Regarded as the greatest writer in the English language as well as the world’s preeminent dramatist, William Shakespeare has many other accomplishments to his
name. He was an accomplished poet and actor. His plays have been translated into
every major living language, including Klingon. He lived past the age of 50 despite living
in the 1500s. He married the second-most-famous woman named Anne Hathaway. (And he married her when he was eighteen and she was twenty-five, which is super cool). But for our purposes, we today examine the legacy of William Shakespeare; one of
history’s greatest wits, a man of infinite jest, a real laugh-a-minute type-dude—a jokester. Here is my definitive, authoritative ranking of every Shakespeare play, based on how much they make us laugh. For, as the Bard wrote, “there is nothing either yuks or gags, but laughing makes it so.”
38. Titus Andronicus
I’ve only seen the poster for the Anthony Hopkins movie version, and on it his face is painted all blue: the color of profound sadness. Put a clown nose or draw a dick on that face and then we’ll talk. In the meantime, sorry, Tony.
37. Henry VIII
This play is known as “the Shakespeare play with the most stage directions.” It was also the play whose effects caused the Old Globe to burn to the ground.
36. Two Noble Kinsmen
This play is adapted from the same source as A Knight’s Tale with Heath Ledger. No one sings “We Will Rock You” in this play. Ergo, booooooooooo. A-booooooooo!
35. King Lear
George Bernard Shaw once wrote that “no man will ever write a better tragedy than Lear.” Graham Techler once wrote that “George Bernard Shaw once wrote that ‘no man will ever write a better tragedy than Lear.’” Case: closed.
34. The Tempest
Stephano is a drunk. Alcohol abuse causes 88,000 deaths every year in the United States. Not funny.
33. As You Like It
If I were a really clever critic, my headline would read “As I DIDN’T Like It.” And that’s why they call me Graham “Snappy” Techler.
32. Love’s Labour’s Lost
When a movie shows us the funny, that means more butts in seats. The 2000 musical adaptation of this play failed to show audiences the funny when it grossed a mere $300,000 of its $13 million budget. That means there were no butts in seats, because the movie was not showing us the funny.
31. Richard III
The great actor Anthony Sher portrayed Richard by literalizing his “spiderlike” movements implied by the line “why strew’st thou sugar on that bottled spider?” People that move like spiders: not funny.
30. All’s Well That Ends Well
This play features a character named Lavatch, a clown in the household of the Countess of Rousillon. A clown named Lavatch once knelt beside be at this kid Spencer’s birthday party and whispered in my ear “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, will never put you together again.” This play sucks.
29. Julius Caesar
I once saw a production of this play at the American Repertory Theatre in 2006 where, for the entirety of the fifth act, there was a car hanging from the ceiling, and the entire cast and crew did a dance to a British synthpop song at the end. Something’s going on in this play that I don’t understand, and that makes it ROYALLY UNFUNNY.
28. Twelfth Night
I auditioned for this play in high school with a Malvolio monologue and bombed horribly and didn’t get the part and I think the director hated me after that. So either Twelfth Night isn’t funny, or I’m not funny, or both, but I’m done with it regardless.
27. Timon of Athens
This is not a particularly funny play, probably because it was co-written by Thomas Middleton, who was a miserable shit. It was later adapted by Thomas Shadwell in 1674 into a play called The History of Timon of Athens, the Man-Hater. For real. That play would rank much higher, but no dice.
26. Much Ado About Nothing
The climax of this play hinges on pretending the heroine has died and then pretending that heroine is actually her own twin sister who doesn’t exist so that this guy Claudio can marry her anyway. I am also too confused to be laughing right now.
25. Troilus and Cressida
One of Priam’s sons is named Margareton, which is a bananas way of masculinizing the name “Margaret.” Theoretically funny, but in my mind this play is trying way too hard.
I could literally say whatever I wanted about Cymbeline and no one would correct me because no one has ever seen or read this play. Make up your own mind, sheeple.
23. and 22. Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2
You would think these plays would rank among the funniest due to the inclusion of Falstaff, perhaps Shakespeare’s greatest comic creation. But you forget that it also features the complicated politics of a divided nation, which used to be hilarious, but really isn’t anymore.
21. Pericles, Prince of Tyre
The only funny thing about this play is that it’s co-author—George Wilkins—had the job title of “pamphleteer.”
