The Plays

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A Lover's Complaint

A Lover's Complaint was written as an appendix to the first publication of The Sonnets. Its authenticity as work of Shakespeare is still debated by scholars.

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All's Well That Ends Well

Written: c. 1605-04; Text: First Folio 1623 (Comedy); no quarto editions
Source: Boccaccio's Decameron, “Beltrame de Rossiglione and Giglietta di Nerone,” as translated into English by William Painter in The Palace of Pleasure, c. 1566
Characters: Helena, Bertram, Countess of Rossillion, Fool, King of France, Parolles, Lafew, First and Second Lords
Setting: Rossillion, France – also Paris, Marseilles and Florence
Time: c. 14th century

Some critics argue that the title is ironic because, while the play seems to end happily with a marriage, modern audiences might wonder whether the marriage will end so well. They might even try to discourage Helena from marrying a cad like Bertram. Other critics argue that by Elizabethan standards Helena made a good catch, even if not a good match. So Elizabethan audiences would see no irony.

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Antony and Cleopatra

Written: c. 1606; Text: First Folio 1623 (Tragedy), no quarto editions
Source: Plutarch's Life of Antony from Sir Thomas North's translations of Plutarch's Lives in 1579 with later editions
Characters: Cleopatra, Mark Antony, Octavius Caesar, Domitius Enobarbus, Sextus Pompeius
Setting: Alexandria, Rome, Messina, Syria and the sea
Time: c. 40-30 BC

Shakespeare drew from North's translations of Plutarch for his other Roman plays, Julius Caesar and Coriolanus.

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As You Like It

Written: c. 1599-1600; Text: First Folio 1623 (Comedy), no quarto editions
Sources: Thomas Lodge's Rosalynde. Euphues golden legacy: found after his death in his Cell at Silexedra (1590). Lodge drew on the Tale of Gamelyn (anonymous, fourteenth century) for his source.
Main Characters: Rosalind, Orlando, Celia, Jaques, Duke Senor, Oliver, Touchstone
Settings: Forest of Arden and the French Court. The Forest of Arden may be a reference to the Ardennes region in France, or the Forest of Arden near Shakespeare's mother's home. Some scholars have even suggested it may be an allusion to the Garden of Eden.
Time: Undetermined

This is Shakespeare's only play to end with a female character delivering the epilogue. That is fitting since Rosalind is one of Shakespeare's strongest female characters. Early in the play, she and Celia discuss the roles and perceptions of the sexes and express strong feminist attitudes. It is also the only play to end with a marriage performed onstage, but since Christian sacraments were forbidden onstage during Shakespeare's time, this marriage is performed by Hymen, the Greek god of marriages.

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Comedy of Errors

Written: c. 1594; Text: First Folio 1623 (Comedy), no quarto editions
SourceMenaechmi and Amphitruo by Plautus.
Characters: Antipholus of Syracuse, Adriana, Antipholus of Ephesus, Dromio of Syracuse, Egeon, Dromio of Ephesus, Luciana, Solinus
Setting: Ephesus
Time: Undetermined

Since translations of Plautus's plays do not appear until after the writing of Comedy of Errors, it is assumed that Shakespeare worked from the original Latin, which he probably read while at school. This play is diverse in its metrical styles, which is notable in Plautus's plays. Shakespeare heightened the farcical qualities of the Plautus plays by using two sets of twins. He also elevated its serious quality by adding the Aegeon subplot, which opens the play with tragedy and ends it happily. Shakespeare wrote a variation of this ending for Pericles Prince of Tyre.

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Coriolanus

Written: c. 1608; Text: First Folio 1623 (Tragedy); no quarto editions
Sources: Holinshed, Raphael (c. 1528-c. 1580). The Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland. (2nd ed., 1587): William Baldwin ed). The Mirror for Magistrates (1559 ed.); Anonymous. Frederyke of Jennen 3rd ed., (1560); Anonymous. The Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune (performed 158, printed 1589); Boccaccio, Giovanni (1313-75). Decameron 2nd Day, 9th story
Characters: Coriolanus (Caius Martius), Menenius Agrippa, Sicinius Velutus, Cominius, Volumnia, Tullus Aufidius, Junius Brutus, Firgilia
Setting: Rome, Corioles, Atrium
Time: 494-490 BC

Populism, Fascism and Machiavelli all appear as themes in this political drama. Even the “trickle-down” theory of economics gets its moment, but Shakespeare uses the digestive and cardiovascular systems as analogies for the distribution of wealth. The patricians are compared to the stomach that hordes the food while the plebeians are the body's extremities, which in time will get what they need. Coriolanus is perhaps Shakespeare's least subtle or internally conflicted tragic character.

