The Greatest "Plays" Books of All Time

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This list represents a comprehensive and trusted collection of the greatest books in literature. Developed through a specialized algorithm, it brings together 215 'best of' book lists to form a definitive guide to the world's most acclaimed literary works. For those interested in how these books are chosen, additional details about the selection process can be found on the rankings page.

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Plays

Plays are a category of literature that consists of written works intended for performance on stage. They typically feature dialogue between characters and are structured into acts and scenes. Plays can be comedic, tragic, or a combination of both, and often explore themes such as love, power, and morality. They are meant to be performed by actors in front of an audience, and can be enjoyed both as written works and as live performances.

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  1. 1. Oedipus the King by Sophocles

    "Oedipus the King" is a tragic play that revolves around the life of Oedipus, the king of Thebes, who is prophesied to kill his father and marry his mother. Despite his attempts to avoid this fate, Oedipus unknowingly fulfills the prophecy. When he discovers the truth about his actions, he blinds himself in despair. The play explores themes of fate, free will, and the quest for truth, highlighting the tragic consequences of human hubris and ignorance.

  2. 2. Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    The book is a tragic play in two parts that tells the story of a scholarly man named Faust, who becomes dissatisfied with his life and makes a pact with the devil, Mephistopheles. In exchange for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures, Faust agrees to give his soul to Mephistopheles after death. The narrative explores themes of ambition, despair, love, and redemption, ultimately leading to Faust's salvation.

  3. 3. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

    "Waiting for Godot" is a play that explores themes of existentialism, despair, and the human condition through the story of two characters, Vladimir and Estragon, who wait endlessly for a man named Godot, who never arrives. While they wait, they engage in a variety of discussions and encounter three other characters. The play is characterized by its minimalistic setting and lack of a traditional plot, leaving much to interpretation.

  4. 4. Hamlet by William Shakespeare

    This classic play revolves around the young Prince of Denmark who is thrown into a state of emotional turmoil after his father's sudden death and his mother's quick remarriage to his uncle. The prince is visited by the ghost of his father who reveals that he was murdered by the uncle, prompting the prince to seek revenge. The narrative explores themes of madness, revenge, and moral corruption as the prince navigates the complex political and emotional landscape of the Danish court.

  5. 5. First Folio by William Shakespeare

    This collection is a compilation of 36 plays by a renowned English playwright, published seven years after his death. It includes comedies, histories, and tragedies, some of which had never been published before. Notable works in the compilation include "Macbeth," "Julius Caesar," "Twelfth Night," "The Tempest," and "As You Like It." The collection is considered one of the most influential books ever published in the English language, as it preserved many of the playwright's works that might have otherwise been lost.

  6. 6. Antigone by Sophocles

    This ancient Greek tragedy follows the story of Antigone, a young woman who defies the king's edict in order to bury her brother according to their religious customs. The king, her uncle, sentences her to death for her disobedience, leading to a series of tragic events including his own son's suicide. The play explores themes of loyalty, honor, obedience, and the conflict between the laws of the state and the laws of the gods.

  7. 7. Macbeth by William Shakespeare

    This classic play follows the tragic tale of Macbeth, a Scottish general whose ambition is sparked by a prophecy from three witches that he will one day become King of Scotland. Consumed by ambition and spurred on by his wife, Macbeth murders King Duncan and takes the throne. However, guilt and paranoia plague him, leading to a reign of terror and further bloodshed. His desperate attempts to cling onto power lead to his downfall, illustrating the destructive power of unchecked ambition.

  8. 8. King Lear by William Shakespeare

    This classic tragedy revolves around the aging King Lear, who decides to divide his kingdom among his three daughters based on their declarations of love for him. The two elder daughters, Goneril and Regan, flatter him with insincere praises, while the youngest, Cordelia, refuses to play the game and is disowned. As the king's sanity deteriorates, his kingdom falls into chaos under the rule of his deceitful elder daughters. The play explores themes of power, loyalty, madness, and justice, culminating in a tragic ending where almost all the main characters, including King Lear and Cordelia, die.

