Jane Austen Novels Ranked

To round out the recent Jane Austen coverage on my blog, I thought I’d go through and rank all* of her books from my least favorite to favorite**.

*I have only read her six completed full-length novels! I have not read her complete works and at this point in my life I do not intend to, but never say never.

**Please note that my word choice is deliberate: this is not a ranking of her novels from worst to best. That list would look very different and is not the aim of this blog post, before you get mad at me. Respectful disagreement about my personal ranking is, of course, more than welcome.

I’d also like to take a moment to talk generally about this experience of reading through her novels. Before this year, the only Jane Austen novel I’d read was Northanger Abbey, which had such a negligible impact on my life that my Goodreads review in its entirety was, and I quote: “This was the single most inoffensive reading experience of my life. I didn’t like this book. I didn’t dislike this book. I have no opinion on this book and I have absolutely nothing else to say.”

That said, I always knew that Northanger Abbey was a somewhat ridiculous place to start, and I always intended to give her a proper chance at some point. That opportunity presented itself in January of this year when a group of friends and I decided that we would read through her novels together in a book club, meeting on the final Sunday of each month to talk about them.

Reading them in this context was a good choice for me, because it really helped keep my momentum up throughout this project. What I very, very quickly discovered was: Jane Austen is not for me. And that is okay! I fully acknowledge the merit of her works while also acknowledging that her stories and characters have very little impact on me. I don’t love her prose, I don’t enjoy immersing myself in her stories, and I never feel like picking her books back up when I put them down.

But I’m glad I tried. Reading through Austen’s novels was always a very long-term bucket list goal of mine, so I’m glad I just went ahead and plowed through them all in six months. I also enjoyed reading them roughly in the order they were written, and seeing the change in her style over time.

My recommended reading order, if you were thinking of doing this: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Emma, Persuasion.

Now, without further ado:

6. Emma

Coming in strong with my most controversial opinion: I hated Emma. We’re off to a good start though in illustrating that my personal taste does not align with what I necessarily believe is the ‘correct’ ranking. Do I think this is Austen’s worst novel, not at all. But spending 500 pages with a character I couldn’t stand while the plot effectively went nowhere felt like a tremendous waste of my time and I actually flung this book across the room when I finished; the reading experience was that agonizing for me.

Full review here.

5. Sense and Sensibility

That this was Austen’s first published novel shows — the characters aren’t particularly convincing, the structure is odd and unbalanced, and it’s much too long for what it is. I also found the resolution almost comically unsatisfying and I have to conclude that if Austen had written this book later in her career, Elinor would have ended up with a different love interest. The whole ‘meeting of two minds’ thing that’s so characteristic of most of her romantic pairings is conspicuously absent here, and the whole project falls a bit flat because of it.

Full review here.

4. Pride and Prejudice

Though it was only published two years later, Pride and Prejudice is a much tighter and more cohesive work than Sense and Sensibility, and it’s not difficult to discern why this is largely considered Austen’s masterpiece. Not a single word is wasted in this novel, the character development is sublime, and there is of course a reason that Lizzy and Darcy are the couple of hers that have most endured in our cultural consciousness. Ironically, all of this novel’s assets are also its faults for me — it’s almost too good, it’s almost too neat and tidy. I read it, agreed that ‘yes, that was indeed excellent,’ and I honestly haven’t thought about it since.

Full review here.

3. Northanger Abbey

Slots 3 and 4 on my list was where the tension between ‘best’ and ‘favorite’ was at its strongest when I was trying to figure out where to place these. I don’t think there is a single argument to be made for Northanger Abbey being a better book than Pride and Prejudice, because it simply isn’t. But I can’t deny that I had a lot more fun reading this one. It’s weird, it’s messy, it’s unapologetically absurd, and I enjoyed it all the more for those things. I’m very glad I ended up rereading this one, because I do think I underestimated it the first time I read it. Major points, however, are docked from how much I despise Cathy and Henry’s relationship — never has the Worldly Man and Naive Ingenue pairing rubbed me the wrong way as much as it does here.

Full review here.

2. Persuasion

There’s a huge jump between slots 3 and 2 on this list; Northanger Abbey was merely enjoyable; Persuasion was utterly brilliant. A surprisingly melancholy work, Persuasion marks a real departure for Austen, and one that I’m sure I would have enjoyed following, had she lived longer and been able to write more. I love this novel’s subtlety and maturity; that it’s less ‘witty’ than its predecessors wasn’t exactly a downside for me, as I don’t find the Austenian wit a huge draw to begin with.

Full review here.

1. Mansfield Park

It’s only right that this list is bookended with my two most controversial opinions — 9 out of 10 times on ‘Jane Austen ranked’ lists, you’ll see these two flipped. While Emma is largely regarded to be one of her best novels, Mansfield Park is generally accepted to be her worst; it’s quieter, less romantic, less humorous, and darker than her other works; its heroine is timid and passive. It doesn’t invite the reader to indulge in a fantasy of Regency England — it’s a bit more like Jane Eyre, fusing a bildungsroman structure with stark social commentary. I absolutely adored this book for all of these reasons and more.

Full review here.


What’s your personal Jane Austen ranking?

book review: Persuasion by Jane Austen





PERSUASION by Jane Austen
★★★★★
originally published in 1817




I thought Persuasion was brilliant and when I finished I briefly flirted with the idea that it might be my favorite Austen novel. I ultimately decided that I was downplaying my feelings for Mansfield Park in favor of what I feel might be a technically better book, but I can no longer deny that Mansfield Park touched me in a way that Persuasion did not. 

Still, this is a damn good book. Decidedly more mature and melancholy than most of Austen’s works, Persuasion is probably the slowest of all of Austen’s slow burns, but I felt that the pacing was so deliberate and the setup so juicy that I couldn’t fault it for that. (Plus, it’s 200 pages shorter than Emma.)