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Cymbeline

Written: c. 1610; Text: First Folio 1623 (Tragedy); no quarto editions
Sources: Holinshed, Raphael (c. 1528-c. 1580). The Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland. (2nd ed., 1587); William Baldwin ed). The Mirror for Magistrates (1559 ed.); Frederyke of Jennen 3rd ed., (1560); The Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune (performed 158, printed 1589); Boccaccio, Giovanni (1313-75). Decameron 2nd Day, 9th story
Characters: Imogen, Posthumus Leonatus, Jachino, Belarus, Cymbeline, Pisano, Queen, Guiderius, Flotten, Arviragus, Caius Lucius
Setting: Mythic Pre-Christian Britain and Italy
Time: AD 16

Written late in Shakespeare's career, around 1610 or 1611, Cymbeline is included in the tragedies of the First Folio, which is odd. The play ends with no deaths, the lovers are happily reunited, and the only characters to die during the course of the play are far from tragic figures, let alone main characters. But it does not neatly fit into the comedies either. There is only one love interest and they are married before the play begins. While there is some humor, there is not much more than what might be found in a tragedy. Nor does it fit clearly among the histories. While there is some historical evidence of an English monarch named Cymbeline, he is not the major character in this play, and there is little or no historical evidence for the characters who do engage our interest. While Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar are mentioned in the play, neither one appears so it does not belong among Shakespeare's Roman plays. This is why some scholars consider it a problem play, an experimental play, or a romance. Perhaps the Folio's editors/publishers placed it among the tragedies after Antony and Cleopatra because it follows that story, decades later, in chronological order.

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Hamlet

Written: c. 1600; Texts: Quartos 1603 (Q1 bad quarto), 1604 or 1605 (Q2 variously dated), First Folio 1623 (Tragedy)
Source: Thomas Kyd (1558-94). Ur-Hamlet (c. 1589); Francois de Belleforest (1530-83). Histories Tragiques Book 5 (1570)
Characters: Hamlet, Claudius, Polonius, Horatio, Laertes, Gertrude, Ophelia, Ghost of Hamlet's Father; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
Setting: Elsinor Castle, Denmark
Time: c. 9th Century

The soliloquy reaches a new level of importance within this play. In no other play by Shakespeare does the dramatic conflict become more central within a single character than it does in Hamlet himself. And so this part becomes an actor's great challenge – acting against himself, alone on stage. The part is made more difficult since literary critics don't agree on exactly what Hamlet's problem is. Is he struggling to bring himself to avenge his father's death out of fear or from genuine uncertainty about the veracity of what may or may not be his father's ghost? Is spectral evidence enough to commit murder or does he need corroboration? Is he procrastinating or searching for genuine proof of his uncle's purported crime?

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Henry IV Pt 1

Written: c. 1596-97; Texts: Quarto 1598, First Folio 1623 (History)
Sources: Holinshed, Raphael (c. 1528-c. 1580). The Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland. (2nd ed., 1587); Daniel, Samuel (c.1562-1619). The Civil Wars between the Two Houses of Lancaster and York (1595-1609); The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth (c. 1586); William Baldwin ed. The Mirror for Magistrates (1559 ed.); Stow, John (1525-c.1605) The Chronicles of England (1580)
Characters: Hotspur (Henry Percy), Prince Hal (Henry Prince of Wales), Henry IV, Thomas Percy Earl of Worcester, Sir John Falstaff, Owen Glendower
Setting: London
Time: AD 1402-1403

