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Shakespeare's plays are a canon of approximately 39 dramatic works written by English poet, playwright, and actor
William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's greatest dramatist. He is often called England's national p ...

William Shakespeare
. The exact number of plays—as well as their classifications as
tragedy Tragedy (from the grc-gre, τραγῳδία, ''tragōidia'', ''tragōidia'') is a genre of drama Drama is the specific Mode (literature), mode of fiction Mimesis, represented in performance: a Play (theatre), play, opera, mime, ball ...
,
history History (from Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approxima ...
, or
comedy Comedy (from the el, κωμῳδία, ''kōmōdía'') is a genre of fiction that consists of discourses or works intended to be humor Humour (Commonwealth English The use of the English language English is a West Germanic la ...
—is a matter of scholarly debate. Shakespeare's plays are widely regarded as being among the greatest in the English language and are continually performed around the world. The plays have been translated into every major living language. Many of his plays appeared in print as a series of quartos, but approximately half of them remained unpublished until 1623, when the posthumous
First Folio ''Mr. William Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies'' is a collection of plays by William Shakespeare, commonly referred to by modern scholars as the First Folio, published in 1623, about seven years after Shakespeare's death. It is cons ...

First Folio
was published. The traditional division of his plays into tragedies, comedies, and histories follows the categories used in the First Folio. However, modern criticism has labeled some of these plays " problem plays" that elude easy categorisation, or perhaps purposely break generic conventions, and has introduced the term romances for what scholars believe to be his later comedies. When Shakespeare first arrived in London in the late 1570s or early 1580s, dramatists writing for London's new commercial playhouses (such as
The Curtain
The Curtain
) were combining two strands of dramatic tradition into a new and distinctively Elizabethan synthesis. Previously, the most common forms of popular English theatre were the
Tudor Tudor most commonly refers to: * House of Tudor, English royal house of Welsh origins ** Tudor period, a historical era in England coinciding with the rule of the Tudor dynasty Tudor may also refer to: Architecture * Tudor architecture, the fi ...
morality play The morality play is a genre of Middle Ages, medieval and Tudor period, early Tudor drama. The term is used by scholars of literary and dramatic history to refer to a genre of play texts from the fourteenth through sixteenth centuries that feat ...
s. These plays, generally celebrating
piety Piety is a virtue Virtue ( la, virtus ''Virtus'' () was a specific virtue in Ancient Rome. It carries connotations of valor, manliness, excellence, courage, character, and worth, perceived as masculine strengths (from Latin ''vir'', "man" ...
, use
personified Personification occurs when a thing or abstraction is represented as a person, in literature or art, as an anthropomorphic metaphor A metaphor is a figure of speech that, for rhetorical effect, directly refers to one thing by mentioning anothe ...
moral attributes to urge or instruct the
protagonist 200px, Shakespeare's ''Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.'' William Morris Hunt, oil on canvas, c. 1864 A protagonist (from grc, πρωταγωνιστής, translit=prōtagōnistḗs, lit=one who plays the first part, chief actor) is the main character ...
to choose the virtuous life over Evil. The characters and plot situations are largely symbolic rather than realistic. As a child, Shakespeare would likely have seen this type of play (along with, perhaps,
mystery play Mystery plays and miracle plays (they are distinguished as two different forms although the terms are often used interchangeably) are among the earliest formally developed Play (theatre), plays in medieval Europe. Medieval mystery plays focused ...
s and
miracle play Mystery plays and miracle plays (they are distinguished as two different forms although the terms are often used interchangeably) are among the earliest formally developed plays in medieval Europe In the history of Europe, the Middle ...
s). The other strand of dramatic tradition was
classical Classical may refer to: European antiquity *Classical antiquity, a period of history from roughly the 7th or 8th century B.C.E. to the 5th century C.E. centered on the Mediterranean Sea *Classical architecture, architecture derived from Greek and ...
aesthetic theory. This theory was derived ultimately from
Aristotle Aristotle (; grc-gre, Ἀριστοτέλης ''Aristotélēs'', ; 384–322 BC) was a Greek philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questio ...

Aristotle
; in Renaissance England, however, the theory was better known through its Roman interpreters and practitioners. At the universities, plays were staged in a more academic form as
Roman Roman or Romans most often refers to: *Rome , established_title = Founded , established_date = 753 BC , founder = King Romulus , image_map = Map of comune of Rome (metropolitan city of Capital Rome, region Laz ...

Roman
closet dramas. These plays, usually performed in
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Republic, it became ...
, adhered to classical ideas of
unity Unity may refer to: Buildings * Unity Building The Unity Building, in Oregon, Illinois, is a historic building in that city's Oregon Commercial Historic District. As part of the district the Oregon Unity Building has been listed on the National R ...
and
decorum Decorum (from the Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in ...
, but they were also more static, valuing lengthy speeches over physical action. Shakespeare would have learned this theory at grammar school, where
Plautus Titus Maccius Plautus (; c. 254 – 184 BC), commonly known as Plautus, was a Roman Roman or Romans most often refers to: *, the capital city of Italy *, Roman civilization from 8th century BC to 5th century AD *, the people of ancient Rome ...

Plautus
and especially
Terence Publius Terentius Afer (; – ), better known in English as Terence (), was a Roman African playwright A playwright or dramatist is a person who writes play Play most commonly refers to: * Play (activity), an activity done for enjoyment * P ...
were key parts of the curriculum and were taught in editions with lengthy theoretical introductions.


Theatre and stage setup

Archaeological excavations on the foundations of the
Rose A rose is a woody perennial plant, perennial flowering plant of the genus ''Rosa'', in the family Rosaceae, or the flower it bears. There are over three hundred Rose species, species and Garden roses, tens of thousands of cultivars. They form ...
and the
Globe A globe is a spherical physical model, model of Earth, of some other astronomical object, celestial body, or of the celestial sphere. Globes serve purposes similar to maps, but unlike maps, they do not distort the surface that they portray except ...

Globe
in the late twentieth century showed that all London
English Renaissance theatre English Renaissance theatre, also known as Renaissance English theatre and Elizabethan theatre, refers to the theatre of England between 1558 and 1642. This is the style of the play (theatre), plays of William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe ...
s were built around similar general plans. Despite individual differences, the public theatres were three stories high and built around an open space at the center. Usually polygonal in plan to give an overall rounded effect, three levels of inward-facing galleries overlooked the open center into which jutted the stage—essentially a platform surrounded on three sides by the audience, only the rear being restricted for the entrances and exits of the actors and seating for the musicians. The upper level behind the stage could be used as a
balcony A balcony (from it, balcone, scaffold; cf. Old High German Old High German (OHG, german: Althochdeutsch, German abbr. ) is the earliest stage of the German language, conventionally covering the period from around 750 to 1050. There is no sta ...

balcony
, as in ''
Romeo and Juliet ''Romeo and Juliet'' is a tragedy Tragedy (from the grc-gre, τραγῳδία, ''tragōidia'', ''tragōidia'') is a genre of drama Drama is the specific Mode (literature), mode of fiction Mimesis, represented in performanc ...

Romeo and Juliet
'', or as a position for a character to harangue a crowd, as in ''
Julius Caesar Gaius Julius Caesar (; 12 July 100 BC – 15 March 44 BC) was a Roman Roman or Romans most often refers to: *, the capital city of Italy *, Roman civilization from 8th century BC to 5th century AD *, the people of ancient Rome *', shortened ...
''. Usually built of timber, lath and plaster and with thatched roofs, the early theatres were vulnerable to fire, and gradually were replaced (when necessary) with stronger structures. When the Globe burned down in June 1613, it was rebuilt with a tile roof. A different model was developed with the
Blackfriars Theatre Blackfriars Theatre was the name given to two separate theatres located in the former Blackfriars Dominican priory 300px, The Priory de Graville, France A priory is a monastery A monastery is a building or complex of buildings comprising ...
, which came into regular use on a long term basis in 1599. The Blackfriars was small in comparison to the earlier theatres, and roofed rather than open to the sky; it resembled a modern theatre in ways that its predecessors did not.