Continuing on in my love for Austen’s more reserved heroines, I found Anne Elliot to be a brilliant creation. Having once been persuaded by her family to refuse the proposal of naval officer Frederick Wentworth, Anne finds herself eight years later confronted with Wentworth once again and is forced to face the feelings for him that she thought she had long buried. Interestingly, not a whole lot of interaction between Anne and Wentworth ensues (and there isn’t much plot to speak of beyond a secondary character having a traumatic head injury) — but still Anne and Wentworth’s relationship is one of my favorite things Austen has written. This is an unfalteringly internal work, and Austen chronicles the growth in Anne with such convincing subtlety that this novel’s realism can’t help but to be marveled at.

Some might fault this book for being less witty and humorous than her others, but I think her wit shines through in her piercing observations about class and the shifting social hierarchy. It’s certainly a less lively novel than any of her earlier works, but that’s what I admire so much about it: that Austen was able to create such a compelling and insular story that’s captivating not for its sarcasm and banter, but for its earnest and reflective depiction of two people finding their way back into each other’s lives at the right moment.

book review: Emma by Jane Austen






EMMA by Jane Austen
★★☆☆☆
originally published in 1815




I know that sometimes when reviewing classics I have to fight against the impulse to defer to centuries’ worth of scholarly analysis when my own opinion doesn’t align with the masses: but in this case, I will confidently own the fact that I hated every single second of this book. And I am sure that I will be met with backlash, but this is a subjective blog review. My opinion on this book quite literally does not matter. Please keep scrolling if this offends your Austenite sensibilities. But I do want everyone to know that I think Emma is garbage.

However, what I will also own is the fact that I didn’t choose a particularly prudent moment in my life to read this book. I am going through a situation that made being asked to sympathize with a privileged, entitled, manipulative protagonist feel like having teeth pulled. I know that these qualities objectively make Emma Woodhouse a more interesting character — but I quite literally could not care less! There is nothing on earth I would have resented reading about more in that moment.

Anyway, personal baggage aside, I found this book to be tremendously bloated and self-indulgent. I know that Austen novels aren’t exactly page turners on the best of days, but my god, there was not a single thing here that managed to earn my investment. When I wasn’t irrationally furious about the way Emma was treating Harriet (ok, fine, maybe my personal baggage isn’t totally aside), I was bored out of my mind. I can imagine that a lot of readers are compelled by the fact that Emma doesn’t need to marry in the way that other Austen heroines do, but I found that that took away the very limited intrigue that Austen novels hold for me.

I should also confess that I just don’t really *get* that famous Austenian wit that readers find so endearing, and which seems to be a huge draw for Emma in particular. I just didn’t find this book particularly charming or funny or lively and if that element is taken away, what on earth is even left?

The one thing I will hand this book is that the narration is executed very well, but that doesn’t justify there being 500 pages of it. And make no mistake, the length IS the problem. I felt that a similar length was warranted in Mansfield Park which used those pages to develop theme and social commentary; Emma, in contrast, unfolds like a very straightforward parable, whose trajectory and moral can be summed up in a single sentence, and I have very little patience for this kind of book, where I feel like I get the point about 20 pages in and am then made to suffer through an agonizingly slow pantomime acted out by dull, lifeless, and/or irritating characters.

I should probably give Emma a second chance at some point in my life but I can fairly confidently say that I do not want to, so, here we are. Sorry. At least I will always have Clueless.

book review: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen






MANSFIELD PARK by Jane Austen
★★★★★
originally published in 1814




Full disclosure that I wouldn’t exactly call myself the biggest Austen fan — I can recognize where Pride and Prejudice is romantic and Sense and Sensibility is charming, but personally I remain curiously unmoved by most of her works. But I still went ahead and read through all of them this year, and a few months after having finished this project, the one that stands out to me head and shoulders above the rest is Mansfield Park. This is the only Austen novel I actively enjoyed reading; the only one I thought about when I put it down; the only one that I actually think will be worth revisiting. I’m sure some of you will think I’m being a contrarian just for the sake of it, given that this is widely regarded as her worst novel, but hopefully I can convince you of some of its merits by the end of this (highly anticipated????) review.

One thing that I tend to look for in books, strictly as a personal preference, is high stakes, which are something that’s conspicuously lacking from most Austen novels. This isn’t a criticism; I can’t fault her for something she isn’t trying to do. But it’s the reason I can’t really get into romance narratives; I need there to be something bigger going on than ‘will x and y end up together’. (This isn’t confined solely to the romance genre; it’s the reason Much Ado About Nothing is one of my least favorite Shakespeare plays. Sorry.)

Mansfield Park just had that elevated je ne sais quoi that I was looking for. Unlike most of Austen’s heroines, Fanny Price is poor, with little to no prospects in her life, until she’s plucked from obscurity at age 11 to live with her wealthy cousins at the titular Mansfield Park, who give her quite the Cinderella treatment, with the exception of her cousin Edmund, who actually dares to pay her the time of day. Consequently, Fanny is nothing like the brash Emma Woodhouse or the self-assured Lizzy Bennet or any of the other bold, brazen Austen heroines that are so universally adored — and it’s because she quite literally cannot afford to be. That Fanny’s social status is so precarious added a layer of intrigue for me — the stakes may not be sky high, but suddenly there’s something darker and more sinister at play. 

Fanny herself is, you guessed it!, my favorite heroine for similar reasons. It’s easy to dismiss Fanny for being dull, quiet, and submissive, but the context of her upbringing can’t be ignored. In her rousing defense of Fanny Price from a 2014 Paris Review essay, Tara Isabella Burton writes:

“The qualities of your typical Austen heroine—charming, forward, quick at learning—are rooted in privilege […] And so Fanny is never given the chance to exhibit the qualities of a “good” Austen heroine; she’s told from childhood that she is dull, stupid, and inadequate until she herself internalizes “my situation—my foolishness and awkwardness.” […] In wanting Fanny to be cleverer, bolder, sexier than she is—in wanting her to be more like Mary—we become complicit in the world of Mansfield Park, and in the politics of exclusion through which Mansfield thrives.”

