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Shakespeare plays - comedies, tragedies, histories

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While these genres can be specifically applied to Shakespeare's works, they can also be applied to most Elizabethan plays. These derive their classifications from the plays of ancient Greek and Roman times, and the definitions of various philosophers such as Aristotle who left texts regarding these types of plays.

1. Tragedy

Shakespeare wrote tragedies throughout his career - one of his earliest plays was the tragedy Titus Andronicus - but his most beloved tragedies are the ones written between 1601 and 1608. These include his four major tragedies: Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth. These tragedies usually follow the typical Aristotliean definition of tragedy: that with a tragic hero of noble birth whose tragic flaw leads to his demise (a whole page has been devoted on the tragic hero here). There are also Shakespeare plays which can be considered love tragedies , such Romeo and Juliet, Antony & Cleopatra and Othello.

Here is a list of Shakespearean tragedies:

  • Romeo and Juliet
  • Macbeth
  • King Lear
  • Hamlet
  • Othello
  • Titus Andronicus
  • The Tragedy of Julius Caesar
  • Antony and Cleopatra
  • Coriolanus
  • The History of Troilus and Cressida
  • The Life of Timon of Athens
  • Cymbeline

2. Comedy

Comedies had happy endings - usually with the marriage of unmarried characters, and a lighthearted style to the entire play. Shakespearean comedies often had:

  • A struggle of young lovers to overcome difficulty that is often presented by elders
  • Separation and unification
  • Mistaken identities
  • A clever servant
  • Heightened tensions, often within a family
  • Multiple, intertwining plots
  • Frequent use of puns

A further subgenre of the comedy is the tragicomedy - a serious play with a happy ending. For example, Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale could be considered a tragicomedy because it reaches a tragic climax but ends with a happy conclusion. Here is a list of Shakespearean comedies:

  • All's Well That Ends Well
  • As You Like It
  • The Comedy of Errors
  • Cymbeline
  • Love's Labour's Lost
  • Measure for Measure
  • The Merchant of Venice
  • The Merry Wives of Windsor
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream
  • Much Ado About Nothing
  • Pericles Prince of Tyre
  • Taming of the Shrew
  • The Tempest
  • Twelfth Night
  • The Two Gentlemen of Verona
  • The Winter's Tale

3. History

Shakespeare wrote many plays based on the lives of English kings. Other plays such as King Lear and Macbeth are commonly regarded as tragedies instead, because they are either a) not English (Macbeth was Scottish) or b) older historical figures. Shakespeare's source for most of these historical plays was Raphael Holinshed's Chronicle of English History.

Shakespeare was living under the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the last monarch in the house of Tudor - so his history plays are often regarded as Tudor propaganda because they show the dangers of civil war and celebrate the founders of the Tudor dynasty. For example, Richard III depicts the last member of the rival house of York as an evil monster ("that bottled spider, that foul bunchback'd toad")!

Here are a list of Shakespeare's historical plays:
  • King John
  • Edward III
  • Richard II
  • Henry IV, Part 1
  • Henry IV, Part 2
  • Henry V
  • Henry VI, Part 1
  • Henry VI, Part 2
  • Henry VI, Part 3
  • Richard III (also considered a tragedy)
  • Henry VIII
  • Sir Thomas More

The fourth genre: romance?

It has been argued by scholars that Shakespeare's plays can have a fourth genre, namely the romance. Known as Shakespeare's Late Romances, these stories are similar to medieval romance literature as well as comedies. The category of romance could also perhaps be used interchangeably with the classification tragicomedy.

Shakespeare's romance plays have the following characteristics in common:

  • A redemptive plotline with a happy ending involving the re-uniting of separated family members
  • Magic and other fantastical elements
  • A deus ex machina, often manifesting as a Roman god (such as Jupiter in Cymbeline)
  • A mixture of "civilized" and "pastoral" scenes (e.g. the gentry and island residents in The Tempest)
  • Poetry style is a lyrical, but mellow and profound.
Shakespeare's romance plays would include:
  • Pericles, Prince of Tyre
  • Cymbeline
  • The Winter's Tale
  • The Tempest
  • The Two Noble Kinsmen

References/Images: Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica, Amazon

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  1. AUSSIE PRIDE saidThu, 24 Jun 2010 02:35:24 -0000 ( Link )

    my last name is shakespeare for real no joke lol my friends rip me off all the time in english when we laern about it and AUSSIE PRIDE

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  2. SakieL saidFri, 30 Aug 2013 03:32:40 -0000 ( Link )

    Hey you guys missed Julius Caesar which genre is that leaning more towards in my opinion its an Historical Tragedy.

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  3. bo_elz_love saidWed, 11 Jun 2014 14:26:37 -0000 ( Link )

    this is rubbish

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