Elizabethan Shakespeare

For Shakespeare, as he began to write, both traditions were alive; they were, moreover, filtered through the recent success of the
University Wits The University Wits is a phrase used to name a group of late 16th-century English playwright A playwright or dramatist is a person who writes plays. Etymology The word "play" is from Middle English pleye, from Old English plæġ, pleġa, plæ ...
on the London stage. By the late 16th century, the popularity of morality and academic plays waned as the
English Renaissance The English Renaissance was a cultural Culture () is an umbrella term which encompasses the social behavior and Norm (social), norms found in human Society, societies, as well as the knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws, Social norm, customs, cap ...
took hold, and playwrights like
Thomas Kyd Thomas Kyd (baptised 6 November 1558; buried 15 August 1594) was an English playwright A playwright or dramatist is a person who writes play Play most commonly refers to: * Play (activity), an activity done for enjoyment * Play (theatre), ...
and
Christopher Marlowe Christopher Marlowe, also known as Kit Marlowe (; baptised Baptism (from the Greek language, Greek noun βάπτισμα ''báptisma'') is a Christians, Christian rite of initiation, admission and Adoption (theology), adoption, almost ...

Christopher Marlowe
revolutionised theatre. Their plays blended the old morality drama with classical theory to produce a new secular form. The new drama combined the rhetorical complexity of the academic play with the bawdy energy of the moralities. However, it was more ambiguous and complex in its meanings, and less concerned with simple allegory. Inspired by this new style, Shakespeare continued these artistic strategies, creating plays that not only resonated on an emotional level with audiences but also explored and debated the basic elements of what it means to be human. What Marlowe and Kyd did for tragedy,
John Lyly John Lyly (; c. 1553 or 1554 – November 1606; also spelled ''Lilly'', ''Lylie'', ''Lylly'') was an English writer, poet, dramatist, and courtier, best known during his lifetime for his books '' Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit'' (1578) and ''Euph ...
and
George Peele George Peele (baptised 25 July 1556 – buried 9 November 1596) was an England, English translator, poet, and dramatist, who is most noted for his supposed but not universally accepted collaboration with William Shakespeare on the play ''Titus And ...
, among others, did for comedy: they offered models of witty dialogue, romantic action, and exotic, often pastoral location that formed the basis of Shakespeare's comedic mode throughout his career. Shakespeare's Elizabethan tragedies (including the history plays with tragic designs, such as ''Richard II'') demonstrate his relative independence from classical models. He takes from Aristotle and
Horace Quintus Horatius Flaccus (; 8 December 65 – 27 November 8 BC), known in the English-speaking world as Horace (), was the leading Roman Empire, Roman Lyric poetry, lyric poet during the time of Augustus (also known as Octavian). The rhetoricia ...

Horace
the notion of decorum; with few exceptions, he focuses on high-born characters and national affairs as the subject of tragedy. In most other respects, though, the early tragedies are far closer to the spirit and style of moralities. They are episodic, packed with character and incident; they are loosely unified by a theme or character. In this respect, they reflect clearly the influence of Marlowe, particularly of ''
Tamburlaine ''Tamburlaine the Great'' is a play in two parts by Christopher Marlowe. It is loosely based on the life of the Central Asian emperor, Timur (Tamerlane/Timur the Lame, d. 1405). Written in 1587 or 1588, the play is a milestone in English litera ...
''. Even in his early work, however, Shakespeare generally shows more restraint than Marlowe; he resorts to grandiloquent rhetoric less frequently, and his attitude towards his heroes is more nuanced, and sometimes more sceptical, than Marlowe's. By the turn of the century, the bombast of ''Titus Andronicus'' had vanished, replaced by the subtlety of ''Hamlet''. In comedy, Shakespeare strayed even further from classical models. ''The Comedy of Errors'', an adaptation of ''
Menaechmi ''Menaechmi'', a Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in r ...
'', follows the model of
new comedy Ancient Greek comedy was one of the final three principal drama Drama is the specific Mode (literature), mode of fiction Mimesis, represented in performance: a Play (theatre), play, opera, mime, ballet, etc., performed in a theatre, or on R ...
closely. Shakespeare's other Elizabethan comedies are more romantic. Like Lyly, he often makes romantic intrigue (a secondary feature in Latin new comedy) the main plot element; even this romantic plot is sometimes given less attention than witty dialogue, deceit, and jests. The "reform of manners," which Horace considered the main function of comedy, survives in such episodes as the gulling of
Malvolio Malvolio is a fictional character in William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's ...
.


Jacobean Shakespeare

Shakespeare reached maturity as a dramatist at the end of Elizabeth's reign, and in the first years of the reign of
James James is a common English language surname and given name: * James (name), the typically masculine first name James * James (surname), various people with the last name James James or James City may also refer to: People * King James (disambiguati ...

James
. In these years, he responded to a deep shift in popular tastes, both in subject matter and approach. At the turn of the decade, he responded to the vogue for dramatic satire initiated by the
boy player Edward Kynaston (actor), Edward Kynaston, one of the last boy players. An 1889 engraving of a contemporary ( 1660) portrait. Boy player refers to children who performed in Medieval theatre, Medieval and English Renaissance theatre, English Renaissa ...
s at Blackfriars and St. Paul's. At the end of the decade, he seems to have attempted to capitalise on the new fashion for
tragicomedy Tragicomedy is a literary genre A literary genre is a category of literary composition. Genres may be determined by literary technique A narrative technique (known for literary fiction Literary fiction is a term used in the book-trade to d ...
, even collaborating with John Fletcher, the writer who had popularised the genre in England. The influence of younger dramatists such as John Marston and
Ben Jonson Benjamin Jonson (c. 11 June 1572 – c. 16 August 1637) was an English playwright and poet. Jonson's artistry exerted a lasting influence upon English poetry and stage comedy. He popularised the comedy of humours The comedy of humours is a ge ...
is seen not only in the problem plays, which dramatise intractable human problems of greed and lust, but also in the darker tone of the Jacobean tragedies. The Marlovian, heroic mode of the Elizabethan tragedies is gone, replaced by a darker vision of heroic natures caught in environments of pervasive corruption. As a sharer in both the Globe and in the King's Men, Shakespeare never wrote for the boys' companies; however, his early Jacobean work is markedly influenced by the techniques of the new, satiric dramatists. One play, ''
Troilus and Cressida ''Troilus and Cressida'' () is a play by William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and o ...
'', may even have been inspired by the
War of the TheatresThe War of the Theatres is the name commonly applied to a controversy from the later Elizabethan theatre; Thomas Dekker termed it the ''Poetomachia''. Because of an actual ban on satire in prose and verse publications in 1599 (the Bishops' Ban of 1 ...
. Shakespeare's final plays hark back to his Elizabethan comedies in their use of romantic situation and incident. In these plays, however, the sombre elements that are largely glossed over in the earlier plays are brought to the fore and often rendered dramatically vivid. This change is related to the success of tragicomedies such as '' Philaster'', although the uncertainty of dates makes the nature and direction of the influence unclear. From the evidence of the title-page to ''
The Two Noble Kinsmen ''The Two Noble Kinsmen'' is a Jacobean tragicomedy Tragicomedy is a literary genre that blends aspects of both tragedy, tragic and comedy, comic forms. Most often seen in drama, dramatic literature, the term can describe either a tragic pla ...
'' and from
textual analysis Content analysis is the study of document A document is a writing, written, drawing, drawn, presented, or memorialized representation of thought, often the manifestation of nonfiction, non-fictional, as well as fictional, content. The word ori ...
it is believed by some editors that Shakespeare ended his career in collaboration with Fletcher, who succeeded him as house playwright for the King's Men. These last plays resemble Fletcher's tragicomedies in their attempt to find a comedic mode capable of dramatising more serious events than had his earlier comedies.


