Plays by Shakespeare’s contemporaries
Once you start reading Shakespeare, it's fun to compare the plays of other writers of the time. Below are some examples that groups have read, and character charts when possible to facilitate dividing up the roles. Have fun!
Arden of Faversham
This anonymous play is based on the true story of Alice Arden in 1551 who hired murderers to kill her husband, Thomas Arden, so she could be with her lover, Mosley. Although a murder story, it has a Home Alone aspect to it. Some scholars argue that Shakespeare was a collaborator on this play.
A bit about the play and a synopsis of the original event is on Wikipedia.
Here is a Character Chart developed and contributed by Ryan Nelson, facilitator of the Shakespeare Reading Group that meets in several libraries throughout southern Illinois: Arden of Faversham
The Knight of the Burning Pestle
This boisterous play has quite a modern feel and is great fun to read. The playwright, Francis Beaumont, satirizes the genre of “citizen comedy.” Just as the play begins, a grocer in the audience and his wife decide they want to change the play and they want their son to star in it, so they climb up on stage. The actors try to perform while accommodating the family that keeps butting in.
Information about the play is on this Wikipedia page.
Here is a link to a pdf of the text that you can print up if you don't want to order a book: The Knight of the Burning Pestle (please let me know if you know the editor!)
This was one of the first plays I read with the First Friday Club. I had never heard of it before, but within a couple of minutes I was completely charmed. This play makes fun of itself, the play-writing business, the theater business, and socioeconomic class divisions in general. It is pretty simple to stage and encourages audience engagement, whether in a theater or a reading group. “Rollicking good fun" is the most apt phrase to describe this play. —Kristin
Compare and contrast
Here are a few ideas to compare and contrast a Shakespearean play with a contemporary or near-contemporary play:
The Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare and The Jew of Malta by Christopher Marlowe (written about 1589)
Titus Andronicus by Shakespeare and The Revenger's Tragedy by Anonymous (possibly Thomas Middleton) (1606)
Taming of the Shrew by Shakespeare and The Woman's Prize, or the Tamer Tamed, by John Fletcher (about 1620)
The Tempest by Shakespeare and The Tempest, or The Enchanted Island, a Restoration adaptation by John Dryden and William D'Avenant (1667)