This is what I find so dismaying about the way a lot of people talk about Mansfield Park. To be bored by the novel is one thing, fair enough; but to hate Fanny for her timidity when she is a poor, neglected, emotionally abused child living under the thumb of her cruel and capricious family who expect her to perform nothing but gratitude while failing to allow her a seat at their table is something I can’t quite understand. I also can’t imagine reading a passage like this and not being moved, or maybe this just hit too hard when I think back on the experience of being a Shy Kid who used to live in the background of other people’s stories:

“She could not equal them in their warmth. Her spirits sank under the glow of theirs, and she felt herself becoming too nearly nothing to both, to have any comfort in having been sought by either.”

When Fanny stands up for herself by denying a wealthy suitor that everyone in her life wants her to accept, that moment hits all the harder for the fact that you know exactly what this moment of defiance is costing her. For me, that moment is the boldest display of strength that any Austen character shows.

Choosing to frame this story around Fanny in the first place is also a choice worth examining; her foil, Mary Crawford, an interesting character in her own right, has more in common with Austen’s other heroines than Fanny does. This book isn’t interested in selling the reader a romantic fantasy of living in Regency England, a narrative which could have been achieved quite easily by telling this story through Mary’s eyes — more than in any other work, the social commentary takes center stage, and it was this too that compelled me.

I’ve heard some people say that this book is more intriguing than it is enjoyable, but I have to disagree there too. The sequence of chapters leading up to the play is the most tension I have personally experienced in any Austen novel; I flew through those pages. Say what you will about Edmund and how much or little you personally would want to date him, but I felt Fanny’s love for Edmund in a way that I couldn’t personally feel in a single other Austen novel. I’m not saying that her other heroines weren’t actually in love; just that their love wasn’t communicated to me in a deeper way than simply reading the words on a page. Fanny felt like a real person to me in a way her characters often do not.

This is easily Austen’s most didactic and most conservative work, and my enjoyment of it isn’t meant to be taken as a tacit endorsement of every idea she espouses here about Christian virtue and class and social status. In fact, I agree with almost none of it. But I don’t enjoy books for being a series of observations on life and society that I happen to agree with; I enjoy them for compelling me, moving me, challenging me, and making me think. Mansfield Park achieved all of that and none of Austen’s other novels did, and for that it is my favorite, and one that I wish more people would spend some time with.

book review: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen




NORTHANGER ABBEY by Jane Austen
★★★☆☆
originally published in 1817



I thought I had the full measure of Northanger Abbey when I first read it in 2017, so I nearly opted to skip it when my Jane Austen book club picked it up, but I decided to give it a re-read and I’m very glad I did. Having now read a couple of other Jane Austen novels, I found this book both richer and thornier the second time around, and also a hell of a lot more fun. 

While I did know it was satire the first time around, I didn’t think that made for a more pleasurable reading experience–though in retrospect I think it’s because I still insisted on treating this book with a level of seriousness that it doesn’t ask of the reader. This book is absurd and unapologetically so, and once that clicked for me it ended up working incredibly well–arguably even better than Pride and Prejudice, which is a practically faultless book, unlike Northanger Abbey which is something of a structural mess, but which still left me a bit colder than this one did.

What I continue to dislike about Northanger Abbey is its central romance. There’s no sense that Cathy has met her match with Henry Tilney, or he with her; instead their dynamic where her youthful naivety meets his playful condescension makes my skin crawl. (As someone who’s accustomed to liking books about unlikable characters, this ended up being much more of a sticking point for me than I thought it would, and probably points to my lack of familiarity with the romance genre.)

Anyway, I think I partially like this book for how unpolished and imperfect it is, and of the three Austen novels I’ve read so far, I think this is the one I’m most likely to return to. I keep thinking about it while Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice have almost left my mind entirely.

wrap up: Quarter 1, 2021

In an effort to get my blogging rhythm back, I opted to forgo monthly wrap ups this year; once a month frankly comes around far too frequently for my liking and they feel a bit redundant when I review most books I read anyway.

But I don’t actually review every single book I read and I didn’t want the few I don’t review to slip through the cracks entirely, so I’ve decided to try quarterly wrap ups and see how this works for me. I also thought I’d group this thematically to try to make sense of some patterns in my reading habits rather than just giving you a chronological list.

So, let’s talk through everything I’ve read so far this year.

I’m reading through the complete works of Jane Austen with a book club and so far I’ve read these three: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Northanger Abbey (a reread for me). While I’m not as enthused with Austen as I had hoped I would be, at least not yet, I’m glad I’m doing this and I’m particularly looking forward to diving into her later works. Mansfield Park is up next for April, and I’m hoping to review Northanger Abbey soon and talk about how I had quite a different reaction to it the second time around.

Shakespeare has been occupying considerably less of my time in 2021 than it did in 2020, which is to say… still quite a bit of my time.

The only two plays I’ve reread in their entireties this year outside Project Shakespeare have been Hamlet and Julius Caesar, to prepare for playing Claudius and Cassius respectively. Still two of my top 5 Shakespeare plays, I adore them both.

I’m also making it a project to read every retelling of King Lear that I can get my hands on. I’ve already read The Queens of Innis Lear (meh), A Thousand Acres (brilliant), and the anthology That Way Madness Lies (the Lear story was horrendous but the collection on the whole was inoffensive). I’m currently reading Preti Taneja’s We That Are Young, though I’m not very far into that one yet. Hoping to finish it by the end of April though.

I’ve read three books for BookBrowse so far this year: Dark Horses, The Project, and Edie Richter is Not Alone. I haven’t reviewed this third one yet, but it’s my favorite thing I’ve read so far this year, so stay tuned for that.

After adamantly stating that I will NOT be reading the Women’s Prize longlist this year, I have proceeded to… spend the last few weeks reading the Women’s Prize longlist. Though in my defense, this list is kind of a banger, and I’ve given 5 stars to all three books I’ve read since it was announced: Transcendent Kingdom, Piranesi, and Consent. I’ll review Piranesi soon.

My ARC situation is, as always, utterly out of control, but these are the ones I’ve managed to read so far this year: Open Water (adored!), Filthy Animals (liked, with reservations), The Art of Falling (mixed feelings), Milk Fed (LOVED and also wanted to throttle it), and Kink (not worth your time aside from Brandon Taylor and Carmen Maria Machado’s stories).