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Henry IV Pt 2

Written: c. 1597-98; Texts: Quarto 1600, First Folio 1623 (History)
Source: Holinshed, Raphael (c. 1528-c. 1580). The Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland. (2nd ed., 1587); The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth (c. 1586); Hall, Edward (1498-1547). The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York (3rd. ed., 1550); Daniel, Samuel (c.1562-1619). The Civil Wars between the Two Houses of Lancaster and York (1595-1609); William Baldwin ed. The Mirror for Magistrates (1559 ed.)
Characters: Henry IV, Prince Henry, Sir John Falstaff, Richard Scroop Archbishop of York, Earl of Westmorland, Prince John of Lancaster, Henry Percy Earl of Northumberland, Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bardoph, Shallow, Morton, Earl of Warwick, Pistol
Setting: London
Time: AD 1403-1413

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Henry V

Written: 1598-99; Texts: Quarto 1600, First Folio 1623 (History)
Source: Holinshed, Raphael (c. 1528-c. 1580). The Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland. (2nd ed., 1587); The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth (c. 1586); Robert Fabyan (?-1513). New Chronicles of England and France (1516); Samuel Daniel (c.1562-1619). The Civil Wars between the Two Houses of Lancaster and York (1595-1609)
Characters: Henry V, Archbishop of Canterbury, Chorus, Pistol, Duke of Exeter, Constable of France, Charles the Sixth, The Dauphin, Fluellen, Katherine
Setting: London, Other English locations, France
Time: AD 1414-1420

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Henry VI Pt 3

Written: c. 1591; Texts: First Folio 1623 (History), no quarto editions
Source: Hall, Edward (1498-1547). The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York (3rd. ed., 1550); Holinshed, Raphael (c. 1528-c. 1580). The Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland. (2nd ed., 1587); William Baldwin ed. The Mirror for Magistrates (1559 ed.); Edmund Spenser (c.1552-99). The Faerie Queene (1590) – descriptions of the sun at 2.1.; Brooke, Arthur (?-1563). The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet (English translation in 1562) – Queen Margaret's speech at 5.4.; Kyd, Thomas (1558-94) The Spanish Tragedy (1588-9) and Soliman and Perseda (1590)
Characters: Earl of Warwick, Edward Earl of March, Richard, King Henry VI, Queen Margaret, Richard Plantagenet Duke of York, Lord Clifford, George, Lady Grey, Lewis the Eleventh King of France
Setting: London and France
Time: AD 1455-1471

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Henry VIII

Written: 1613; Text: First Folio 1623 (History), no quarto editions
Source: Holinshed, Raphael (c. 1528-c. 1580). The Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland. (2nd ed., 1587); Foxe, John (1516-87). The Book of Martyrs (4th ed., 1583)
Characters: Henry VIII, Cardinal Wolsey, Queen Katherine, Duke of Norfolk, Duke of Buckingham, Lord Chamberlain, Cranmer Archbishop of Canterbury, First Gentleman, Duke of Suffolk, Gardiner
Setting: London
Time: AD 1521-1533

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Julius Caesar

Written: c. 1599; Text: First Folio 1623 (Tragedy); no quarto editions
Source: Plutarch (c.46-120). Lives (Thomas North's English translation in 1579)
Characters: Brutus, Mark Antony, Cassius, Julius Caesar, Portia, Calpurnia
Setting: Rome, and other locations in Italy
Time:  c. 44-42 BC

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King John

Written: 1596; Text: First Folio 1623 (History); no quarto editions
SourceThe Troublesome Raigne of John King of England, 2 Vol. (1591)(?); Holinshed, Raphael (c. 1528-c. 1580). The Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland. (2nd ed., 1587); Foxe, John (1516-87). The Book of Martyrs (4th ed., 1583)
Characters: Philip the Bastard, King John, Constance, Philip King of France, Hubert de Burgh, Cardinal Pandulph, Earl of Salisbury, Lewis the Dauphin, Arthur
Setting: London and France
Time: AD 1199-1216