  9. 9. The Tempest by William Shakespeare

    "The Tempest" is a classic play about a sorcerer and rightful Duke of Milan who has been stranded on an island for 12 years with his daughter after being betrayed by his brother. Using his magical powers and the help of an airy spirit, he conjures a storm to shipwreck his brother and other enemies on the island. The narrative explores themes of revenge, power, magic, and forgiveness as the sorcerer manipulates events on the island to regain his dukedom and secure a good future for his daughter.

  10. 10. Medea by Euripides

    "Medea" is a Greek tragedy that tells the story of Medea, a former princess of the "barbarian" kingdom of Colchis, and her husband Jason, who leave her to marry Glauce, the daughter of Creon, king of Corinth. In a fit of rage, Medea decides to take revenge on Jason by killing their children, Jason's new wife, and her father, King Creon. The play explores themes of revenge, women's rights, and the dangers of absolute power.

  11. 11. Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles

    "Oedipus at Colonus" is a tragic play that follows the final days of Oedipus, the former king of Thebes. Oedipus, now blind and exiled, arrives at the town of Colonus where he is initially rejected due to the curse that follows him. However, after revealing a prophecy that his burial place will bring prosperity to the city that hosts it, he is allowed to stay. The play explores themes of fate, guilt, and redemption, ending with Oedipus's peaceful death and ascension to a semi-divine status.

  12. 12. Oresteia by Aeschylus

    "Oresteia" is a trilogy of Greek tragedies that tells the story of the House of Atreus. It begins with King Agamemnon's return from the Trojan War and his subsequent murder by his wife, Clytemnestra, and her lover, Aegisthus. The second play focuses on the revenge of their son, Orestes, who kills his mother and her lover to avenge his father's death. The final play deals with the trial of Orestes by the gods for the crime of matricide, resulting in his acquittal and the end of the curse on the House of Atreus. The trilogy explores themes of justice, vengeance, and the intervention of the gods in human affairs.

  13. 13. A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen

    This classic play focuses on the life of Nora Helmer, a woman living in a seemingly perfect marriage with her husband, Torvald. However, as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Nora has been hiding a significant secret related to their finances. The revelation of this secret, and the subsequent fallout, challenges societal norms and expectations of the time, particularly in regards to gender roles and the institution of marriage. Nora's eventual decision to leave her husband and children in pursuit of her own independence serves as a powerful commentary on individual freedom and self-discovery.

  14. 14. La Celestina by Fernando de Rojas

    The book is a tragic comedy set in 15th-century Spain, revolving around the passionate and ill-fated love affair between Calisto and Melibea. After Calisto falls for Melibea but is rejected, he enlists the help of Celestina, an old and cunning procuress, to win Melibea's heart. Celestina's manipulations initially seem successful, but her greed and the involvement of various other servants and hangers-on lead to a series of dramatic and violent events. The story ultimately unfolds into a cautionary tale of lust, deception, and the destructive consequences of obsessive love, ending in tragedy for most of the main characters.

  15. 15. Lysistrata by Aristophanes

    "Lysistrata" is a comedic play set in ancient Greece, where the women of Athens, led by the eponymous character, decide to withhold sexual privileges from their husbands and lovers in order to force them to negotiate a peaceful end to the Peloponnesian War. Along with the women of Sparta, they seize the Acropolis and the treasury, and through their non-violent resistance, they manage to bring about a reconciliation between the warring states. The play is a humorous exploration of gender roles and the power of passive resistance.

  16. 16. The Bacchae by Euripides

    "The Bacchae" is a classic Greek tragedy where the god Dionysus, disguised as a mortal, returns to his birthplace in Greece to punish the impious King Pentheus who denies Dionysus's divine nature and refuses to worship him. The narrative explores themes of revenge, mortality, and the relationship between man and god. Dionysus uses his power to drive the women of the city into a crazed frenzy, leading to a tragic end for King Pentheus and his mother Agave.

