Heads up! We’re working hard to be accurate – but these are unusual times, so please always check before heading out.
You’d think Shakespeare comedies would be as universal as his tragedies—but across the centuries, some don’t age well. It’s been that way since the ancient Greeks: Aristophanes would slay ’em at the amphitheater, but today, you’re lucky to hear the punch line above the snores. Shakespeare comedies do have basic, relatable features. First is verbal wit (punning, insults and bawdy badinage), which has lost some zing as word usage changed. Second is clowning: hard to appreciate since we have no visual record of the slapstick routines (we’re guessing lots mugging and falling down). Third is the sweetest of his humor tactics, and that’s romantic comedy. Often very charming, his rom-com is also subject to evolving attitudes about gender, sexuality and the patriarchy. And yet for all these qualifications, Shakespeare is funny. Really! Sure, his tragedies and histories dominate our favorite Shakespeare-to-screen adaptations, but in live performance, his farces can still sparkle. We could sit all day playing Fantasy Bard, casting these plays with the funniest New Yorkers. Below find our rankings of most comical to, well, not so much. Thanks to Theatre for a New Audience, Shakespeare’s Globe in London and the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park for lending us images of their side-splitting productions.