And here’s everything else: The Fire Next Time (obviously brilliant), Pages & Co: The Lost Fairy Tales (so sweet, so wholesome; I’ll review the whole series when I’ve read the third one), Real Life (perfection), Big Girl Small Town (underwhelming), Edward II (literally the gayest shit I’ve ever read–adored it), and Are You Somebody? (very by-the-book Irish memoir, lovely audiobook).


I have two reading regrets so far this year: that I haven’t read a single translated book and that I didn’t do more for Reading Ireland Month. So Irish lit and translated lit are both going to get a bit more attention from me in quarter 2, I’m hoping. Otherwise, I’m feeling pretty good about how I’ve managed to balance all my disparate reading interests.

Favorite Shakespeare Monologues

You didn’t think I was done posting about Shakespeare, did you?!

Roughly one year ago, Project Shakespeare was formed, and as a group we’re celebrating our anniversary tomorrow, by performing snippets of different scenes and each performing a monologue that we’ve done at some point over the past year. Everyone in the group voted for which monologue everybody was going to do, and I was voted to do Edmund in King Lear, because of course I was.

But this whole thing, preparing for the Anniversary Extravaganza and looking through monologues I’ve done over the past year, led me to compiling this list of my favorite Shakespeare monologues because damn, are there some good ones. One thing about Shakespeare is that he invented very few of his stories; the reason we still value his works isn’t for their artistic innovation so much as for their language, so that’s what I really wanted to celebrate in this post by going through a few of my favorites. I say ‘a few’ — it’s my top 15. Let’s do this.

Also, this order is kind of arbitrary. I saved my favorite one for last but otherwise I’m grouping plays together where there are multiples from the same play for contextual consistency. Also including some video links when there’s a good video version or one I particularly like.

15. Macbeth in Macbeth 2.1, “Is this a dagger”

Context: Macbeth has just resolved to kill the king Duncan in order to crown himself.

Video: Patrick Stewart

This one’s not that deep (my reasoning for it making this list, that is, not the monologue itself) — I’ve had it memorized for years so it’s the one Macbeth monologue I still gravitate toward the most, although there are plenty of great ones to choose from.

14. Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream 1.1, “How happy some o’er other some can be”

Context: Helena is in love with Demetrius, who’s in love with Hermia, who’s in love (mutually) with Lysander; those two are about to run off into the woods together. Demetrius used to love Helena and here she’s lamenting that his affections turned to Hermia, and she decides that she’s going to tell Demetrius that Hermia and Lysander are running off together, thinking it will bring Demetrius closer to her. Helena’s a mess, basically.

Video: Sarah MacRae @ 14:22

I think this is the only monologue from a comedy that made this list. I’m not so adamantly anti-comedy as I was at the beginning of my Shakespeare journey, but it is true that they tend to not hit me quite as hard. This Helena monologue isn’t even that special, objectively; I’d simply wanted to play Helena since I was 11, so I rehearsed the heck out of this monologue when I finally got the chance last month and it’s one of the ones that I most enjoyed spending time with. (Helena is incidentally also the character I’d most like to play on stage, so if you’re casting Midsummer in Vermont post-pandemic… call me.)

13. Constance in King John 3.4, “Thou art not holy to belie me so”

Context: Constance’s son Arthur, a claimant to the throne and a threat to King John, has been captured by John’s forces. Here Constance mourns Arthur’s death and dies of grief herself shortly after, though interestingly, Arthur hasn’t actually yet died in the play when Constance gives these speeches — it’s one of those weird Shakespearean puzzles.

Video: Camille O’Sullivan

Slightly less famous than a different monologue that follows (“Grief fills the room up of my absent child”), but if I had to choose just one for Constance, this wins hands down. I LOVE the language in this one: I love the visual imagery Shakespeare weaves in of Constance tearing her hair down while she’s giving this speech about grief and sanity, and “Preach some philosophy to make me mad,/ And thou shalt be canonized, cardinal” is one of my favorite lines full stop.

12. Lady Percy in Henry IV Part 2 2.3, “O, yet, for God’s sake, go not to these wars!”

Context: Kate Percy’s father in law, Northumberland, is talking about bringing his troops into battle. Kate reprimands him and reminds him that his son Hotspur needed backup from his father, which he neglected to send, resulting in Hotspur’s death at the hands of Prince Hal (here referred to as Monmouth), and now that Hotspur’s dead there’s no point in going back into the war now. Northumberland agrees.

Video: random talented YouTuber named Elin Alexander (I ended up playing this character with a British accent because I watched this girl’s video so many times while preparing this monologue)

THE POWER OF THIS MONOLOGUE, I mean, imo the second best piece of rhetoric in all of Shakespeare?! Northumberland being STRUCK DOWN by his daughter in law and changing his military tactic because she just spends two minutes roasting his ass… incredible.

11. Hamlet in Hamlet 2.2, “O what a rogue and peasant slave am I”

Context: Hamlet was told by his father’s ghost that his uncle Claudius is guilty of his father’s murder, and here he resolves to set a trap for Claudius by putting on a play which mirrors Hamlet’s father’s murder, hoping to evoke a reaction in Claudius that will confirm his guilt.

Video: Andrew Scott @ 6:30

I mean… it’s famous for a reason and I’m not sure what I can possibly say about it. This whole monologue is a ride from start to finish and the simple admission of weakness in “Am I a coward?” just GETS ME.

10. Claudius in Hamlet 3.3, “O my offense is rank”

Context: After the play has been performed, Claudius storms off and confesses in this monologue that he’s plagued with guilt over his brother’s murder, and he attempts to pray but is unable to.

Video: Patrick Stewart

Such a moment of vulnerability from such a detestable character — that Shakespeare goes to such lengths to humanize even terrible people is one of my favorite things about his works; you’re never spoon-fed a moral as you never see a conflict from only one side. We spend most of this play inside Hamlet’s head and still we get this tender, intimate moment of grief and guilt from the chief antagonist; it’s brilliant.

9. Romeo in Romeo & Juliet 3.3, “‘Tis torture, and not mercy”

Context: Immediately after his marriage to Juliet, Romeo murders Tybalt Capulet while avenging his friend Mercutio’s death. He finds out here that his punishment is banishment from Verona.