Style

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth, "drama became the ideal means to capture and convey the diverse interests of the time." Stories of various genres were enacted for audiences consisting of both the wealthy and educated and the poor and illiterate. Later on, he retired at the height of the Jacobean period, not long before the start of the
Thirty Years' War The Thirty Years' War was a conflict fought largely within the Holy Roman Empire The Holy Roman Empire ( la, Sacrum Romanum Imperium; german: Heiliges Römisches Reich) was a multi-ethnic complex of territories in Western Europe, Weste ...
. His verse style, his choice of subjects, and his stagecraft all bear the marks of both periods. His style changed not only in accordance with his own tastes and developing mastery, but also in accord with the tastes of the audiences for whom he wrote. While many passages in Shakespeare's plays are written in
prose Prose is a form of written or spoken language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an apparent answer to the painful divisions ...

prose
, he almost always wrote a large proportion of his plays and poems in
iambic pentameter Iambic pentameter () is a type of metric line used in traditional English poetry Poetry (derived from the Greek language, Greek ''poiesis'', "making") is a form of literature that uses aesthetics, aesthetic and often rhythmic qualities of ...
. In some of his early works (like ''Romeo and Juliet''), he even added punctuation at the end of these iambic pentameter lines to make the rhythm even stronger.Introduction to ''Hamlet'' by William Shakespeare, Barron's Educational Series, 2002, p. 11. He and many dramatists of this period used the form of
blank verse Blank verse is poetry written with regular metre (poetry), metrical but rhyme, unrhymed lines, almost always in iambic pentameter. It has been described as "probably the most common and influential form that English poetry has taken since the 16 ...
extensively in character dialogue, thus heightening poetic effects. To end many scenes in his plays he used a rhyming
couplet A couplet is a pair of successive lines Long interspersed nuclear elements (LINEs) (also known as long interspersed nucleotide elements or long interspersed elements) are a group of non-LTR (long terminal repeat A long terminal repeat (LTR) is ...

couplet
to give a sense of conclusion, or completion. A typical example is provided in ''
Macbeth ''Macbeth'' (, full title ''The Tragedie of Macbeth'') is a Shakespearean tragedy, tragedy by William Shakespeare. It is thought to have been first performed in 1606 in literature, 1606. It dramatises the damaging physical and psychological ...

Macbeth
'': as Macbeth leaves the stage to murder Duncan (to the sound of a chiming clock), he says, Shakespeare's writing (especially his plays) also feature extensive wordplay in which
double entendres A double entendre (plural double entendres) is a figure of speech A figure of speech or rhetorical figure is a word or phrase that entails an intentional deviation from ordinary language use in order to produce a rhetoric Rhetoric ...
and rhetorical flourishes are repeatedly used. Humour is a key element in all of Shakespeare's plays. Although a large amount of his comical talent is evident in his comedies, some of the most entertaining scenes and characters are found in tragedies such as ''
Hamlet ''The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark'', often shortened to ''Hamlet'' (), is a tragedy Tragedy (from the grc-gre, τραγῳδία, ''tragōidia'', ''tragōidia'') is a genre of drama Drama is the specific Mode (litera ...

Hamlet
'' and histories such as ''
Henry IV, Part 1 ''Henry IV, Part 1'' is a history play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written no later than 1597. It is the second play in Shakespeare's Henriad, tetralogy dealing with the successive reigns of Richard II of England, Richard II, H ...
''. Shakespeare's humour was largely influenced by
Plautus Titus Maccius Plautus (; c. 254 – 184 BC), commonly known as Plautus, was a Roman Roman or Romans most often refers to: *, the capital city of Italy *, Roman civilization from 8th century BC to 5th century AD *, the people of ancient Rome ...
.


Soliloquies in plays

Shakespeare's plays are also notable for their use of
soliloquies The ''Soliloquies of Augustine'' is a two-book document written by the 4th-century Roman Catholic theologian Augustine of Hippo. The book has the form of an "inner dialogue" in which questions are posed, discussions take place and answers are pro ...
, in which a character makes a speech to themself so that the audience can understand the character's inner motivations and conflict. In his book ''Shakespeare and the History of Soliloquies'', James Hirsh defines the convention of a Shakespearean soliloquy in early modern drama. He argues that when a person on the stage speaks to himself or herself, they are characters in a fiction speaking in character; this is an occasion of self-address. Furthermore, Hirsh points out that Shakespearean soliloquies and "
asidesAn aside is a dramatic device in which a character Character(s) may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''Character'' (novel), a 1936 Dutch novel by Ferdinand Bordewijk * ''Characters'' (Theophrastus), a classical Greek set ...
" are audible in the fiction of the play, bound to be overheard by any other character in the scene unless certain elements confirm that the speech is protected. Therefore, a Renaissance playgoer who was familiar with this dramatic convention would have been alert to
Hamlet ''The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark'', often shortened to ''Hamlet'' (), is a tragedy Tragedy (from the grc-gre, τραγῳδία, ''tragōidia'', ''tragōidia'') is a genre of drama Drama is the specific Mode (litera ...
's expectation that his soliloquy be overheard by the other characters in the scene. Moreover, Hirsh asserts that in soliloquies in other Shakespeare plays, the speaker is entirely in character within the play's fiction. Saying that addressing the audience was outmoded by the time Shakespeare was alive, he "acknowledges few occasions when a Shakespearean speech might involve the audience in recognising the simultaneous reality of the stage and the world the stage is representing." Other than 29 speeches delivered by choruses or characters who revert to that condition as epilogues "Hirsh recognises only three instances of audience address in Shakespeare's plays, 'all in very early comedies, in which audience address is introduced specifically to ridicule the practice as antiquated and amateurish.'"


Source material of the plays

As was common in the period, Shakespeare based many of his plays on the work of other playwrights and recycled older stories and historical material. His dependence on earlier sources was a natural consequence of the speed at which playwrights of his era wrote; in addition, plays based on already popular stories appear to have been seen as more likely to draw large crowds. There were also aesthetic reasons: Renaissance aesthetic theory took seriously the dictum that tragic plots should be grounded in history. For example, ''
King Lear ''King Lear'' is a tragedy Tragedy (from the grc-gre, τραγῳδία, ''tragōidia'', ''tragōidia'') is a genre of drama Drama is the specific Mode (literature), mode of fiction Mimesis, represented in performance: a Play (t ...

King Lear
'' is probably an adaptation of an older play, ''
King Leir ''King Leir'' is an anonymous Elizabethan The Elizabethan era is the epoch in the Tudor period of the history of England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558–1603). Historians often depict it as the Golden age (metaphor), golden a ...
'', and the
Henriad In Shakespearean scholarship, Henriad refers to a group of William Shakespeare's Shakespearean history, history plays. It is sometimes used to refer to a group of four plays (a tetralogy), but some sources and scholars use the term to refer to ...
probably derived from ''
The Famous Victories of Henry V ''The Famous Victories of Henry the fifth: Containing the Honourable Battel of Agin-court: As it was plaide by the Queenes Maiesties Players'', is an anonymous Elizabethan play, which is generally thought to be a source for Shakespeare's '' Henriad ...
''.William Shakespeare. (n.d.) Retrieved from: https://www.britannica.com/biography/William-Shakespeare/Shakespeares-sources There is speculation that ''
Hamlet ''The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark'', often shortened to ''Hamlet'' (), is a tragedy Tragedy (from the grc-gre, τραγῳδία, ''tragōidia'', ''tragōidia'') is a genre of drama Drama is the specific Mode (litera ...