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King Lear

Written: 1605/06; Texts: Quartos 1608, 1619, First Folio 1623 (Tragedy)
SourcesThe True Chronicle History of King Leir (c. 1590); Holinshed, Raphael (c. 1528-c. 1580). The Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland. (2nd ed., 1587); Sidney, Philip (1554-86). The Arcadia (1590); Spenser, Edmund (c.1552-99). The Faerie Queene (1590)
Characters: King Lear, Edgar, Earl of Kent, Earl of Gloucester, Edmund, Regan, Goneril, Fool, Cordelia, Duke of Albany
Setting: England
Time: c. Eighth Century


Like Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet, the texts of King Lear differ in the First Folio from what was written in the previous quartos. The first quarto of Lear contains about 300 lines not in the First Folio. And the Fool's prophesy in Act 3, Scene 2 of the Folio does not appear in the quarto. Even the endings of the two editions are different.

Scholars point to a couple of bits of evidence to date Shakespeare's authorship of the play. First, the play was recorded in the Stationers' Register on November 26, 1607. The entry mentions, “…as yt was played before the Kinges maiestie at Whitehall vppon Sainct Stephens night at Christmas Last.” That would have been December 26, 1606. The first quarto edition was not published however until 1608. The latter part of 1606 then is the latest date it may have been written. Another piece of evidence scholars point to is the reference in Act 1, Scene 2, “…these late eclipses in the sun and moon.” Such eclipses actually occurred in September and October, 1605. Shakespeare occasionally inserted contemporary references into his plays. Henry V and Romeo and Juliet contain similar allusions. So the latter months of 1605 appear to be the earliest dates King Lear may have been written, especially when one of the sources is taken into account.

The sources of Shakespeare's Lear give clues to the dating of his writing. The legends and folk tales of an ancient king and three daughters go back centuries to Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae in the twelfth century and later to Holinshed's Chronicles. But the most immediate source of Shakespeare's Lear would have been the play The True Chronicle History of King Leir. This play whose author is unknown was entered in the Stationers' Register in 1594 and performed by Philip Henslowe's company that same year. It was not printed until 1605 when Shakespeare might have read it. Shakespeare, like his contemporaries, was not above stealing other authors' materials but to his credit he always improved them.

For example, Shakespeare brilliantly interweaves into his Lear the story of Gloucester and his sons Edgar and Edmund, which did not appear in the former Leir. Instead, Shakespeare stole that piece from Philip Sidney's The Arcadia. In addition, Shakespeare added the business about Lear's madness, which Lear's daughters attributed to his old age. Some scholars suggest that Lear's condition may be a form of dementia. That interpretation suffers from the fact that in the play Lear is cured of his madness. Finally, Shakespeare gives his Lear a tragic, not a happy, ending, which adds depth and poignancy to the play. And of course the poetry of Shakespeare's language and the complexity of his characters transcend the previous play.

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Love's Labors Lost

Written: 1594-5; Texts: Quarto 1598, First Folio 1623 (Comedy)
Source: No written source for the plot has been found although the influence of Italian commedia dell' arte is evident
Characters: Berowne, Princess of France, Ferdinand King of Navarre, Boyet, Rosaline, Don Adriano de Armado, Costard, Moth, Dumaine, Holofernes, Longaville, Katherine
Setting: Navarre
Time: Undetermined

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Macbeth

Written: 1606; Text: First Folio 1623 (Tragedy), no quarto editions
Source: Holinshed, Raphael (c. 1528-c. 1580). The Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland. (2nd ed., 1587); Buchanan, George (1506-82) (1582); Seneca, Lucius Annaeus (4BC. – AD 65). Hercules Furens and Agamemnon (English translation in 1565)
Characters: Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Malcolm, Macduff, Rosse, Banquo, First Witch, Lennox, Second Witch, Third Witch, Lady Macduff, Hecate
Setting: Inverness
Time: c. AD 1039-57

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Measure for Measure

Written: 1603 Text: First Folio 1623 (Comedy); no quarto editions
Source: Geroge Whetstone (c.1544-87). Promos and Cassandra (1578); Cinthio, Giovanni Battista Giraldi.1504-73). Hecatommithi (1565. No English translations found, therefore, Shakespeare probably read it either in Italian or French.); Cinthio, Giovanni Battista Giraldi.1504-73) Epitia (1583. No English translations found, therefore, Shakespeare probably read it either in Italian or French..); Barnabe Riche (c.1540-1617). The Adventures of Brusanus, prince of Hungaria (1592)–Lucio's interactions with the disguised Duke.
Characters: Vincent the Duke, Isabella, Angelo, Lucio, Escalus, Provost, Claudio
Setting: Vienna
Time:  c. AD 1485