One of my most unpopular Shakespeare opinions is that I am far more drawn to Romeo than to Juliet — reconciling his passion and his tender heart with the violence he’s forced to commit is just devastating and that comes to a head in this monologue, full of both gentle and violent imagery. The only thing I can fault the Zeffirelli film for is cutting this.

8. Romeo in Romeo & Juliet 5.3, “In faith, I will”

Context: Romeo has just killed Paris in Juliet’s tomb, and Paris’s final words were pleading that Romeo buries him with Juliet, which he promises to do here before killing himself.

This monologue is just so unbearably sad and weighty and lovely; after I read this for the first time I decided that I would die if I couldn’t play Romeo, I just wanted the excuse to sit with these words.

7. Edmund in King Lear 1.2, “Thou, Nature, art my goddess”

Context: Edmund is the bastard son of Gloucester, and here he’s lamenting that his bastardy prevents him from receiving his full inheritance, so he’s coming up with a plan to frame his brother Edgar to cheat him out of his inheritance.

Video: Riz Ahmed

MY BOY. This is the one I’m doing in PS tomorrow, which I haven’t practiced, lol, but I have it memorized so… that should get the job done. Anyway this is just SO GOOD, Edmund raging against the social customs that prevent him from inheriting, and then the terrible turn it takes when he decides to frame his unwitting brother. “Now, gods, stand up for bastards” is a god tier villain mantra.

6. Edmund in King Lear 1.2, “This is the excellent foppery of the world”

Context: Edmund thinks astrology is bullshit.

Basically I adore every single word out of Edmund’s mouth and this deliciously sarcastic soliloquy about human nature is just hard to beat.

5. Cleopatra in Antony & Cleopatra 5.2, “Give me my robe, put on my crown”

Context: Antony has been defeated and Cleopatra has been captured by Octavian; she kills herself and her maids to spare them being paraded before Rome as a part of Caesar’s victory.

“Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have/ Immortal longings in me” is like… almost too good of a line to be real. This whole thing is just exceptional. She’s such a vibrant character meeting such a hollow end, it’s devastating.

4. Queen Margaret in Henry VI Part 3 1.4, “Brave warriors, Clifford and Northumberland”

Context: We’re in the Wars of the Roses now — Richard, Duke of York has been captured by the Lancastrian Queen Margaret and here she mocks him before having him executed, offering him a handkerchief with his dead son’s blood to dry his tears and putting a paper crown on his head.

Pretty much the most savage scene in all of Shakespeare. The way most people stan Lady Macbeth, I stan Margaret of Anjou.

3. Richard in Richard II 3.2, “No matter where; of comfort no man speak”

Context: Richard has just received word that his army has deserted him and that the people have accepted Bolingbroke (his successor, Henry IV) as ruler and he kind of has a breakdown about it.

Video: David Tennant

Richard II is the gorgeous writing play and that’s best encapsulated here. “Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs;/ Make dust our paper and with rainy eyes/ Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth,” “For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground/ And tell sad stories of the death of kings,” “I live with bread like you, feel want/ Taste grief, need friends: subjected thus/ How can you say to me, I am a king” yes I’m just quoting the entire thing but COME ON!!! This monologue is one of the best pieces of writing ever penned in the English language.

2. Brutus in Julius Caesar 3.2, “Be patient till the last.”

Context: Brutus and the other conspirators have just killed Caesar; Brutus delivers this speech at Caesar’s funeral saying that they killed Caesar for the good of the Roman republic, and that Antony, who is about to speak, will corroborate this.

I played Brutus in PS, and when I was rehearsing, reading the lines alone in my room, I was more drawn to his soliloquies (namely 2.1, “It must be by his death”), but while I was in the moment, this is the speech that really stuck with me. Brutus is just such a brilliantly crafted character; one of the most notorious traitors in history defined here by honor is just navigated with such finesse throughout the play; I love the passion and sincerity here, especially contrasted with what’s about to follow.

  1. Mark Antony in Julius Caesar 3.2, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears”

Context: And then Antony takes the stage and things do not go to plan.

Video: James Corrigan

How fucking cliché for this to be your favorite Shakespeare monologue, but unfortunately it can’t be beat. Just an absolute masterclass in rhetoric and manipulation while still being able to withstand performances that vary wildly in their degree of sincerity. I just love everything about this speech.


I also became uquiz famous with this Which Shakespearean monologue should you memorize quiz, so, obviously you should all take that and tell me what you got. And then memorize the monologue… haha jk unless…

Anyway, what’s your favorite monologue? Comment and let me know and make me feel bad about all of the brilliant ones I had to cut from this blog post!

some brief thoughts on Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen



PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen
★★★★☆
originally published in 1813




Pride and Prejudice is a lovelier, funnier, and more confident book than Sense and Sensibility and I certainly enjoyed it much more than its predecessor. Very glad to have finally read this one and I’m just as charmed by Lizzy Bennet as most readers have been for centuries. I still feel like I’m missing something though, I must confess. While I chalked up some of my Sense and Sensibility apathy to that book’s relative messiness and immaturity, Pride and Prejudice is inarguably an air-tight work–and yet, one that I can’t say I loved reading from start to finish. I’m not sure what this is. I don’t get on with Austen’s writing style as well as I do with other classic authors but I’m also wondering if the stakes in her books are simply too low for me–this is a personal taste thing, not a criticism. Stay tuned for more installments of me articulating my muddled thoughts on Austen over the next few months. 

book review: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen




SENSE AND SENSIBILITY by Jane Austen
★★★☆☆
originally published in 1811



Sense and Sensibility was only my second Jane Austen after Northanger Abbey–I’m working to read them all in order from her earliest works to latest, which I should complete within six months now that I have the structure of a monthly Jane Austen book club guiding me. I’m honestly not sure that I’ll become an Austen-ite by the end of this–so far my experience with her first two books has been very tepid, though I’m certainly excited to see things take a turn for the more interesting as her writing matures.