Hamlet
'' (c. 1601) may be a reworking of an older, lost play (the so-called ''
Ur-Hamlet The ''Ur-Hamlet'' (the German prefix '' Ur-'' means "original") is a play by an unknown author, thought to be either Thomas Kyd Thomas Kyd (baptised 6 November 1558; buried 15 August 1594) was an English playwright, the author of ''The Spanish ...
''), but the number of lost plays from this time period makes it impossible to determine that relationship with certainty. (The ''Ur-Hamlet'' may in fact have been Shakespeare's, and was just an earlier and subsequently discarded version.) For plays on historical subjects, Shakespeare relied heavily on two principal texts. Most of the Roman and Greek plays are based on
Plutarch Plutarch (; grc-gre, Πλούταρχος, ''Ploútarchos''; ; AD 46 – after AD 119) was a Greek Middle Platonist Middle Platonism is the modern name given to a stage in the development of Platonic philosophy, lasting from about 90 BC&nbs ...

Plutarch
's ''
Parallel Lives Plutarch Plutarch (; grc-gre, Πλούταρχος, ''Ploútarchos''; ; AD 46 – after AD 119) was a Greek Middle Platonist Middle Platonism is the modern name given to a stage in the development of Platonic philosophy, lasting from a ...
'' (from the 1579 English translation by Sir Thomas North), and the English
history play History is one of the three main genres in Western theatre alongside tragedy Tragedy (from the grc-gre, τραγῳδία, ''tragōidia'', ''tragōidia'') is a form of drama Drama is the specific Mode (literature), mode of fiction Mi ...
s are indebted to
Raphael Holinshed Raphael Holinshed ( – before 24 April 1582) was an English chronicle A chronicle ( la, chronica, from Greek language, Greek ''chroniká'', from , ''chrónos'' – "time") is a historical account of events arranged in chronology, chronolog ...
's 1587 ''Chronicles''. This structure did not apply to comedy, and those of Shakespeare's plays for which no clear source has been established, such as ''
Love's Labour's Lost Image:Loves labours tp.jpg, Title page of the first quarto (1598) ''Love's Labour's Lost'' is one of William Shakespeare's early comedies, believed to have been written in the mid-1590s for a performance at the Inns of Court before Elizabeth I o ...
'' and ''
The Tempest ''The Tempest'' is a Shakespeare's plays, play by English playwright William Shakespeare, probably written in 1610–1611, and thought to be one of the last plays that Shakespeare wrote alone. After the first scene, which takes place on a ship ...
'', are comedies. Even these plays, however, rely heavily on generic commonplaces. While there is much dispute about the exact
chronology of Shakespeare's plays This article presents a possible ''chronological listing of the composition of the Shakespeare's plays, plays of William Shakespeare''. Shakespearean scholars, beginning with Edmond Malone in 1778, have attempted to reconstruct the relative chro ...
, the plays tend to fall into three main stylistic groupings. The first major grouping of his plays begins with his histories and comedies of the 1590s. Shakespeare's earliest plays tended to be adaptations of other playwrights' works and employed blank verse and little variation in rhythm. However, after the plague forced Shakespeare and his company of actors to leave London for periods between 1592 and 1594, Shakespeare began to use rhymed couplets in his plays, along with more dramatic dialogue. These elements showed up in ''
The Taming of the Shrew ''The Taming of the Shrew'' is a comedy Comedy (from the el, κωμῳδία, ''kōmōdía'') is a genre of fiction that consists of discourses or works intended to be humor Humour (Commonwealth English The use of the Engli ...
'' and ''
A Midsummer Night's Dream ''A Midsummer Night's Dream'' is a comedy Comedy (from the el, κωμῳδία, ''kōmōdía'') is a genre of fiction that consists of discourses or works intended to be humor Humour (Commonwealth English The use of the Eng ...

A Midsummer Night's Dream
.'' Almost all of the plays written after the plague hit London are comedies, perhaps reflecting the public's desire at the time for light-hearted fare. Other comedies from Shakespeare during this period include ''
Much Ado About Nothing ''Much Ado About Nothing'' is a Shakespearean comedy, comedy by William Shakespeare thought to have been written in 1598 and 1599.See textual notes to ''Much Ado About Nothing'' in ''The Norton Shakespeare'' (W. W. Norton & Company, 1997 ) p. ...
,'' ''
The Merry Wives of Windsor ''The Merry Wives of Windsor'' or ''Sir John Falstaff and the Merry Wives of Windsor'' is a comedy by William Shakespeare first published in 1602, though believed to have been written in or before 1597. The Windsor of the play's title is a refe ...
'' and ''
As You Like It ''As You Like It'' is a pastoral A pastoral lifestyle is that of shepherds herd A herd is a social group of certain animals of the same species, either wildness, wild or Domestication, domestic. The form of collective animal behav ...

As You Like It
.'' The middle grouping of Shakespeare's plays begins in 1599 with ''
Julius Caesar Gaius Julius Caesar (; 12 July 100 BC – 15 March 44 BC) was a Roman Roman or Romans most often refers to: *, the capital city of Italy *, Roman civilization from 8th century BC to 5th century AD *, the people of ancient Rome *', shortened ...
.'' For the next few years, Shakespeare would produce his most famous dramas, including ''
Macbeth ''Macbeth'' (, full title ''The Tragedie of Macbeth'') is a Shakespearean tragedy, tragedy by William Shakespeare. It is thought to have been first performed in 1606 in literature, 1606. It dramatises the damaging physical and psychological ...

Macbeth
,'' ''
Hamlet ''The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark'', often shortened to ''Hamlet'' (), is a tragedy Tragedy (from the grc-gre, τραγῳδία, ''tragōidia'', ''tragōidia'') is a genre of drama Drama is the specific Mode (litera ...

Hamlet
,'' and ''
King Lear ''King Lear'' is a tragedy Tragedy (from the grc-gre, τραγῳδία, ''tragōidia'', ''tragōidia'') is a genre of drama Drama is the specific Mode (literature), mode of fiction Mimesis, represented in performance: a Play (t ...

King Lear
.'' The plays during this period are in many ways the darkest of Shakespeare's career and address issues such as betrayal, murder, lust, power and egoism. The final grouping of plays, called
Shakespeare's late romances The late romances, often simply called the romances, are a grouping of William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in t ...
, include ''
Pericles, Prince of Tyre ''Pericles, Prince of Tyre'' is a Jacobean play written at least in part by William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest ...
'', ''
Cymbeline ''Cymbeline'' , also known as ''The Tragedie of Cymbeline'' or ''Cymbeline, King of Britain'', is a play by William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet, and actor, w ...
'', ''
The Winter's Tale ''The Winter's Tale'' is a play by William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world ...
'' and ''
The Tempest ''The Tempest'' is a Shakespeare's plays, play by English playwright William Shakespeare, probably written in 1610–1611, and thought to be one of the last plays that Shakespeare wrote alone. After the first scene, which takes place on a ship ...
''. The romances are so called because they bear similarities to medieval romance literature. Among the features of these plays are a redemptive plotline with a happy ending, and magic and other fantastic elements.