  17. 17. Electra by Sophocles

    "Electra" is a classic Greek tragedy that revolves around the character of Electra and her thirst for revenge. After her father, the king, is murdered by her mother and her mother's lover, Electra and her brother, Orestes, plot to avenge their father's death. The story is a complex exploration of justice, vengeance, and familial duty, depicting Electra's struggle between her desire for revenge and the moral implications of matricide.

  18. 18. Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello

    In this metatheatrical play, six characters come to life and demand that a theater director tell their tragic story, which was left incomplete by their author. As the director and his actors interact with these characters, the boundaries between fiction and reality blur, leading to a philosophical exploration of the nature of human identity, the reliability of art, and the unreliability of perception. The characters' story, involving a complex web of familial relationships, adultery, and suicide, further complicates the narrative, challenging the audience's understanding of truth and illusion.

  19. 19. The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov

    "The Cherry Orchard" is a classic play about an aristocratic Russian woman and her family as they return to their family estate, which includes a large and well-known cherry orchard. The family is on the brink of financial ruin and the estate is slated to be auctioned off. Despite various attempts to save their beloved home and orchard, they are ultimately unable to prevent the sale. The play is a poignant reflection on the changing social order and the decline of the aristocracy in Russia at the turn of the 20th century.

  20. 20. Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus

    "Prometheus Bound" is a tragedy set in ancient Greece that tells the story of the Titan Prometheus, who defies the gods by giving humans the gift of fire, a symbol of knowledge and civilization. As punishment, Zeus chains Prometheus to a rock in the Caucasus Mountains where he is tormented by a vulture that eats his liver every day, only for it to grow back overnight. Despite his suffering, Prometheus refuses to submit to Zeus' will, embodying the human spirit's unyielding resistance against oppression.

  21. 21. Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov

    "Three Sisters" is a play that revolves around the lives of three sisters, Olga, Masha, and Irina, who live in a provincial Russian town and yearn for their former life in Moscow. The story explores their relationships, dreams, and disappointments, as well as their interactions with the military officers stationed nearby. The narrative is a poignant exploration of love, loss, and the relentless passage of time, highlighting the human struggle for meaning and happiness.

  22. 22. Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand

    "Cyrano de Bergerac" is a classic French play that tells the story of a nobleman named Cyrano, who is a talented poet and swordsman but has a very large nose. Despite being deeply in love with his cousin Roxane, Cyrano doesn't believe she could ever love him because of his appearance, so he helps his friend Christian woo her instead. Cyrano writes love letters to Roxane on behalf of Christian, and Roxane falls in love with the man she believes Christian to be. The story is a tragic tale of unrequited love, selflessness, and the power of inner beauty.

  23. 23. Othello by William Shakespeare

    "Othello" is a tragic play about a Moorish general in the Venetian army who is manipulated by his ensign into believing that his wife is unfaithful. Consumed by jealousy, the general kills his wife, only to discover that she was innocent. Filled with remorse, he then takes his own life. The play explores themes of love, jealousy, betrayal, and racism.

  24. 24. A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare

    In this classic play, the Duke of Athens is preparing for his marriage when the lives of two young couples become complicated by the meddling of fairies. The fairy king and queen, Oberon and Titania, are quarreling, causing chaos in both the fairy world and the world of mortals. Puck, a mischievous sprite and servant of Oberon, causes further confusion and comic misadventures by casting spells that lead to mistaken identities and misplaced affections. Eventually, all is resolved, and the play ends with three happily married couples.

  25. 25. Trojan Women by Euripides

    "Trojan Women" is a tragic play set in the aftermath of the Trojan War, focusing on the fate of the women of Troy. The story follows the mother of Hector, Hecuba, and her daughter-in-law, Andromache, as they grapple with the loss of their city and loved ones. They, along with other women, are destined to become slaves to the victorious Greeks. The narrative explores themes of war, suffering, and the resilience of women in the face of adversity.

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If you're interested in downloading this list as a CSV file for use in a spreadsheet application, you can easily do so by clicking the button below. Please note that to ensure a manageable file size and faster download, the CSV will include details for only the first 500 books.

Download