I actually don’t have a lot to say about Sense and Sensibility, in spite of attending a very interesting near-two hour long book club discussion the other day. I thought this book was fine but also frustrating to spend 400 pages with; characters are largely flat and undergo very little development and the resolution was almost comically unsatisfying. That this was Austen’s first published novel shows; it feels rough around the edges, though regrettably not even in an interesting way. I didn’t hate reading it, and the fact that I’m an Elinor to a fault certainly helped earn my investment, but I’m looking forward to seeing how her style develops and hoping that her later books work more to my taste and expectations. 

Every Shakespeare Play Ranked

Well… WE DID IT, KIDS. I finished the Complete Works about a month ago, and I’ve been SO excited to write this post but I wanted to hold off and give myself some time to marinate on the last couple that I read and not let the recency bias effect win out. But I feel ready to commit to this list as is, so LET’S GO!

Disclaimers:

  1. I’m only including the plays included in my Complete Works, plus Two Noble Kinsmen – I’m excluding the Apocrypha – so no Edward III, etc.
  2. This is in reverse order, worst to best.
  3. I reserve the right to change my mind in 5 minutes. As you may have seen, I will be reading through the plays AGAIN in 2021 (only in the context of performing them on Zoom once a week – I won’t be reading them ahead of time to prepare like I did this year). So I think that makes it particularly likely that my opinions will change over time.
  4. This list is just my personal opinion and if you don’t agree that is a-okay. Very excited to have some interesting discussions after I post this but if you feel the need to yell at me or tell me how badly I misunderstand literature, please just take a deep breath and do literally anything else with your time, thank you! I promise we’re all gonna get through this together.

38. Henry VIII

We’re starting this list off on the wrong foot because I actually love the histories with only a couple of exceptions, but my god, Henry VIII is dreadful. If you’ve read this play, you get it, so I won’t belabor this point, it’s just… duller than it has any right to be for centering on one of the most eventful moments in British history.

37. Henry IV Part 2

There are exactly two things I like about this play: the scene between Hal and Bolingbroke at the end, and Kate Percy’s monologue. Otherwise I find this play painfully tedious. I can’t stand Falstaff and I can’t overstate just how much the comedic subplot drags this down for me, and I find very few characters in this story compelling enough to invest in.

36. All’s Well That Ends Well

This play just doesn’t come together for me. I think it’s got some great characters but the central plot is just… tremendously uninteresting. One thing you’ll see me come back to over and over with the comedies is that for them to succeed for me, I need there to be something of consequence at stake, and there really isn’t in All’s Well.

35. Two Gentlemen of Verona

… And there isn’t in Two Gentlemen, either. The funny thing about Two Gentlemen of Verona is that I saw a very charming production in college and consequently have had a lingering fondness for this play for years; it wasn’t until I reread it this year that I was shocked to discover how… bad it actually is. It’s possible that it was Shakespeare’s first play, and it shows; it’s just less cohesive and coherent than similar plays he wrote later, so there simply isn’t a whole lot to recommend this one.

34. Timon of Athens

There are a lot of things I almost like about Timon but in the end it always underwhelms. This play reads more like a fable than a tragedy to me and while that could be cool in theory, its language is so static and unmoving that it just… doesn’t really achieve a whole lot. But it’s a thematically interesting enough play.

33. Henry IV Part 1

The framing of Hal and Hotspur as foils is just brilliant but nothing else about this play is. This is how I feel about the whole Henriad – Hal is a fantastic character whose arc throughout the plays is wonderfully crafted, I’m just… personally very unmoved by it. And again, I hate Falstaff enough that what would be an inoffensive play to me otherwise is really dragged down.

32. Much Ado About Nothing

Sorry. I have tried to force a love for Much Ado onto myself but it just isn’t there. Do I think this is objectively terrible, not at all; I just do not vibe with this play. Again, here’s the problem – there is nothing at stake. Sassy banter just… really does not move me. Once I watched the David Tennant/Catherine Tate production and didn’t crack a smile the entire time I realized things were never going to work out between me and Much Ado. I do like Hero though.

31. The Winter’s Tale

I wish I liked this play but it just feels like two halves that don’t come together into a single whole. In theory I should like the cold palatial setting and I should also like the jaunty forest shenanigans but this play is just so tonally dissonant that I find myself not fully enjoying either. I do see where this is sweet and charming and magical and moving for the right audience, but I’m just not that person. (I watched a ballet adaptation of The Winter’s Tale on Marquee.tv that blew my goddamn mind and made me like the story a lot better than I had originally, but then we read this for Project Shakespeare round 2 a few days later, and while I liked it a lot more than I had in round 1, it cemented the fact that I just don’t love the way this story unfolds with the way Shakespeare structured this play. If I were ranking it off the ballet or even off the core elements of the narrative, this would be a lot higher.)

30. The Taming of the Shrew

On the other hand, this is a play that I want to hate but I just don’t. Yes, Kate’s final speech is a hard pill to swallow, but a) I think it opens up some fascinating discussions, and b) it doesn’t overpower my experience with the play as a whole, which I largely find witty and charming and entertaining. Its dark undertones actually make me like it even more than I probably would otherwise because I do find myself drawn to thematically thorny texts. Not a favorite since it doesn’t really do anything for me emotionally, but intellectually it’s a winner.

29. As You Like It

Kind of similar to The Winter’s Tale, actually – this is one where I strongly enjoy elements but it doesn’t fully come together for me. I do think this is a lovely and charming play and I’m happy to read or watch it, it just doesn’t make a huge impression on me.

28. Henry V

Have I mentioned how underwhelming I find the Henriad? Ok, good. This play has a lot going for it so in theory it has no right to be as forgettable as I think it is, but nothing about it really stays with me except for the French scene between Catherine and her maid, which is one of my favorite ever Shakespeare scenes.

27. Merry Wives of Windsor

I actually loved this when I read it, but it’s faded a lot in my estimation since then, because there’s honestly just not a whole lot there. It achieves exactly what it sets out to do, which is entertain the reader/viewer, so I can’t fault it. It’s just up again some plays that have much loftier ambitions.