Canonical plays

Except where noted, the plays below are listed, for the thirty-six plays included in the
First Folio ''Mr. William Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies'' is a collection of plays by William Shakespeare, commonly referred to by modern scholars as the First Folio, published in 1623, about seven years after Shakespeare's death. It is cons ...

First Folio
of 1623, according to the order in which they appear there, with two plays that were not included (''
Pericles, Prince of Tyre ''Pericles, Prince of Tyre'' is a Jacobean play written at least in part by William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest ...
'' and ''
The Two Noble Kinsmen ''The Two Noble Kinsmen'' is a Jacobean tragicomedy Tragicomedy is a literary genre that blends aspects of both tragedy, tragic and comedy, comic forms. Most often seen in drama, dramatic literature, the term can describe either a tragic pla ...
'') being added at the end of the list of comedies and ''
Edward III Edward III (13 November 1312 – 21 June 1377), also known as Edward of Windsor before his accession, was King of England and Lord of Ireland from January 1327 until his death in 1377. He is noted for his military success and for restoring roy ...
'' at the end of the list of histories.


Comedies

# ''
The Tempest ''The Tempest'' is a Shakespeare's plays, play by English playwright William Shakespeare, probably written in 1610–1611, and thought to be one of the last plays that Shakespeare wrote alone. After the first scene, which takes place on a ship ...
'' LR # ''
The Two Gentlemen of Verona ''The Two Gentlemen of Verona'' is a Shakespearean comedy, comedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1589 and 1593. It is considered by some to be Shakespeare's first play, and is often seen as showing his first tenta ...
'' # ''
The Merry Wives of Windsor ''The Merry Wives of Windsor'' or ''Sir John Falstaff and the Merry Wives of Windsor'' is a comedy by William Shakespeare first published in 1602, though believed to have been written in or before 1597. The Windsor of the play's title is a refe ...
'' # ''
Measure for Measure ''Measure for Measure'' is a play by William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and one of ...
'' PP # ''
The Comedy of Errors ''The Comedy of Errors'' is one of William Shakespeare's William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and one ...
'' # ''
Much Ado About Nothing ''Much Ado About Nothing'' is a Shakespearean comedy, comedy by William Shakespeare thought to have been written in 1598 and 1599.See textual notes to ''Much Ado About Nothing'' in ''The Norton Shakespeare'' (W. W. Norton & Company, 1997 ) p. ...
'' # ''
Love's Labour's Lost Image:Loves labours tp.jpg, Title page of the first quarto (1598) ''Love's Labour's Lost'' is one of William Shakespeare's early comedies, believed to have been written in the mid-1590s for a performance at the Inns of Court before Elizabeth I o ...
'' # ''
A Midsummer Night's Dream ''A Midsummer Night's Dream'' is a comedy Comedy (from the el, κωμῳδία, ''kōmōdía'') is a genre of fiction that consists of discourses or works intended to be humor Humour (Commonwealth English The use of the Eng ...

A Midsummer Night's Dream
'' # ''
The Merchant of Venice ''The Merchant of Venice'' is a 16th-century play written by William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the Engl ...
'' PP # ''
As You Like It ''As You Like It'' is a pastoral A pastoral lifestyle is that of shepherds herd A herd is a social group of certain animals of the same species, either wildness, wild or Domestication, domestic. The form of collective animal behav ...

As You Like It
'' # ''
The Taming of the Shrew ''The Taming of the Shrew'' is a comedy Comedy (from the el, κωμῳδία, ''kōmōdía'') is a genre of fiction that consists of discourses or works intended to be humor Humour (Commonwealth English The use of the Engli ...
'' # ''
All's Well That Ends Well ''All's Well That Ends Well'' is a play by William Shakespeare William Shakespeare ( 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the wo ...

All's Well That Ends Well
'' PP # ''
Twelfth Night ''Twelfth Night'', or ''What You Will'' is a romantic comedy Romantic comedy (also known as romcom or rom-com) is a subgenre of comedy and slice-of-life Slice of life describes the depiction of mundane experiences in art and entertainm ...

Twelfth Night
'' # ''
The Winter's Tale ''The Winter's Tale'' is a play by William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world ...
'' LR PP # ''
Pericles, Prince of Tyre ''Pericles, Prince of Tyre'' is a Jacobean play written at least in part by William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest ...
'' LR FF # ''
The Two Noble Kinsmen ''The Two Noble Kinsmen'' is a Jacobean tragicomedy Tragicomedy is a literary genre that blends aspects of both tragedy, tragic and comedy, comic forms. Most often seen in drama, dramatic literature, the term can describe either a tragic pla ...
'' LR FF


Histories

# ''
King John of the King of the Romans (variant used in the early modern period) File:Nezahualpiltzintli.jpg, Aztec King Nezahualpiltzintli of Texcoco King is the title given to a male monarch in a variety of contexts. The female equivalent is queen re ...
'' # ''
Richard II Richard II (6 January 1367 – c. 14 February 1400), also known as Richard of Bordeaux, was King of England from 1377 until he was List of deposed politicians, deposed in 1399. Richard's father, Edward the Black Prince, Edward, Prince of ...
'' # ''
Henry IV, Part 1 ''Henry IV, Part 1'' is a history play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written no later than 1597. It is the second play in Shakespeare's Henriad, tetralogy dealing with the successive reigns of Richard II of England, Richard II, H ...
'' # ''
Henry IV, Part 2 ''Henry IV, Part 2'' is a history play by William Shakespeare believed to have been written between 1596 and 1599. It is the third part of a tetralogy, preceded by ''Richard II (play), Richard II'' and ''Henry IV, Part 1'' and succeeded by ''He ...
'' # ''
Henry VHenry V may refer to: People * Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor (1081–1125) * Henry V, Count Palatine of the Rhine (1173–1227) * Henry V, Count of Luxembourg (1216–1281) * Henry V, Duke of Legnica (c.  1248 – 1296) * Henry V of Iron (c. 1319 ...
'' # ''
Henry VI, Part 1 ''Henry VI, Part 1'', often referred to as ''1 Henry VI'', is a history play by William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet, and actor, widely regarded as the great ...
'' # ''
Henry VI, Part 2 ''Henry VI, Part 2'' (often written as ''2 Henry VI'') is a history play History is one of the three main genres in Western theatre alongside tragedy Tragedy (from the grc-gre, τραγῳδία, ''tragōidia'', ''tragōidia'') is a f ...
'' # ''
Henry VI, Part 3 ''Henry VI, Part 3'' (often written as ''3 Henry VI'') is a Shakespearean history, history play by William Shakespeare believed to have been written in 1591 and set during the lifetime of King Henry VI of England. Whereas ''Henry VI, Part 1, ...
'' # ''
Richard III Richard III (2 October 145222 August 1485) was King of England This list of kings and queens of the Kingdom of England The Kingdom of England (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Ita ...
'' # ''
Henry VIII Henry VIII (28 June 149128 January 1547) was King of England from 22 April 1509 until his death in 1547. Henry is best known for Wives of Henry VIII, his six marriages, including his efforts to have his first marriage (to Catherine of Aragon ...
'' # ''
Edward III Edward III (13 November 1312 – 21 June 1377), also known as Edward of Windsor before his accession, was King of England and Lord of Ireland from January 1327 until his death in 1377. He is noted for his military success and for restoring roy ...
'' FF


Tragedies

# ''
Troilus and Cressida ''Troilus and Cressida'' () is a play by William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and o ...
'' PP # ''
Coriolanus ''Coriolanus'' ( or ) is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1605 and 1608. The play is based on the life of the legendary Roman Republic, Roman leader Gaius Marcius Coriolanus, Caius Marcius Coriolanus. Sh ...