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Merchant of Venice

Written: 1596-1597; Texts: Quartos 1600, 1619, 1637; First Folio 1623 (Comedy)
Sources: The story of Giannetto in Il Pecorone by Ser Giovanni Fiorentino; Ludovico Ariosto (1474-1533). Orlando Furioso (1516)(The English translation by John Harington in 1591); Bandello, Matteo (1485-1561) Novelle (1554-73) 22th story.; Edmund Spenser (c.1552-99). The Faerie Queene (1590); Francois de Belleforest (1530-83). Histories Tragiques (1568) Book 3; Whetstone, George The Roke of Regard (1576) – Claudio's rejection of Hero at her own wedding; Castiglione, Baldassare (1478-1529) The Book of the Courtier (1528)
Characters: Portia, Bassanio, Shylock, Antonio, Gratiano, Lorenzo, Salerio, Prince of Morocco, Jessica
Setting: Venice
Time: c. 1595

Shylock raises an ugly question. Was Shakespeare anti-semitic? Scholar George L. Kittredge wrote, “Shakespeare was not attacking the Jewish people when he gave Shylock the villain's role. If so, he was attacking the Moors in Titus Andronicus, the Spaniards in Much Ado, the Italians in Cymbeline, the Viennese in Measure for Measure, the Danes in Hamlet, the Britons in King Lear, the Scots in Macbeth, and the English in Richard the Third.” Others would find that reasoning specious at best. Ron Rosenbaum, who sees Shylock as an anti-semitic creation, cuts Shakespeare a little slack by writing, “I think, in his defense, it can certainly be said Shakespeare wasn't consumed by anti-Semitism; nothing like this shows up elsewhere in his other plays—but that does not vitiate the ineradicable ugliness of its appearance in The Merchant of Venice.” Does it matter that Kittredge wrote his observation before the Holocaust and Rosenbaum wrote his after? Or does that question spur us to ask what the Elizabethan mindset was at the time Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice? Whatever the answers to those questions, most scholars of Shakespeare know better than to conclude too much about Shakespeare's biography or personal beliefs based on the characters he created in his plays or the topics he explored. For example, scholars of this play, which deals explicitly with conflicts of Christians and Jews – in fact, scholars of his entire corpus of works – still do not know whether Shakespeare was Catholic, Protestant, atheist or agnostic. Anti-semitism is unquestionably a topic of this play. Shakespeare addresses it head-on. The notes on the passages below explore some of the themes, including anti-semitism, that this play addresses.

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Merry Wives of Windsor

Written: c. 1597-98; Texts: Quarto 1602, First Folio 1623 (Comedy)
Source: Perhaps: Fiorentino, Ser Giovanni Il Pecorone (The Simpleton) (1558); Ovid (43 BC- AD18). Metamorphoses (Arthur Golding's English translation in 1567); Lyly, John (c.1554-1606). Endimion (1588)
Characters: Mistress Margaret Page, Sir John Falstaff, Mistress Quickly, Francis Ford, Sir Hugh Evans, George Page, Mistress Alice Ford, Fenton
Setting: Windsor
Time: c. 1590

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Midsummer's Night Dream

Written: 1595; Texts: Quartos 1600, 1619, First Folio 1623 (Comedy)
Source: Perhaps influenced by: Theseus and Hippolyta; Plutarch (c.46-120). Lives (Thomas North's translation in 1579); Chaucer, Geoffrey (c.1340-1400). The Canterbury Tales “The Knight's Tale” (1400); The story of “Pyramus and Thisbe” and the name of Titania; Ovid (43 BC- AD18). Metamorphoses (Arthur Golding's English translation in 1567); Oberon; Huon of Bordeau, a 13th-century French adventure tale translated by Lord Berners (1534)
Characters: Helena, Oberon, Theseus Duke of Athens, Puck, Lysander, Hermia, Titania, Demetrius, Bottom, Quince, Flute, Egeus
Setting: Athens
Time: Undetermined