26. Coriolanus

If I had to pick out one Shakespeare play that I find the most frustrating, it would have to be Coriolanus. This play has the potential for greatness written all over it but it just misses the mark. The conflict that it sets up is SO compelling but it takes an agonizingly long time to get there (acts 1-3 are painful) and then the resolution is incredibly rushed. I just want to take this play by the shoulders and shake it until it sorts out its horrendous structure, because somewhere in there is a masterpiece that gives the seductive dynamic between Coriolanus and Aufidius ample time to breathe.

25. Love’s Labor’s Lost

This is cute and charming and harmless until it isn’t – but the incongruously abrupt and sad ending makes me like it a lot more than I would otherwise. This is another one that I don’t find particularly groundbreaking, but which I thoroughly enjoy for what it is.

24. Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night… is a tricky one for me. I like it a lot and it also annoys me, and I think I’ve bounced my Goodreads rating of this play around from 2 to 4 stars and back so many times I’ve lost count. I think if Malvolio were removed from the play I would probably adore it, but I can’t help but to find the narrative treatment of Malvolio curiously cold and not addressed in any kind of way that I find satisfying. But I also think the problem is probably me for not attempting to engage with this play the way I should? I don’t know. I’m running a book club discussion on this play in two weeks and I intend to do a lot of research ahead of that so stay tuned. I feel like it should probably technically go higher than this but we’ll sort that out another day.

23. Two Noble Kinsmen

This play is just… fun. It’s not as well-written or well-crafted as a lot of others but it is simply a good, solidly entertaining play. I enjoy it and I have absolutely nothing else to say about it.

22. Othello

In a lot of ways, I actually love Othello. I mean… the characters and the conflict and the speeches are all SO good and I’ll happily watch any production of this play. My issue is that reconciling Iago’s racism with the fact that Iago is the character through whom the story is filtered for the audience is a fool’s errand and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth in this year of our lord 2020. However, this is a play that I find myself thinking about often and one that I find particularly challenging to place on a list like this.

21. Henry VI Part 2

I am looking forward to waxing eloquent about this loose trilogy higher up on my list, because I ADORE the Henry VIs, but for now I’ll say that this is my least favorite because it’s a little more unfocused than the other two, but it also has one of my all-time favorite monologues from Margaret, so there’s that.

20. The Comedy of Errors

This is, hands down, the stupidest thing I have ever read, but it’s also kind of excellent? You know that thing I keep saying about comedies needing high stakes – believe it or not, Comedy of Errors actually has that. Framing this play with the looming execution of Aegeon is a BRILLIANT choice because it underscores the whole play with a seriousness that offsets the absolutely bonkers mistaken identity shenanigans. It’s only this far down on my list because everything above it is so good, but I honestly love this play.

19. Cymbeline

Cymbeline is like if you took every single Shakespeare play of all genres and put them in a blender. The result is occasionally baffling but most of the time just brilliant. This is definitely one of the most structurally interesting plays, but it’s also just entertaining as hell.

18. Troilus and Cressida

This play has no business being as high on this list as it is. It’s not good. If you’re a Shakespeare newbie, do not start here. But what can I say – you say Trojan War, I say yes, it is what it is. I adore these characters so much and I find Shakespeare’s take on them both weird and fascinating. Achilles is beyond insufferable – as he should be – and I absolutely love it.

17. Measure for Measure

There are long stretches of this play where I simply zone out, but I cannot bring myself to move it any lower because everything with the Duke, Angelo, and Isabella is so obscenely good. This play is just… so dark, so twisted, so thorny, and I really love it for that.

16. Titus Andronicus

Everyone says that if you like slasher films you’ll like Titus Andronicus, which is absolutely true, but my personal angle here is more: if you like the Oresteia, you’ll like Titus Andronicus. I am all about a good old fashioned revenge saga and this absolutely delivers. It’s dark, it’s twisted, it’s entertaining, it’s funny – it’s not as well-crafted or emotionally resonant as his later tragedies, but it’s a great time.

15. Richard III

I have flipped Richards II and III around on this list so many times I have whiplash. I still don’t know which order they should be in. My general assessment of this play is at odds with… pretty much everyone else’s on earth: I love this play but I do not enjoy Richard III as a character. I think this play is chock full of fascinating and tragic events and complicated characters, and I ordinarily love a good old tragic villain, but Richard’s motivations are so profoundly uninteresting that he really does nothing for me (though I can see where a great performance could really bring him to life).

14. Richard II

This is the problem with comparing the two Richards – this play is the exact opposite for me. This narrative itself is largely a slog, but Richard himself… what an absurdly clever creation. I think he is one of the most complex and interesting characters in Shakespeare’s canon, and “for god’s sake let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings” is without a doubt one of the best monologues Shakespeare ever wrote. So which do I prefer; the one where I like the play and find the titular character underwhelming or vice versa? I have no idea. But I do love both of these plays on the whole.

13. Henry VI Part 1

I’m going to save most of my gushing for 3H6. But I love this one too. I just love the Wars of the Roses and find the characters and conflicts SO compelling. I mean, this one has Joan of Arc, how can you not love it.

12. The Tempest

I did The Tempest dirty by reading it so early on in my Shakespeare journey before I had adequately managed my genre expectations. I liked it a lot at the time but I suspect I may love it now. It’s such a thematically rich play and Prospero is a brilliant creation. It’s serious and sad but also funny and moving and whimsical and I do think it’s one of Shakespeare’s best plays if we’re attempting objectivity.

11. King John

King John missing out on my top 10 was… a Sophie’s Choice situation. So make no mistake: I LOVE King John. The characters and the conflicts in this play are just top tier and I just cannot rank any play that has Constance of Brittany any lower, what a legend.

10. Pericles

I’m sorry but if you don’t love Pericles WHY IN THE HELL NOT?! This play is absolutely bonkers. Incest, pirates, and brothels, oh my, but it also has one of the most genuinely moving resolutions ever. This is probably the most consistently entertaining Shakespeare play from start to finish, yet Pericles’s journey is absolutely devastating to follow at the same time. This play is so fun and clever and quietly sad, I really adore it.