Coriolanus
'' # ''
Titus Andronicus ''Titus Andronicus'' is a Shakespearean tragedy, tragedy by William Shakespeare believed to have been written between 1588 and 1593, probably in collaboration with George Peele. It is thought to be Shakespeare's first tragedy and is often seen ...

Titus Andronicus
'' # ''
Romeo and Juliet ''Romeo and Juliet'' is a tragedy Tragedy (from the grc-gre, τραγῳδία, ''tragōidia'', ''tragōidia'') is a genre of drama Drama is the specific Mode (literature), mode of fiction Mimesis, represented in performanc ...

Romeo and Juliet
'' # ''
Timon of Athens ''Timon of Athens'' (''The Life of Tymon of Athens'') is a play written by William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writ ...

Timon of Athens
'' PP # ''
Julius Caesar Gaius Julius Caesar (; 12 July 100 BC – 15 March 44 BC) was a Roman Roman or Romans most often refers to: *, the capital city of Italy *, Roman civilization from 8th century BC to 5th century AD *, the people of ancient Rome *', shortened ...
'' # ''
Macbeth ''Macbeth'' (, full title ''The Tragedie of Macbeth'') is a Shakespearean tragedy, tragedy by William Shakespeare. It is thought to have been first performed in 1606 in literature, 1606. It dramatises the damaging physical and psychological ...

Macbeth
'' # ''
Hamlet ''The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark'', often shortened to ''Hamlet'' (), is a tragedy Tragedy (from the grc-gre, τραγῳδία, ''tragōidia'', ''tragōidia'') is a genre of drama Drama is the specific Mode (litera ...

Hamlet
'' # ''
King Lear ''King Lear'' is a tragedy Tragedy (from the grc-gre, τραγῳδία, ''tragōidia'', ''tragōidia'') is a genre of drama Drama is the specific Mode (literature), mode of fiction Mimesis, represented in performance: a Play (t ...

King Lear
'' # ''
Othello ''Othello'' (full title: ''The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice'') is a tragedy Tragedy (from the grc-gre, τραγῳδία, ''tragōidia'', ''tragōidia'') is a genre of drama Drama is the specific Mode (literature), mod ...

Othello
'' # ''
Antony and Cleopatra ''Antony and Cleopatra'' (First Folio title: ''The Tragedie of Anthonie, and Cleopatra'') is a Shakespearean tragedy, tragedy by William Shakespeare. The play was first performed, by the King's Men (playing company), King's Men, at either the ...

Antony and Cleopatra
'' # ''
Cymbeline ''Cymbeline'' , also known as ''The Tragedie of Cymbeline'' or ''Cymbeline, King of Britain'', is a play by William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet, and actor, w ...
'' LR Note: Plays marked with LR are now commonly referred to as the " late romances". Plays marked with PP are sometimes referred to as the " problem plays". The three plays marked with FF were not included in the First Folio.


Dramatic collaborations

Like most playwrights of his period, Shakespeare did not always write alone, and a number of his plays were collaborative, although the exact number is open to debate. Some of the following attributions, such as for ''The Two Noble Kinsmen'', have well-attested contemporary documentation; others, such as for ''Titus Andronicus'', remain more controversial and are dependent on linguistic analysis by modern scholars. * ''
Cardenio ''The History of Cardenio'', often referred to as merely ''Cardenio'', is a lost work, lost play, known to have been performed by the King's Men (playing company), King's Men, a London theatre company, in 1613. The play is attributed to William Shak ...
'' (a lost play or one that survives only as a later adaptation, ''
Double Falsehood ''Double Falsehood'' (archaic spelling: ''Double Falshood'') or ''The Distrest Lovers'' is a 1727 play by the English writer and playwright Lewis Theobald, although the authorship has been contested ever since the play was first published, with so ...

Double Falsehood
'') – Contemporaneous reports suggest that Shakespeare collaborated with John Fletcher. * ''
Cymbeline ''Cymbeline'' , also known as ''The Tragedie of Cymbeline'' or ''Cymbeline, King of Britain'', is a play by William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet, and actor, w ...
'' – The ''Yale Shakespeare'' suggests that a collaborator may have been responsible for parts or all of Act III scene 7 and Act V scene 2 * ''
Edward III Edward III (13 November 1312 – 21 June 1377), also known as Edward of Windsor before his accession, was King of England and Lord of Ireland from January 1327 until his death in 1377. He is noted for his military success and for restoring roy ...
'' – Brian Vickers concluded that the play was 40% Shakespeare and 60%
Thomas Kyd Thomas Kyd (baptised 6 November 1558; buried 15 August 1594) was an English playwright A playwright or dramatist is a person who writes play Play most commonly refers to: * Play (activity), an activity done for enjoyment * Play (theatre), ...
. * ''
Henry VI, Part 1 ''Henry VI, Part 1'', often referred to as ''1 Henry VI'', is a history play by William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet, and actor, widely regarded as the great ...
'' – Some scholars argue that Shakespeare wrote less than 20% of the text. * ''
Henry VIII Henry VIII (28 June 149128 January 1547) was King of England from 22 April 1509 until his death in 1547. Henry is best known for Wives of Henry VIII, his six marriages, including his efforts to have his first marriage (to Catherine of Aragon ...
'' – Generally considered a collaboration between Shakespeare and Fletcher. * ''
Macbeth ''Macbeth'' (, full title ''The Tragedie of Macbeth'') is a Shakespearean tragedy, tragedy by William Shakespeare. It is thought to have been first performed in 1606 in literature, 1606. It dramatises the damaging physical and psychological ...

Macbeth
'' –
Thomas Middleton Thomas Middleton (baptised 18 April 1580 – July 1627; also spelt ''Midleton'') was an English English Renaissance theatre, Jacobean playwright and poet. He, with John Fletcher (playwright), John Fletcher and Ben Jonson, was among the most suc ...

Thomas Middleton
may have revised this tragedy in 1615 to incorporate extra musical sequences. * ''
Measure for Measure ''Measure for Measure'' is a play by William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and one of ...
'' – May have undergone a light revision by Middleton. * ''
Pericles, Prince of Tyre ''Pericles, Prince of Tyre'' is a Jacobean play written at least in part by William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest ...
'' – May include work by
George Wilkins George Wilkins (died 1618) was an English dramatist and pamphleteer best known for his probable collaboration with William Shakespeare on the play ''Pericles, Prince of Tyre''. By profession he was an inn-keeper, but he was also apparently involv ...
, either as collaborator, reviser, or revisee. * ''
Timon of Athens ''Timon of Athens'' (''The Life of Tymon of Athens'') is a play written by William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writ ...

Timon of Athens
'' – May have resulted from collaboration between Shakespeare and Middleton. * ''
Titus Andronicus ''Titus Andronicus'' is a Shakespearean tragedy, tragedy by William Shakespeare believed to have been written between 1588 and 1593, probably in collaboration with George Peele. It is thought to be Shakespeare's first tragedy and is often seen ...

Titus Andronicus
'' – May have been written in collaboration with or revised by
George Peele George Peele (baptised 25 July 1556 – buried 9 November 1596) was an England, English translator, poet, and dramatist, who is most noted for his supposed but not universally accepted collaboration with William Shakespeare on the play ''Titus And ...
. * ''
The Two Noble Kinsmen ''The Two Noble Kinsmen'' is a Jacobean tragicomedy Tragicomedy is a literary genre that blends aspects of both tragedy, tragic and comedy, comic forms. Most often seen in drama, dramatic literature, the term can describe either a tragic pla ...
'' – Attributed in 1634 to Fletcher and Shakespeare.