Most of this play is pretty unfunny, but its implied that both Cassio and Othello has a big dick: the funniest size for the funniest organ.
19, 18, and 17. Henry VI, Parts 1, 2, and 3
Part 2 includes a real scene where rebels cut off two nobles’ heads, put them on spears, lift them into the air, and make them kiss each other. Pretty fuckin’ cool, and makes you laugh because it’s pretty fuckin’ cool. But that’s about it.
16. Antony and Cleopatra
It is impossible to classify this play as a tragedy as Aristotle defined it, which means that Aristotle thought this play was really funny? Who am I to question that kind of air-tight logic?
15. The Taming of the Shrew
I don’t want to ruffle any feathers on this one, because as we all know there’s nothing funny or tolerable about misogyny in any form. I just can’t get over how shrews are like mice with super long noses and it’s so cute and so funny and that’s gonna win out in the end. Sorry, everyone.
14. The Merchant of Venice
A precedent for the Jewish humor of Seinfeld, I imagine. I haven’t read it.
Normally, any play that includes ghosts (which are scary, and not funny) would be immediately disqualified, but whoo-ee that look on Fortinbras’ face when he gets there and everyone is dead, like “Guys?! What happened?!” Priceless.
Contrary to popular belief, the funniest thing about this play is not the “anus” in its title, but in fact Coriolanus’ idea to let Aufidius kill him just to spite Brutus, Sicinius and the other Romans. WHAT? Wacky!
11. Two Gentlemen of Verona
In this play, a group of friends travel to Las Vegas for a bachelor party to celebrate Doug’s (Justin Bartha) impending marriage. However, Phil, Stu and Alan wake up with the groom missing and no memory of the previous night’s events, and must find him before the wedding can take place. Three stars.
10. The Merry Wives of Windsor
Phil, Stu, Alan and Doug travel to Thailand for Stu’s wedding. After the bachelor party in Las Vegas, Stu takes no chances and opts for a safe, subdued pre-wedding brunch. Things do not go as planned, resulting in another bad hangover with no memories of the previous night. Four and a half stars.
9. Measure for Measure
The film follows the “Wolfpack” (Phil, Stu, Doug and Alan) as they try to get Alan the help he needs after facing a personal crisis. However, things go awry when an incident from the original film comes back to haunt them. Five stars.
8. Henry V
There’s this part towards the end where, on the eve of battle, Henry wanders into his camp and talks with all these random soldiers about what they think of Henry as King but, like, they don’t know it’s really him they’re talking to. The whole thing is basically a super classy episode of Undercover Boss, and nails all the yuk-yuk beats of that landmark comedy series.
7. Richard II
Richard is GAY. GAY, guys. It’s heavily implied, y’all. Scholars barely dispute it. He’s GAY. A man in the play! A gay man! In a play! It’s nuts, and if you’re not like “WHAT?? FOR REAL?! A GAY MAN?!?” then you don’t know comedy and comedy don’t know you.
6. The Winter’s Tale
“Exit, pursued by a bear.” Need I say more? Loses a few points because it takes place during winter, the same season as Russia’s War with Finland in 1939, which was a total disaster.
5. King John
Oh fucking Jesus Christ that scene where Cardinal Pandolf comes from Rome accusing John of papal treason and excommunicates him, then pledges his support for Louis, which makes his father Philip feel weird because of his recently established family ties with John. Oh man. That bit was so fucking funny it gave my grandmother an infarction and now she’s gone.
4. Romeo and Juliet
He thinks she’s dead so he kills himself then she wakes up and sees him dead so she kills herself? This masterful comedy has the all the intricate plotting and dramatic irony of a mid-season three episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
“Is this a dagger which I see before me, The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.” If that isn’t a grade A joke about jerkin’ it, I don’t know what is.
2. A Midsummer Night’s Dream
This is arguably Shakespeare’s most famous comedy, and if you still doubt that it’s super funny, you need only head to your local community theatre, middle school, high school, or park, and I’m sure a group of well-intentioned performers would be more than happy to set you straight.
1. The Comedy of Errors
Mistaken identities? That’s the oldest comic trope in the book! And therefore the funniest! It’s just simple math! No analysis necessary! Good job The Comedy of Errors! You are the funniest/least-unfunny Shakespeare play! Bye!
Graham Techler is a New York-based writer and actor. Follow him at @grahamtechler.