9. The Merchant of Venice

This play is not at all what I thought it was going to be, in the best way possible. This is one of those plays like Measure which is structurally a comedy but which is actually dark as hell and I love it all the more for that. I think Merchant has some of the most vivid and complex characters in all of Shakespeare’s canon – there’s Shylock, of course, a fantastic character as everyone knows, but he’s really only the tip of the iceberg. I’m really compelled by the way this play depicts otherness and community identity and the way it uses a fairytale-esque structure to tell its urban, feudal story. I haven’t been able to get this one out of my head since reading it – I just find it complex and fascinating and bizarrely haunting on an emotional level.

8. Henry VI Part 3

THIS PLAY. I get why the Henry VIs are so rarely staged, I do; none of them really works as a standalone and asking the audience to attend 6+ hours of a single narrative is… a lot. But when you’re reading them in succession, ugh, this play hits so hard. It’s such a glorious and devastating culmination – I mean, has there ever been a more savage monologue than Margaret’s paper crown, has there ever been anything stranger or more moving than Henry VI’s gentleness in the face of battle – I JUST. Richard III is a much more interesting character to me here than he is in his titular play as well, and that final scene between Richard and Henry is just… ugh, chills. This is the best history play, hands down, and there are a lot of good ones to choose from.

7. Antony & Cleopatra

This is such a bizarre play, structurally – the way it bounces back and forth between Rome and Egypt is chaotic, and the fact that Antony and Cleopatra are never on stage alone together is a fascinating element that seems kind of at odds with what a lot of people want this play to be. It isn’t an epic romance and it isn’t a grown up Romeo & Juliet – instead it’s a phenomenal portrait of two deeply flawed rulers navigating a series of external conflicts (Rome vs. Egypt, old Roman values vs. new Roman values, fame, publicity), together and separately. It’s as flawed and brilliant as its two titular characters and I just love it.

6. A Midsummer Night’s Dream

This was the first ever Shakespeare play that I read when I was eleven and I fell in love. So there’s that nostalgia element that makes it impossible to shake this from my top 10, but even so, I firmly believe that Midsummer is the best comedy by a mile. It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s romantic, it’s kind of darkly savage, and all of these elements cohere into something that works perfectly for me.

5. Hamlet

I have the hardest time talking about Hamlet – I feel like I always just say something along the lines of ‘it’s Hamlet, what’s not to love?’ and I ultimately sound kind of dispassionate, but I do adore this play and I think it’s easy to make the argument that it’s Shakespeare’s best work (which I honestly think is what partially makes it so difficult to talk about). I am also, unfortunately, one of those annoying people who thinks Hamlet is one of the most #relatable characters ever written.

4. Romeo & Juliet

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. If you simply do not vibe with Romeo & Juliet I could not care less, but I have not heard a single criticism against this play that isn’t utterly inane. ‘It’s just instalove!’ Plays have different storytelling conventions, next. ‘They’re just horny teenagers’ If you still refuse to accept that they’re in love when it’s demonstrated throughout the play ad nauseum I don’t know what to tell you, next. ‘Romeo and Juliet actually would have had a miserable marriage if they lived’ Ok I get it, you’re edgy and you hated your 9th grade English teacher, next. Anyway, the only reason the frequent disparagements of R&J get my goat is because this play is so fucking good. It’s cleverly constructed and deliciously tragic and the writing is sublime – when I read Romeo’s final monologue I decided that if I did not play Romeo in Project Shakespeare I would simply die, it’s that brilliant.

3. Macbeth

God. I really thought nothing would be able to shake Macbeth from its #2 spot on this. This is one of the plays that I’ve loved the longest and am most familiar with (I’ve had ‘is this a dagger’ memorized for years for quite literally no reason) and I adore just about everything about it – the darkness and the brutality but the complex characters most of all. I think Macbeth the man is one of Shakespeare’s best creations. I love Lady M too (how can you not) but Macbeth’s journey is so darkly compelling and haunting.

2. Julius Caesar

It was always going to take a really fucking good play to displace Macbeth, but then Julius Caesar came along and here we are. This play is so ridiculously up my alley it’s not even funny. Aside from loving all things Ancient Roman history, I’m particularly drawn to the theme of human fallibility and narratives about people making impossible decisions and being forced to live with the consequences of the choices they’ve made, and that’s Julius Caesar to a T. This play is just masterfully constructed, too – “Friends, Romans, countrymen” is my favorite monologue and Brutus is one of the absolute best characters. His entire arc devastates me more than words can say.

1. King Lear

On the one hand, it’s kind of a bummer that after reading all of Shakespeare’s plays in 2020, my favorite play didn’t change from what it already was before this year; on the other hand… nothing was ever going to top Lear, not in a million years, so here we are, and happily too. I don’t even know how to describe what this play means to me. There’s something so cosmic about Lear – it’s a high-stakes family drama but it also feels fiercely personal and universal simultaneously. The way this play grapples with human nature (and the interplay between humans & nature) is so singular and striking, as is the contrast between its depictions of brutality and tenderness. I think this is inarguably the most devastating Shakespeare play, and I see why for some people it’s simply too sad, but I think it really earns its emotionally impactful conclusion. The tragic inevitability is executed seamlessly, and that final scene just… ugh, “never, never, never, never, never” hits like a punch to the gut every single time, it doesn’t matter how many times I read or watch it. And every time I do read it I get something new out of it – I notice a new parallel (Cordelia and Edmund’s “Nothing, my lord” – one speaking truth and one concealing it) or a new motif (Gloucester’s phrasing in the gouging scene – “Edmund, enkindle all the sparks of nature/ To quit this horrid act” perversely echoing Edmund’s own commentary on his own nature) or a line hits me in a new way (“O, let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven” got me in the gut last time I reread it) and I just feel so enriched for every minute I spend with this gloriously devastating play.

I will leave you with the final lines of Lear which are incidentally my favorite words Shakespeare ever wrote:

The weight of this sad time we must obey,
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest have borne most; we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.


So THERE WE HAVE IT. Reading all of Shakespeare’s works (yes, I read the sonnets and the poems too) in 2020 is one of the best things I have ever done and I’m tremendously proud of myself and really looking forward to seeing how my relationship with each of these plays evolves over time.

Talk to me about Shakespeare in the comments. What’s your favorite/least favorite play, how many have you read, do you plan to read more, why King Lear is one of the best things ever written, etc etc.