When the website Priceonomics took on the question, “What is Shakespeare’s Most Popular Play?” journalist Dan Kopf decided to use number of performances as the most objective measuring stick.
“There are a range of approaches to answering this question. You could look at the many online polls and reviews, or the vast scholarly literature. But they all disagree,” Kopf writes in his article. “We suggest a different approach: Just look at which play gets performed the most.”
The most comprehensive data available, he said, is Shakespeareances.com’s Bard on the Boards list “What’s Playing Where." At his request, I provided him an archive of that page dating back to Shakespeareances.com’s launch in 2011, a record of almost 2,000 productions, and from that Kopf compiled a ranking of all the plays in the Shakespeare canon.
Number one: A Midsummer Night’s Dream followed by Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, Hamlet, and then, at number five, The Taming of the Shrew. That last surprised me, because my list of Shakespeare plays I’ve seen tracks with Kopf’s findings through the first four, but Comedy of Errors slips in at five ahead of Shrew (never mind the oft-stated notion that The Taming of the Shrew is considered out of touch with 21st century sensitivities.)
Kopf interviewed me and other Shaespeare experts for analysis of his findings, but he also did a comparative list of the plays’ popularity in the United States and the rest of the world. Same play tops both lists, but the U.S. number two, Romeo and Juliet, doesn’t make the non-U.S. top ten.
The article concludes with the best kind of data: Mya Gosling of GoodTickleBrain.com’s flow chart, "Which Shakespeare Play Should I See?”
To read Kopf’s full article on Priceonomics.com, visit priceonomics.com/what-is-shakespeares-most-popular-play/. For the ranking of plays I’ve seen, go to www.shakespeareances.com/about/plays_rank.html. And, of course, keep checking in at Bard on the Boards, which is updated weekly.
September 23, 2016