10 of the Best Restoration Plays Everyone Should Read

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

Restoration comedies and tragedies often get overlooked in our rush to celebrate the Elizabethan and Jacobean drama of Marlowe, Shakespeare, and Jonson. Yet any survey of English literature would be substantially poorer if it didn’t mention Aphra Behn, William Wycherley, or William Congreve. Below we introduce ten of the greatest works of Restoration theatre – comedies and tragedies, though mostly the former.

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10 of the Best Plays by Women Dramatists

The best plays by women

The first named writer in world history was a woman, Enheduanna. Yet as Virginia Woolf pointed out in A Room of One’s Own, Shakespeare’s hypothetical sister Judith would have found it impossible to make it in the world of Elizabethan theatre. But in fact, ever since the time of Shakespeare, women have found a way to write for the English (or American) stage, and have changed the way we think about theatre. In this pick of 10 of the greatest plays by women writers, we’ve tried to include a representative chronological range, from the early years of female dramatists through to the present day.

Elizabeth Cary, Viscountess Falkland, The Tragedy of Mariam, the Fair Queen of Jewry. This play is a notable first in English history, since it’s the first original play written in English by a woman under her own name. (There had been an earlier English female dramatist – a Tudor translator by the name of Joanna Lumley – but Cary’s is the first substantial dramatic work composed, rather than translated, by a woman.) Written in the early 1600s and first performed in 1613, The Tragedy of Mariam is about the second wife of Herod the Great, whose sister Salome convinces Herod that Mariam has been unfaithful to her husband.

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The Best Henrik Ibsen Plays Everyone Should Read

The best plays of Henrik Ibsen

Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) is undoubtedly the most famous Norwegian playwright who has ever lived. He wrote a number of classic plays in a variety of modes and genres, so in this post we’ve limited ourselves to five of Ibsen’s very best plays.

Hedda Gabler. The role of Hedda Gabler is often considered ‘the female Hamlet’, since actresses want to tackle the role and offer their own interpretation of the character. When her father died, the headstrong Hedda married Tesman, a struggling history lecturer, but soon realises she has made a terrible mistake. This 1890 play is one of Ibsen’s finest achievements, with the tragedy of Hedda’s life unfolding before us on the stage.

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10 of the Best Classical Plays Everyone Should Read

The best drama from the ancient world

For over 2,000 years, the Greek dramatist Menander’s works were lost. Then, in the twentieth century, they were rediscovered. Menander was praised by his contemporaries as a great comic playwright – some even said the greatest, beating even Aristophanes into second place. But when Menander’s work was rediscovered in the twentieth century, it was something of a disappointment. Translators and Greek scholars were lukewarm in their praise for the newly discovered Menander material. He was, perhaps, the first writer to be the victim of over-hype surrounding his work.

All of this makes us wonder: which are the greatest plays of the classical era? What are the finest ancient Greek and Roman plays? Here is our pick of ten of the best. We’ve tried to offer as great a range of authors as possible here, so have restricted ourselves to just two entries by the same playwright (which proved difficult with some playwrights who wrote a number of classic plays).

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