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TOPIC: The Top 10 Shakespeare Scenes

The Top 10 Shakespeare Scenes 4 months 3 weeks ago #7435

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'To be or not to be'' - these are probably the most famous words uttered in literature. However, they do not move the Shakespearean actor and director John Bell as much as the balcony tryst in Romeo and Juliet. To mark the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare, Bell has put together a list of his favourite scenes. He shies away from the famous soliloquies to compile a top 10 typified by unmatched tension, emotional volatility, complex characterisation and even on-stage violence.

10 THE MURDER OF DUNCAN IN MACBETH
Macbeth's killing of the king occurs offstage. A bell rings, an owl shrieks and Macbeth strides on stage to tell his wife the deed is done. The king is dead. ''Shakespeare's dramatic use of pauses, silences and staccato dialogue build a sense of evil and claustrophobic tension that keeps audience members on the edge of their seats,'' Bell says.

9 THE DEATH OF CLEOPATRA IN ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA
Taking an asp from a clown's basket of figs and pressing it to her breast, the Queen of Egypt shows what it takes to die with dignity and style, triumphant over her Roman captors. ''The sudden switch from comedy to tragedy takes the audience unawares,'' Bell says.

8 THE HOVEL SCENE IN KING LEAR
Shakespeare doesn't get more anarchic than this: … a king whose grip on reality is loosening has been led to a desolate heath in the company of his jester and Edgar, who is disguised as a madman. ''The talk is crazy, more absurd than anything Samuel Beckett could think up,'' Bell says. He played Lear in a 2010 production.

7 THE DEATH OF DESDEMONA IN OTHELLO
Bell watched a young Maggie Smith play Desdemona opposite Sir Laurence Olivier's Othello in London's Old Vic Theatre in 1964, not once but four times. It was that good. ''Desdemona's quiet suffering is more heartbreaking than the deaths of Romeo and Juliet,'' he says. Her love of Othello absolute, the guileless Desdemona is woken by her husband's designs for murder. She begs for her life and, when her pleadings fail to soften his resolve, she submits passively to her fate.

6 THE CLOSET SCENE IN HAMLET
Hamlet's furious quarrel with his mother in her private quarters hints of wild sexual jealousy. ''Hamlet is disgusted by his mother's sex life and her haste in marrying Claudius so soon after the old king's death,'' Bell says. ''Gertrude comes to realise the irreparable rift she has caused. It's a tough role to play, the actor needs loads of self-control, to pace and pitch Hamlet's rage. Peak too early and the scene becomes shrill.''

5 PYRAMUS AND THISBE IN A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM
Shakespeare was in confident form when he parodied Romeo and Juliet in this play within a play, which sent up the theme of forbidden love. A group of amateur actors badly act out the story of Pyramus and Thisbe - two lovers whose romance is thwarted by a lion. ''The comedy lies in the stumbles and pratfalls and never fails to bring the house down,'' Bell says.

4 THE BALCONY SCENE IN ROMEO AND JULIET
Not regarded as literature's greatest love scene for nothing, Juliet's declarations of love for the son of her family's sworn enemy are ''drop-dead romantic'', Bell says. The balcony scene, evocative of the sweet youthful passion of infatuation, ''could ring true for any modern-day lovers separated by sectarian conflicts, be it Northern Ireland or the Middle East''.

3 KATE AND PETRUCHIO MEET IN THE TAMING OF THE SHREW
Two of the wittiest characters in the Shakespearean stable go head-to-head in this knock-down verbal stoush. ''Their growing sexual attraction is expressed in lots of snappy oneliners and loads of horseplay,'' says Bell, though it ''never reads as well on the page as on the stage''. Without doubt, he says, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor made these roles their own.

2 RICHARD III WOOS LADY ANNE IN RICHARD III
Over the coffin of Anne's dead husband, Richard III uses every sleazy tactic imaginable to seduce her, Bell says, stretching audience credulity when he eventually slips his ring on her finger. Yet, in bringing her around to forgiveness and marriage, Richard demonstrates ''his genius for persuasion and charm''.

1 BRUTUS AND CASSIUS QUARREL IN JULIUS CAESAR
Sir John Gielgud and James Mason played the unravelling of a friendship between Caesar's murderous conspirators best, Bell says. The row escalates until Cassius, in a fit, offers himself up for Brutus to stab, since Brutus thinks he's such a corrupt guy. ''The volcanic exchange exposes the weaknesses of their characters - Brutus is guilty of vanity and priggishness and Cassius of self interest and insecurity. Their friendship never has time to recover.''
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The Top 10 Shakespeare Scenes 4 months 3 weeks ago #7436

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A few more Top 10 Shakespeare Lists:

Top 10 Plays Everyone Should Know
Hamlet
Romeo & Juliet
King Lear
Macbeth
Othello
Midsummer Night's Dream
Julius Caesar
Taming of the Shrew
The Tempest
The Merchant of Venice

Plays That Show You're Well Read
Twelfth Night
Much Ado About Nothing
As You Like It
Richard 3
Henry 5
Henry 4.1
Henry 4.2
Richard 2
Antony & Cleopatra
Measure for Measure

Plays With Which to Seriously Impress Your Teacher
Winter's Tale
Comedy of Errors
Coriolanus
Two Gentlemen of Verona
Titus Andronicus
Henry 6.1
Henry 6.2
Henry 6.3
Love's Labour's Lost
Merry Wives of Windsor

Plays for Hardcore Shakespeareans
King John
Troilus & Cressida
All's Well That Ends Well
Timon of Athens
Pericles
Cymbeline
Two Noble Kinsmen
Henry 8
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The Top 10 Shakespeare Scenes 4 months 3 weeks ago #7437

  • Steve Minkin
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Great lists!

I'd like to offer as a candidate for one of the greatest scenes the recognition scene from Pericles.

Pericles wanders from one catastrophe to another, searching for clues to the fate of his long lost daughter. He washes up on a shore where the local authority sends its most beautiful and charming woman to cheer up the stranger, and as she sings the story of her life Pericles realizes it is his long lost daughter, Marina, before him: "Put me to present pain, / Lest this great sea of joys rushing upon me / O'erbear the shores of my mortality, / And drown me with their sweetness."

TS Eliot wrote of the scene: "To my mind the finest of all the 'recognition scenes' is Act V,i of that very great play Pericles. It is a perfect example of the 'ultra-dramatic', a dramatic action of beings who are more than human... or rather, seen in a light more than that of day."
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