I have this weird professional goal: I want to teach every one of Shakespeare's plays before I retire. I'm doing a new one right now, and then I'll have two left. (Troilus and Cressida and Timon of Athens; if anyone thinks of a really good way to fit one or the other in, or says s/he loves teaching one or the other and this is why, I will be a very grateful Shakespeare person. I could do a class theme of friendship, and then Timon would fit as the anti-model.)
We're about to finish The Two Gentlemen of Verona and move on to AYLI. (See what I did there? I'm pretty much on a first name, all initials, basis with AYLI, while the other play I still feel a bit formal about.)
It's not that TGoV (I guess we're friends now) is a bad play, but when I think of teaching AYLI, it's just way better. It's like TGoV is a sort of flat tryout of some stuff that later gets really cool and important. You want friendship, TGoV has friendship, but it's not as intense or as challenging as, say, Coriolanus. It's got cross-dressing, but it's just there to get one character unrecognized into the same outlaws den as another. In comparison, AYLI, 12th Night, etc, they take cross-dressing and really make you think about metadrama, clothing, gender, all sorts of good stuff. And then there's rape. It's a threat, and it's a serious threat, but it's not as complicated as in MfM, Tempest, or All's Well. And it's got rings, but they're not nearly as cool as in Merchant. (My students thought I was nuts when I suggested that rings had a sexual connotation. Grrr. It's not just my dirty mind, people! It's Shakespeare!)
And yet, I love teaching Titus, and Titus sort of does the same work for tragedies and especially revenge tragedy as TGoV does for all sorts of other stuff.