The Most Difficult Shakespeare Play, Ranked

Choose the play you think is the most difficult!

Author: Gregor Krambs
Updated on Jun 17, 2024 06:33
Deciding which of Shakespeare's plays presents the greatest challenge can spark lively debate among enthusiasts and scholars. Each play brings its own complexity in themes, language, and characters, which can affect its difficulty level differently for readers and viewers. Having a community-based ranking can aid in understanding general perceptions and can guide new readers towards or away from certain plays based on their comfort level with Shakespearean language and themes. By participating in this ranking, individuals contribute to a broader pool of opinions, gaining insights not only into what a collective audience finds demanding but also why certain works might be seen as more challenging than others. This engagement provides a dynamic view of Shakespeare's repertoire, helping to inform educational approaches, performance adaptations, and personal reading selections. It's an enriching way to connect with others in the community and see how diverse experiences with the same literature can vary.

What Is the Most Difficult Shakespeare Play?

  1. 1

    The Tempest

    Its use of magic and exploration of colonial themes make it a complex play to interpret.
    • Famous Quote: "We are such stuff As dreams are made on, and our little life Is rounded with a sleep."
    • Main Character: Prospero
  2. 2

    King Lear

    Explores themes of madness, betrayal, and familial bonds, making it a challenging read.
    • Famous Quote: "Nothing will come of nothing."
    • Main Character: King Lear
  3. 3

    Antony and Cleopatra

    Its historical context and the complexity of its characters' motivations make it a challenging play.
    • Famous Quote: "The triple pillar of the world transform'd Into a strumpet's fool."
    • Main Characters: Mark Antony and Cleopatra
  4. 4
  5. 5


    Its dark themes and complex moral questions make it a difficult but rewarding play.
    • Famous Quote: "Out, damned spot! out, I say!"
    • Main Character: Macbeth
  6. 6


    Its political themes and the complexity of its main character make it a difficult but insightful play.
    • Famous Quote: "Nature teaches beasts to know their friends."
    • Main Character: Caius Marcius Coriolanus
  7. 7

    Troilus and Cressida

    Its cynical portrayal of love and war, along with its complex plot, makes it a difficult read.
    • Famous Quote: "This is the monstruosity in love, lady, that the will is infinite and the execution confined."
    • Main Characters: Troilus and Cressida
  8. 8

    Measure for Measure

    Its exploration of morality, justice, and the law makes it a complex and often debated work.
    • Famous Quote: "Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt."
    • Main Character: Duke Vincentio
  9. 9

    Timon of Athens

    Its themes of wealth, friendship, and betrayal, along with its unfinished state, make it a challenging play.
    • Famous Quote: "I am Misanthropos, and hate mankind."
    • Main Character: Timon
  10. 10


    Deals with themes of jealousy, betrayal, and racism, challenging readers to confront uncomfortable truths.
    • Famous Quote: "O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-ey'd monster, which doth mock The meat it feeds on."
    • Main Character: Othello

Missing your favorite play?

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About this ranking

This is a community-based ranking of the most difficult Shakespeare play. We do our best to provide fair voting, but it is not intended to be exhaustive. So if you notice something or game is missing, feel free to help improve the ranking!


  • 136 votes
  • 10 ranked items

Voting Rules

A participant may cast an up or down vote for each game once every 24 hours. The rank of each game is then calculated from the weighted sum of all up and down votes.

Additional Information

More about the Most Difficult Shakespeare Play

The Tempest
Rank #1 for the most difficult Shakespeare play: The Tempest (Source)
Shakespeare wrote many plays. Some stand out for their complexity. These plays challenge readers and audiences alike. They often have intricate plots. Characters may have hidden motives. Themes can be deep and layered. Understanding these works takes effort.

Language is one hurdle. Shakespeare used words and phrases that are old. Meanings have changed over time. This can confuse modern readers. Some plays use more obscure language than others. In these, even simple lines may puzzle. Readers need to look up words often. This slows down the reading process.

The structure of some plays adds to the difficulty. They may have multiple subplots. These subplots can intertwine in complex ways. Keeping track of who is who becomes hard. Some characters may even disguise themselves. This creates more confusion. Audiences must pay close attention to follow along.

Themes in these plays are another challenge. They explore deep human issues. Topics like power, betrayal, and identity are common. Shakespeare delves into these with great detail. Readers must think deeply to grasp the full meaning. Some themes may also be dark or unsettling. This can make the plays harder to enjoy.

Characters in these plays are often complex. They may not be clearly good or bad. Their actions can be unpredictable. Motivations are sometimes hidden. Understanding these characters takes time. Readers must analyze their words and actions closely. This adds another layer of difficulty.

Symbolism is also a key feature. Shakespeare used many symbols in his works. These symbols can be hard to interpret. They often have multiple meanings. Readers must consider the context to understand them. Missing a symbol can change the meaning of a scene. This requires careful reading and re-reading.

Historical context plays a role too. Some plays are set in specific times and places. Knowing the history helps in understanding the plot. Without this knowledge, some scenes may seem confusing. Readers need to do background research. This adds to the effort required.

The length of these plays can be daunting. Some are longer than others. They have many acts and scenes. This makes them time-consuming to read or watch. Keeping focus for long periods is tough. The length can also make it easy to miss important details. This requires readers to stay engaged throughout.

Staging these plays is also a challenge. Directors must make choices about interpretation. These choices can affect how the play is understood. Different productions may highlight different aspects. This can change the experience for the audience. Watching multiple versions can help in understanding.

Despite these challenges, these plays are rewarding. They offer deep insights into human nature. Readers who put in the effort are often glad they did. The complexity adds to their richness. They stand the test of time for a reason. They continue to be studied and performed worldwide.

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