Lost plays

* ''
Love's Labour's Won ''Love's Labour's Won'' is a lost play attributed by contemporaries to William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer ...
'' – A late sixteenth-century writer,
Francis Meres Francis Meres (1565/1566 – 29 January 1647) was an English churchman and author. His 1598 commonplace book Commonplace books (or commonplaces) are a way to compile knowledge, usually by writing information into books. They have been kept from ...
, and a bookseller's list both include this title among Shakespeare's recent works, but no play of this title has survived. It may have become lost, or it may represent an alternative title of one of the plays listed above, such as ''
Much Ado About Nothing ''Much Ado About Nothing'' is a Shakespearean comedy, comedy by William Shakespeare thought to have been written in 1598 and 1599.See textual notes to ''Much Ado About Nothing'' in ''The Norton Shakespeare'' (W. W. Norton & Company, 1997 ) p. ...
'' or ''
All's Well That Ends Well ''All's Well That Ends Well'' is a play by William Shakespeare William Shakespeare ( 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the wo ...

All's Well That Ends Well
''. * ''
Cardenio ''The History of Cardenio'', often referred to as merely ''Cardenio'', is a lost work, lost play, known to have been performed by the King's Men (playing company), King's Men, a London theatre company, in 1613. The play is attributed to William Shak ...
'' – Attributed to William Shakespeare and John Fletcher in a
Stationers' Register The Stationers' Register was a record book maintained by the Stationers' Company The Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers (until 1937 the Worshipful Company of Stationers), usually known as the Stationers' Company, is one o ...
entry of 1653 (alongside a number of erroneous attributions), and often believed to have been re-worked from a subplot in
Cervantes Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (; 29 September 1547 (assumed)22 April 1616 NS) was a Spanish writer widely regarded as the greatest writer in the Spanish language Spanish () or Castilian (, ) is a Romance languages, Romance language that or ...

Cervantes
' ''
Don Quixote (, ;Oxford English Dictionary,Don Quixote , ) is a Spanish Spanish may refer to: * Items from or related to Spain: **Spaniards, a nation and ethnic group indigenous to Spain **Spanish language **Spanish cuisine Other places * Spanish, Ont ...

Don Quixote
''. In 1727,
Lewis Theobald Lewis Theobald (baptised 2 April 1688 – 18 September 1744), British textual editor "Quarters of the news editor", one of a group of four photos in the 1900 The Seattle Daily Times—Editorial Department".">The Seattle Times">The Seattle Dai ...
produced a play he called ''
Double Falshood Double may refer to: * Look-alike, a person who closely resembles another person * Body double, someone who substitutes for the credited actor of a character * Doppelgänger, ghostly double of a living person * Polish Enigma doubles, replicating t ...

Double Falshood
'', which he claimed to have adapted from three manuscripts of a lost play by Shakespeare that he did not name. ''Double Falshood'' does re-work the Cardenio story, but modern scholarship has not established with certainty whether ''Double Falshood'' includes fragments of Shakespeare's lost play.


Plays possibly by Shakespeare

Note: For a comprehensive account of plays possibly by Shakespeare or in part by Shakespeare, see the separate entry on the
Shakespeare Apocrypha The Shakespeare apocrypha is a group of plays and poems that have sometimes been attributed to William Shakespeare William Shakespeare ( 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet and actor, widely regarded as the ...
. * ''
Arden of Faversham ''Arden of Faversham'' (original spelling: ''Arden of Feversham'') is an Elizabethan theatre, Elizabethan play, entered into the Register of the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers, Stationers Company on 3 April 1592, and pr ...
'' – The middle portion of the play (scenes 4–9) may have been written by Shakespeare. * ''
Edmund Ironside Edmund Ironside (30 November 1016; , ; sometimes also known as Edmund II) was King of the English This list of kings and queens of the Kingdom of England begins with Alfred the Great, who initially ruled Kingdom of Wessex, Wessex, one of t ...
'' – Contains numerous words first used by Shakespeare, and, if by him, is perhaps his first play. * ''
Sir Thomas More Sir Thomas More (7 February 1478 – 6 July 1535), venerated in the Catholic Church The Catholic Church, often referred to as the Roman Catholic Church, is the List of Christian denominations by number of members, largest Christian chur ...
'' – A collaborative work by several playwrights, including Shakespeare. There is a "growing scholarly consensus" that Shakespeare was called in to re-write a contentious scene in the play and that "Hand D" in the surviving manuscript is that of Shakespeare himself. * ''
The Spanish Tragedy Image:Spanish-tragedy.gif, Title page of the 1615 edition ''The Spanish Tragedy, or Hieronimo is Mad Again'' is an Elizabethan tragedy written by Thomas Kyd between 1582 and 1592. Highly popular and influential in its time, ''The Spanish Tragedy' ...

The Spanish Tragedy
'' – Additional passages included in the fourth quarto, including the "painter scene", are likely to have been written by him.


Shakespeare and the textual problem

Unlike his contemporary
Ben Jonson Benjamin Jonson (c. 11 June 1572 – c. 16 August 1637) was an English playwright and poet. Jonson's artistry exerted a lasting influence upon English poetry and stage comedy. He popularised the comedy of humours The comedy of humours is a ge ...
, Shakespeare did not have direct involvement in publishing his plays and produced no overall authoritative version of his plays before he died. As a result, the problem of identifying what Shakespeare actually wrote is a major concern for most modern editions. One of the reasons there are textual problems is that there was no copyright of writings at the time. As a result, Shakespeare and the
playing companiesIn English Renaissance theatre, Renaissance London, playing company was the usual term for a company of actors. These companies were organized around a group of ten or so shareholders (or "sharers"), who performed in the plays but were also responsib ...
he worked with did not distribute scripts of his plays, for fear that the plays would be stolen. This led to bootleg copies of his plays, which were often based on people trying to remember what Shakespeare had actually written. Textual corruptions also stemming from printers' errors, misreadings by compositors, or simply wrongly scanned lines from the source material litter the Quartos and the
First Folio ''Mr. William Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies'' is a collection of plays by William Shakespeare, commonly referred to by modern scholars as the First Folio, published in 1623, about seven years after Shakespeare's death. It is cons ...

First Folio
. Additionally, in an age before standardised spelling, Shakespeare often wrote a word several times in a different spelling, and this may have contributed to some of the transcribers' confusion. Modern editors have the task of reconstructing Shakespeare's original words and expurgating errors as far as possible. In some cases the textual solution presents few difficulties. In the case of ''Macbeth'' for example, scholars believe that someone (probably
Thomas Middleton Thomas Middleton (baptised 18 April 1580 – July 1627; also spelt ''Midleton'') was an English English Renaissance theatre, Jacobean playwright and poet. He, with John Fletcher (playwright), John Fletcher and Ben Jonson, was among the most suc ...

Thomas Middleton
) adapted and shortened the original to produce the extant text published in the First Folio, but that remains the only known text of the play. In others the text may have become manifestly corrupt or unreliable (''
Pericles Pericles (; grc-x-attic, Περικλῆς, in Classical Attic; c. 495 – 429 BC) was a Greek statesman and general of Athens , image_skyline = File:Athens Montage L.png, center, 275px, alt=Athens montage. Click ...
'' or ''
Timon of Athens ''Timon of Athens'' (''The Life of Tymon of Athens'') is a play written by William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writ ...