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Much Ado About Nothing

Written: 1598 Texts: Quarto 1600, First Folio 1623 (Comedy)
Source: Ludovico Ariosto (1474-1533). Orlando Furioso (1516)(The English translation by John Harington in 1591); Bandello, Matteo (1485-1561) Novelle (1554-73) 22th story; Edmund Spenser (c.1552-99). The Faerie Queene (1590); Francois de Belleforest (1530-83). Histories Tragiques (1568) Book 3; Whetstone, George The Roke of Regard (1576) – Clauido's rejuction of Hero at her own wedding; Castiglione, Baldassare (1478-1529) The Book of the Courtier (1528)
Characters: Leonato, Claudio, Don Pedro, Benedick, Hero, Beatrice, Friar Francis, Dogberry, Don John, Borachio, Antonio, Ursala
Setting: Messina
Time: Undetermined

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Othello

Written: 1603-1604; Texts: Quarto 1622, First Folio 1623 (Tragedy)
SourceCinthio (Giovanni Battista Giraldi.1504-73). Hecatommithi (1565. No English translations found, therefore, Shakespeare probably read it either in Italian or French.) Book 2, 7th story of “Disdemona and the Moor”; Pliny, the Elder (23-79). Naturalia Historia (Philemon Holland's translation in 1601); Africanus, Leo. A Geographical History of Africa (English translation by John Pory, 1600)
Characters: IagoOthello, Desdamona, Emilia, Cassio, Brabantio, Roderigo, Lodovico, Duke of Venice
Setting: Venice, Cypress
Time: AD 1570 (when Cyprus was invaded by the Turks)

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Pericles Prince of Tyre

Written: c. 1607; Texts: Quarto 1609 (Romance), not in the First Folio but was included in the Third Folio
Source: Historia Apollonii Regis Tyri as translated by John Gower in his Confessio Amantis, c.1390, and The Patterne of Painful Adventures (1607) by Laurence Twine.
Characters: Pericles, Gower, Marina, Simonides, Helicanus, Cleon, Cerimon
Setting: Tyre, Antioch, Tharsus, Pentapolis, Mytilene
Time: Undetermined

This play may have been excluded from the First Folio because it is a collaboration in which Shakespeare is believed to have written only acts III, IV & V. The author of acts I & II is unknown and clearly inferior to Shakespeare. Or it may have been excluded because the publishers could not obtain the rights. Or, finally, it may have be excluded because the 1609 quarto edition was replete with errors. The ending is similar to Comedy of Errors. In both, a married couple is reunited after many years during which one or both think the spouse has died at sea. The Winter's Tale also ends with the reuniting of a husband to his wife who died years before, but not at sea and her revivication is miraculous, mystical, or at least ambiguous.

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Rape of Lucrece

The Rape of Lucrece, published in 1594, draws on both Ovid and Livy for its sources. It is longer and more serious in tone than Venus and Adonis. These two poems established Shakespeare's poetic credentials. During these years, poets were considered serious literary figures while playwrights were considered, if not hacks, no better than popular entertainers.

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Richard II

Written: 1595 Texts: Quartos 1597, 1608, First Folio 1623 (History)
Source: Hall, Edward (1498-1547). The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York (3rd. ed., 1550); Holinshed, Raphael (c. 1528-c. 1580). The Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland. (2nd ed., 1587); Anonymous. Thomas of Woodstock(c. 1592); Froissart, Jean(c.1337-1410). Chroniques (1495?)(John Bourchier's English translation in 1523-5); William Baldwin ed. The Mirror for Magistrates (1559 ed.); Daniel, Samuel (c.1562-1619). The Civil Wars between the Two Houses of Lancaster and York (1595-1609)
Characters: Richard II, Henry Bullingbrook, Edmund of Langley Duke of York, John of Gaunt Duke of Lancaster, Earl of Northumberland, Thomas Mowbray, Queen to Richard, Duchess of York, Duke of Aumerle
Setting: London and Wales
Time: AD 1398-1400

