Based on the overwhelming response to yesterday’s post listing my top five and twenty favorite scenes from Shakespeare, I’ve decided to post my next five and twenty favorite scenes from Shakespeare. The standard disclaimers apply.
50. Antony and Cleopatra: Act 5, Scene 2
The captured Cleopatra has been placed on suicide watch. But she has a poisonous asp smuggled in, and delivers the fatal wound to her bosom. “Does thou not see the baby at my breast,/That sucks the nurse asleep?”
49. Macbeth: Act 5, Scene 5
In the heat of battle preparations, Macbeth receives news that his wife has died. He allows himself a reflective moment where he ponders the meaninglessness of brief life. And for that moment, we remember that this monster was once a human being with the capacity for reason and love.
48. Richard the Third: Act 3, Scene 7
In the final stages of his plan to seize the crown, Richard orchestrates a show where his friends and lackeys beg him to be king, and he says no. Finally, he relents. “I am not made of stone”
47. Henry the Fourth, Part Two: Act 5, Scene 5
Now that his buddy Prince Hal has become King Henry the Fifth, Falstaff thinks that he’s going to play a very important role in the new administration. Falstaff has another think coming.
46. As You Like It: Act 3, Scene 2
This is a somewhat varied scene, and a lot of fun things happen in it, but the main point is that, having discovered that Orlando is writing love poems to her and hanging them on trees in the forest, Rosalind decides to allow him to believe she is a boy, and offers to cure him of his love by pretending to be his love.
45. Henry the Sixth, Part One: Act 2, Scene 4
In the Temple garden, partisans of the King and of Richard Plantagenet pluck red and white roses respectively to show their support. Could this lead to war? And what might we call such a war?
44. Macbeth: Act 1, Scene 3
Returning from battle, Banquo and Macbeth are greeted by three witches who predict that Macbeth will become Thane of Cawdor and then King. Then, messengers from the King arrive and tell Macbeth he has just been named Thane of Cawdor. Things that make you go hmmm…
43. Hamlet: Act 3, Scene 2
Unsure whether or not to trust the ghost’s word, Hamlet stages a play mirroring the circumstances of his father’s death, so he can watch his uncle’s reaction. Does the plan work? Big time. And Hamlet’s famous advice to the players is in this scene, too.
42. Henry the Sixth, Part One: Act 4, Scene 5
The great Lord Talbot fears that his forces will be defeated in tomorrow’s battle. So he sends for his son, young John Talbot, and tells him to flee before the battle. John refuses, and they debate in rhymed couplets. It’s not a long scene – go read it.
41. King Lear: Act 1, Scene 4
The banished Kent returns in disguise and offers to serve Lear. We meet the Fool, whose jests reveal both a fondness for Lear and a bitter disapproval of his actions. Lear’s curse on Goneril at the end makes the scene extraordinary.
40. Henry the Fifth: Act 2, Scene 2
Henry has discovered three traitors among his officers. Before revealing this, he asks them what the penalty should be for traitors. His own oratory in this scene is powerful.
39. Julius Caesar: Act 4, Scene 3
Brutus and Cassius, having murdered Caesar, now lead an army against his partisans. In this scene, the growing tensions between them explode, and lead to an unexpected outcome.
38. Henry the Fourth, Part Two: Act 4, Scene 5
Prince Hal finds his father asleep, assumes he’s dead, and helps himself to the crown. When Hal returns, Dad’s awake, and the two of them have at it. And at the end of the scene, the prophecy he’s been talking about since like two plays ago is fulfilled.
37. Othello: Act 4, Scene 3
A quiet scene between Emilia and Desdemona before all hell breaks loose. This is a study in contrast between the innocent naif Desdemona and the world-wise Emelia.
36. Macbeth: Act 5, Scene 1
Lady Macbeth has been a rock through all of the killing and deception that put her husband on the throne. But now she’s sleepwalking, and everything comes out. Except for that spot of blood.
35. King John: Act 4, Scene 1
King John has sent Hubert to murder the young Arthur to eliminate his challenge to the throne. But the boy talks Hubert out of it. Shakespeare wrote this play after losing his own young son to the plague.
34. Romeo and Juliet: Act 2, Scene 2
Well, what can I say? It’s the balcony scene.
33. Much Ado About Nothing: Act 4, Scene 1
Hero is disgraced by Claudio at their wedding and her cousin Beatrice is beside herself. Claudio’s friend Benedick stays to comfort her. And amid this emotional turmoil, they confess their feelings for each other. He tells her he’ll do anything for her. Her response: “Kill Claudio.”
32. Hamlet: Act 5, Scene 2
Talk about a big finish. This scene is so imprinted on our collective psyche that it almost turns invisible when making a list like this. Almost.
31. Julius Caesar: Act 3, Scene 1
I really like the pacing of the lines just before the assassination. After the deed, the killers are so sure of history’s favorable judgment. And finally comes Antony’s stirring monologue. But my favorite part of this scene is the first two lines.
30. The Taming of the Shrew: Act 2, Scene 1
The first meeting between Petruchio and Kate. Need I say more?
29. King Lear: Act 4, Scene 7
Lear is rescued by and reunited with the daughter he banished. His mind is nearly gone by now, but as he begins to recognize her, he is deeply ashamed of his earlier behavior.
28. Macbeth: Act 3, Scene 4
King Macbeth sees the murdered Banquo at a banquet, but nobody else can see him. Is this the ghost of Banquo come to haunt him, or another hallucination brought on by guilt?
27. Twelfth Night: Act 1, Scene 5
Here we see the first meeting between Olivia and the disguised Viola. At first, Olivia toys with the youth, but then realizes that there’s more to this young “man” than meets the eye.
26. Richard the Second: Act 4, Scene 1
Richard’s reluctant abdication paints a portrait of a man who never asked to be king, but can’t quite give it up. It’s a moment in English history that sparked enough strife for no less than eight Shakespearean histories.