Timon of Athens
'') but no competing version exists. The modern editor can only regularise and correct erroneous readings that have survived into the printed versions. The textual problem can, however, become rather complicated. Modern scholarship now believes Shakespeare to have modified his plays through the years, sometimes leading to two existing versions of one play. To provide a modern text in such cases, editors must face the choice between the original first version and the later, revised, usually more theatrical version. In the past editors have resolved this problem by conflating the texts to provide what they believe to be a superior ''Ur-text'', but critics now argue that to provide a conflated text would run contrary to Shakespeare's intentions. In ''
King Lear ''King Lear'' is a tragedy Tragedy (from the grc-gre, τραγῳδία, ''tragōidia'', ''tragōidia'') is a genre of drama Drama is the specific Mode (literature), mode of fiction Mimesis, represented in performance: a Play (t ...

King Lear
'' for example, two independent versions, each with their own textual integrity, exist in the Quarto and the Folio versions. Shakespeare's changes here extend from the merely local to the structural. Hence the ''Oxford Shakespeare'', published in 1986 (second edition 2005), provides two different versions of the play, each with respectable authority. The problem exists with at least four other Shakespearean plays (''Henry IV, part 1''; ''
Hamlet ''The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark'', often shortened to ''Hamlet'' (), is a tragedy Tragedy (from the grc-gre, τραγῳδία, ''tragōidia'', ''tragōidia'') is a genre of drama Drama is the specific Mode (litera ...

Hamlet
''; ''
Troilus and Cressida ''Troilus and Cressida'' () is a play by William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and o ...
''; and ''
Othello ''Othello'' (full title: ''The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice'') is a tragedy Tragedy (from the grc-gre, τραγῳδία, ''tragōidia'', ''tragōidia'') is a genre of drama Drama is the specific Mode (literature), mod ...

Othello
'').


Performance history

During Shakespeare's lifetime, many of his greatest plays were staged at the Globe Theatre and the
Blackfriars Theatre Blackfriars Theatre was the name given to two separate theatres located in the former Blackfriars Dominican priory 300px, The Priory de Graville, France A priory is a monastery A monastery is a building or complex of buildings comprising ...
. Shakespeare's fellow members of the Lord Chamberlain's Men acted in his plays. Among these actors were Richard Burbage (who played the title role in the first performances of many of Shakespeare's plays, including ''
Hamlet ''The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark'', often shortened to ''Hamlet'' (), is a tragedy Tragedy (from the grc-gre, τραγῳδία, ''tragōidia'', ''tragōidia'') is a genre of drama Drama is the specific Mode (litera ...

Hamlet
'', ''
Othello ''Othello'' (full title: ''The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice'') is a tragedy Tragedy (from the grc-gre, τραγῳδία, ''tragōidia'', ''tragōidia'') is a genre of drama Drama is the specific Mode (literature), mod ...

Othello
'', ''
Richard III Richard III (2 October 145222 August 1485) was King of England This list of kings and queens of the Kingdom of England The Kingdom of England (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Ita ...
'' and ''
King Lear ''King Lear'' is a tragedy Tragedy (from the grc-gre, τραγῳδία, ''tragōidia'', ''tragōidia'') is a genre of drama Drama is the specific Mode (literature), mode of fiction Mimesis, represented in performance: a Play (t ...

King Lear
''), Richard Cowley (who played Verges in ''
Much Ado About Nothing ''Much Ado About Nothing'' is a Shakespearean comedy, comedy by William Shakespeare thought to have been written in 1598 and 1599.See textual notes to ''Much Ado About Nothing'' in ''The Norton Shakespeare'' (W. W. Norton & Company, 1997 ) p. ...
''), William Kempe, (who played Peter in ''
Romeo and Juliet ''Romeo and Juliet'' is a tragedy Tragedy (from the grc-gre, τραγῳδία, ''tragōidia'', ''tragōidia'') is a genre of drama Drama is the specific Mode (literature), mode of fiction Mimesis, represented in performanc ...

Romeo and Juliet
'' and, possibly, Bottom in ''
A Midsummer Night's Dream ''A Midsummer Night's Dream'' is a comedy Comedy (from the el, κωμῳδία, ''kōmōdía'') is a genre of fiction that consists of discourses or works intended to be humor Humour (Commonwealth English The use of the Eng ...

A Midsummer Night's Dream
'') and Henry Condell and John Heminges, who are most famous now for collecting and editing the plays of Shakespeare's
First Folio ''Mr. William Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies'' is a collection of plays by William Shakespeare, commonly referred to by modern scholars as the First Folio, published in 1623, about seven years after Shakespeare's death. It is cons ...

First Folio
(1623). Shakespeare's plays continued to be staged after his death until the Interregnum (England), Interregnum (1649–1660), when all public stage performances were banned by the Puritan rulers. After the Restoration (England), English Restoration, Shakespeare's plays were performed in playhouses with elaborate scenery and staged with music, dancing, thunder, lightning, wave machines, and fireworks. During this time the texts were "reformed" and "improved" for the stage, an undertaking which has seemed shockingly disrespectful to posterity. Victorian era, Victorian productions of Shakespeare often sought pictorial effects in "authentic" historical costumes and sets. The staging of the reported sea fights and barge scene in ''
Antony and Cleopatra ''Antony and Cleopatra'' (First Folio title: ''The Tragedie of Anthonie, and Cleopatra'') is a Shakespearean tragedy, tragedy by William Shakespeare. The play was first performed, by the King's Men (playing company), King's Men, at either the ...

Antony and Cleopatra
'' was one spectacular example. Too often, the result was a loss of pace. Towards the end of the 19th century, William Poel led a reaction against this heavy style. In a series of "Elizabethan" productions on a thrust stage, he paid fresh attention to the structure of the drama. In the early twentieth century, Harley Granville-Barker directed quarto and folio texts with few cuts, while Edward Gordon Craig and others called for abstract staging. Both approaches have influenced the variety of Shakespearean production styles seen today.Bristol, Michael, and Kathleen McLuskie (eds.). ''Shakespeare and Modern Theatre: The Performance of Modernity.'' London; New York: Routledge; Introduction, 5–6. .


See also

* Chronology of Shakespeare's plays * Elizabethan era * List of Shakespearean characters * Shakespeare on screen *
Shakespeare's late romances The late romances, often simply called the romances, are a grouping of William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in t ...
* ''The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)'' * Music in the plays of William Shakespeare * ''Returning to Shakespeare'' by Brian Vickers


References


Bibliography

* *


Further reading

* Murphy, Andrew (2003). ''Shakespeare in Print: A History and Chronology of Shakespeare Publishing''. Cambridge University Press. . * Maric, Jasminka, "Filozofija u Hamletu", Alfa BK Univerzitet, Belgrade, 2015. * Maric, Jasminka, "Philosophy in Hamlet", author's edition, Belgrade, 2018.


External links


Complete text of Shakespeare's plays
listed by genre, with other options including listing of all speeches by each character
Summaries of Shakespeare's plays
List of all 27 of Shakespeare's plays with summaries, and images of the plays being performed.
Complete list of shakespeare's plays with synopsis


Also publication years and chronology of Shakespeare's plays
Folger Digital Texts

Modern Translations, Study Guides, context and biography of William Shakespeare, of Shakespeare's plays, and his sonnets


A directory of Web resources for online Shakespearean study. Includes play synopses, a works timeline, and language resources.
Shake Sphere
Summary and analysis of all the plays, including those of questionable authorship, such as ''Edward III'', ''
The Two Noble Kinsmen ''The Two Noble Kinsmen'' is a Jacobean tragicomedy Tragicomedy is a literary genre that blends aspects of both tragedy, tragic and comedy, comic forms. Most often seen in drama, dramatic literature, the term can describe either a tragic pla ...
'', and ''Cardenio''.
''Shakespeare''
at the British Library – resource including images of original manuscripts, new articles and teaching resources. {{Shakespeare's plays, state=expanded Plays by William Shakespeare, Lists of plays