To many students of English literature, William Shakespeare is considered to be the greatest dramatist. The plays that are listed here were written in the period of approximately 1590 to 1613. For each one there is a general category, a list of the characters, the settings for the play as a whole and for each scene, and one sample of a soliloquy (monologue).
“The Baconian Theory, originated by James Willmot in 1785, suggesting that the works of Shakespeare were written by [Sir Francis] Bacon, is not taken seriously by scholars.” (The Hutchinson Dictionary of Biography. Oxford UK: Helicon Publishing, 1990.)
- Early Comedy:
- Literary theory and educational practice in Shakespeare’s time held that writers should imitate classical models. For comedy, this meant Plautus and Terence. Shakespeare began with them. After his first success, his other plays reflect a clear-cut desire to expand the scope and scale of his comedy, again following those who went before.
- Middle Comedy:
- These clearly represent a series of considered experiments, some risky, some astonishingly successful. What seems to separate them from the earlier comedies is a greater interest in the possibilities of dramatic characterization.
- Problem Comedy:
- Shakespeare did not dramatically alter his view on comedy between 1601 and 1602. His treatment of comic form and comic convention was seldom without its problematic aspects in earlier plays. The problem plays have a sophistication, a willingness to unsettle and challenge us, that appears to mark a new phase in Shakespeare’s development as a writer of comedy.
- Romance Comedy:
- In these, he used love, courtship, and marriage as the primary emphasis of his plots. The romances feature fantastic events and extravagant adventures leading to happy endings. They have many branches, involving knights-errant, shepherds, other rural characters, and others. They usually involve a younger generation.
- All the heroes in the tragedies suffer to the heart’s core and everything in suffering all. This is central to Shakespeare’s tragic conception. It has been said that the passions of the heroes are derived from the model of the Senecan tragic hero. He transformed the formal requirements that a tragic end in death into an understanding of human experience.
- English History:
- A historical play is one that dramatizes major political events in the reign of an English king, a reign sufficiently recent so that the events could be known in detail. The playwright may, to some degree, develop character, and even invent persons and incidents.
- The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. New York: Avenel Books, 1975.
- William Shakespeare: His World, His Works, His Influence. Vol. 2. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1985.