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Richard III

Written: 1592-93; Texts: Quarto 1597, First Folio 1623 (History)
Source: Holinshed, Raphael (c. 1528-c. 1580). The Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland. (2nd ed., 1587); Hall, Edward (1498-1547). The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York (1587 edition); More, Thomas. History of King Richard the Thirde. (1543); William Baldwin ed. The Mirror for Magistrates (1559 ed.)
Characters: Richard Duke of Gloucester, Duke of Buckingham, Queen Elizabeth, Queen Margaret, George Duke of Clarence, Lady Anne, Duchess of York, Lord Hastings, Henry Earl of Richmond, Lord Stanley
Setting: London
Time: AD 1477-1485

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Romeo and Juliet

Written: 1595; Texts: Quartos 1597, 1599, First Folio 1623 (Tragedy)
Source: Brooke, Arthur (?-1563). The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet (English translation in 1562)
Characters: Romeo, Juliet, Friar Lawrence, Capulet, Nurse, Mercutio, Benvolio, Lady Capulet, Prince Escalus, Paris, Montague, Tybalt
Setting: Verona
Time: AD 1303

Romeo and Juliet is assumed to have been written in 1595 chiefly, but not exclusively, based on the Nurse's ramblings in Act 1, Scene 3, in which she attempts to establish Juliet's age in relation to an earthquake. “But, as I said, / On Lammas Eve at night shall she be fourteen. / That shall she. Marry, I remember it well. / ’Tis since the earthquake now eleven years, / And she was weaned (I never shall forget it) / Of all the days of the year, upon that day.” Scholars assume the Nurse is referring to the London earthquake of April 6, 1580, which terrorized theater audiences. The fact that this play is set in Verona a few hundred years earlier is irrelevant.

The versions of this play that today's audiences read or watch may be based on some combination of the bad quarto (1597), the good quarto (1599), the folios, and future editors' and directors' emendations to any or all of the above. There is no “authoritative” text.

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Sir Thomas More

Written:
Source:
Characters:
Setting:
Time:

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The Phoenix and Turtle

The Phoenix and Turtle, published in 1601 as a supplement to Robert Chester's Love's Martyr, is short and obscure. One scholars regard this poem as a forerunner to William Blake's mystical poetry.

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The Tempest

Written: 1611; Texts: First Folio 1623 (Comedy), no quarto editions
Source: Strachey, William (c.1567-c.1634) (dated 15.Jul.1610, printed 1625); Jourdain, Sylvester (?-1650). A Discovery of the Bermudas (1610); Jourdain, Sylvester (?-1650) The True Declaration of the Estate of Colonie in Virginia (1610)
Characters: Prospero, Ariel, Caliban, Miranda, Ferdinand, Antonio, Gonzalo, Sebastian, Alonso, Stephano
Setting: An Island Perhaps Near America
Time: Undetermined

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Titus Andronicus

Written: 1592
Source: Possibly Ovid's Metamorphses (the tale of the rape of Philomel) and Seneca's Thyestes
Characters: Titus Andronicus, Aaron, Marcus Andronicus, Tamora, Saturninus, Lucius, Demetrius, Bassianus, Lavinia, Chiron
Setting: Rome
Time: AD 250 – 450

Gore and classical allusions characterize this early work by the young William Shakespeare. It appears this “upstart crow” was trying to sell tickets to the plebeian masses by offering buckets of blood while simultaneously trying to impress the dons of Oxford and Cambridge — “beautified with our feathers” — with his knowledge of Greek and Roman history and mythology .

