha Yug portray the conditions of the country in that time.
13. A Doll’s House | Henrik Ibsen
What if she did not open the door and did not leave the house? What if she cared about what the world will say and stay for her kids and husband? What if, like thousands of women her age, she would have just adjusted to the ways of the world and not fought for herself? Maybe, in that case, Henrik Ibsen’s this piece of visualization would have gone under the huge amount of literary works that show the passivity, pain and helplessness of women. The mere fact that he did not follow the route of all and took the road less travelled gave him all the success.
14. The Rover | Aphra Behn
This play by Aphra Behn, if read in this era would not constitute a wow experience unless read with the insights about the era in which the play was written. Fact one, Aphra Behn was the first female playwright to not just write but also publish as well as present to the audience. Fact two, she as a playwright and also as an individual had a very strong and rebellious state of mind and personality, where she fought the patriarchy. Fact three, her play was the only rebellious play of that era that had women in power in a mode of a rebel. Aphra Behn, with the power of her pen, wanted to not just stand against the male-dominated society but also bring out the hidden words of women.
15. Waiting For Godot | Samuel Beckett
“What are we waiting for?”
And it continued this way till the end.
To many people, this play would not make much sense if read plainly. But let us put a very recent example for you in here. Have you watched the “flat lime soda” episode of Sketchy Behavior? If yes, then let us unfold to you that the whole concept of the series had been this very play, where the characters are talking and demanding of a thing that they do not know to exist while they just wait for it. The play follows a similar pattern, where the characters wait till the end for Godot and the irony is that they do not know if Godot exists. Now, this Godot could be anything, most likely, God. The whole point here is that Samuel Beckett with this play brought to life the Theatre of Absurd where he talks extensively about existentialism, absurdism, nothingness and every little detail of what we go through now in a tragic-comic tone. Why is it top our list? Well, you need to read it to know it.
Read also – Top 15 Epic Love Stories of Indian History