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Troilus and Cressida

Written: 1602 Texts: Quartos (two editions) 1609; First Folio 1623 (Tragedy)
Sources: Homer (c. 900.BC). Iliad (English translation in 1598 by George Chapman); Chaucer, Geoffrey (c.1340-1400). Troilus and Criseyde (c. 1385); Caxton, William (c.1421-91). Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye) (1475, 5th ed. 1596); Lydgate, John (c.1370-1449). The Troy Book (1412-20, 1555 ed); de Malynes, Gerard (1601) The Canker of England's Commonwealth.
Characters: Troilus, Ulysses, Cressida, Hector, Pandarus, Agamemnon, Achilles, Nestor, Aeneas, Diomedes, Thersites, Paris, Helen
Setting: Troy
Time: 1194–1184 BC (Trojan War)


Troilus and Cressida is assumed to be written in 1602 because it was entered into the the Stationers' Register on February 7, 1603. In addition, the Prologue, which appears only in the Folio, includes these lines:

“And hither am I come,
A prologue armed, but not in confidence
Of author’s pen or actor’s voice, but suited
In like conditions as our argument…”

This seems to be an allusion to Ben Jonson's 1601 Poetaster‘s “armed Prologue” which defends his author's writing against “illiterate apes.”

Two quarto editions were printed in 1609. The second edition includes a preface that states the play was new and, “neuer stal'd with the Stage, neuer clapper-clawed with the palms of the Vulgar.” However, the Stationers' Register of 1603 recorded it as, “‘Troilus and Cresseda' as yt is acted by my lord Chamberlens Men,” and the first quarto edition states, “As it was acted by the Kings Maiefties feruents at the Globe.” Some scholars speculate that the play may have been performed for a private audience but not for the public. Others speculate that performances were planned but cancelled for political reasons.

Another curious question is whether the play is a comedy, history or tragedy. The first quarto titles it, “THE Hiftorie of Troylus and Creffeida.” The second quarto titles it, “THE Famous Hiftorie of Troylus and Creffeid.” The Folio titles it, “THE TRAGEDIE OF Troylus and Crefsida.” However, the play is omitted from the Folio's Catalogue so it is not listed among the tragedies. In the body of most of the Folios, it is inserted between the histories and the tragedies. In a few Folios, it does not appear at all. The play has elements of comedies – humor, young lovers, a clown – but those elements are found in many of Shakespeare's tragedies. Many modern scholars consider Troilus and Cressida a problem play. The problem this play explores is how affairs of heart and of state are treated in economic or, more specifically, mercantile figurative language.

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Twelfth Night

Written:1600-1601; Text: First Folio 1623 (Comedy), no quarto editions
Source: Barnabe Riche (c.1540-1617). Farewell to Militarie Profession (1581) the story of Apolonius and Silla; Bandello, Matteo (1485-1561) Novelle (1554-73)
Characters: Viola, Olivia, Orsino, Sir Toby Belch, Feste, Malvolio, Antonio, Sebastian, Sir Andrew Aguecheek
Setting: Illyria
Time: Time of Shakespeare

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Two Gentlemen of Verona

Written: 1590-91 Text: First Folio 1623 (Comedy), no quarto editions
Source: Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-75). Decameron10th day, the story of “Titus and Gisippus”; Elyot, Thomas (c.1490-1546). The Boke named the Governour (1531); Montemayor, Jorge de (c.1521-61). Diana Enamorada (1542, English translation in 1582. publication in 1598) the story of “Felix and Felismena”; The History of Felix and Philiomena (the record of the performance in 1585); Brooke, Arthur (?-1563). The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet (English translation in 1562); Lyly, John (c.1554-1606). Euphues (1578)
Characters: Proteus, Valentine, Julia, Duke of Milan, Silvia, Speed, Luceta, Launce
Setting: Verona
Time: Undetermined

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Venus and Adonis

Venus and Adonis, published in 1593, is the first of two narrative poems Shakespeare wrote during the two years the plague closed theaters in London. His source for this work was Ovid's Metamorphosis. It is Shakespeare's first published work and, due to its erotic, comic and lyrical nature, it is among his most popular works published during his lifetime and immediately after.

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Winter's Tale

Written: 1609 Text: First Folio 1623 (Comedy), no quarto editions
Source: Robert Greene (c.1558-92). Pandosto (1588); Ovid (43 BC- AD18). Metamorphoses (Arthur Golding's English translation in 1567)
Characters: Leontes King of Sicilia, Paulina, Camillo, Polixenes King of Bohemia, Hermione, Florizel, Perdita, Autolycus, Antigonus
Setting: Sicily and Bohemia
Time: Undetermined

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