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The Chronology of Shakespeare's Plays

Establishing the chronology of Shakespeare's plays is a most frustrating and difficult task. It is impossible to know the exact order of succession because there is no record of the first production date of any of Shakespeare's works. However, scholars have decided upon a specific play chronology, based upon the following sources of information: 1) several historical events and allusions to those events in the plays; 2) the records of performances of the plays -- taken from such places as Henslowe's diary and the diaries of other Shakespeare contemporaries like John Manningham (a student at the Inns of Court), and Thomas Platter (a Swiss businessman); 3) the publication dates of sources; 4) the dates that the plays appear in print (remembering that the production of a play immediately followed the completion of that play in the Elizabethan age). Despite the fact that we have an accepted play chronology, we must keep in mind that the dating is conjectural.

Please click on each play to find extensive study resources and fascinating details. Please see The Historical Settings of Shakespeare's Plays (by Date) for a chronology of the content of the plays.
First Performed Plays First Printed
1590-91 Henry VI, Part II 1594?
1590-91 Henry VI, Part III 1594?
1591-92 Henry VI, Part I 1623
1592-93 Richard III 1597
1592-93 Comedy of Errors 1623
1593-94 Titus Andronicus 1594
1593-94 Taming of the Shrew 1623
1594-95 Two Gentlemen of Verona 1623
1594-95 Love's Labour's Lost 1598?
1594-95 Romeo and Juliet 1597
1595-96 Richard II 1597
1595-96 A Midsummer Night's Dream 1600
1596-97 King John 1623
1596-97 The Merchant of Venice 1600
1597-98 Henry IV, Part I 1598
1597-98 Henry IV, Part II 1600
1598-99 Much Ado About Nothing 1600
1598-99 Henry V 1600
1599-1600 Julius Caesar 1623
1599-1600 As You Like It 1623
1599-1600 Twelfth Night 1623
1600-01 Hamlet 1603
1600-01 The Merry Wives of Windsor 1602
1601-02 Troilus and Cressida 1609
1602-03 All's Well That Ends Well 1623
1604-05 Measure for Measure 1623
1604-05 Othello 1622
1605-06 King Lear 1608
1605-06 Macbeth 1623
1606-07 Antony and Cleopatra 1623
1607-08 Coriolanus 1623
1607-08 Timon of Athens 1623
1608-09 Pericles 1609
1609-10 Cymbeline 1623
1610-11 The Winter's Tale 1623
1611-12 The Tempest 1623
1612-13 Henry VIII 1623
1612-13 The Two Noble Kinsmen* 1634

*The Two Noble Kinsmen is listed as one of Shakespeare's plays although it must be noted that all but a few scholars believe it not to be an original work by Shakespeare. The majority of the play was probably written by John Fletcher, who was a prominent actor and Shakespeare's close friend. Fletcher succeeded Shakespeare as foremost dramatist for the King's Men (the successor to the Chamberlain's Men).

How to cite this article:
Mabillard, Amanda. The Chronology of Shakespeare's Plays. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. < >.

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The title page of the first printed version of King Lear (1608), known as Q1.

Bard Bites

Dramatist and Shakespearean scholar Nicholas Rowe was the first to write a critical (annotated) edition of Shakespeare's works.

The average length of a play in Elizabethan England was 3000 lines. With 4,042 lines and 29,551 words, Hamlet is the longest Shakespearean play (based on the first edition of The Riverside Shakespeare (1974)). With 1,787 lines and 14,369 words, The Comedy of Errors is the shortest Shakespearean play (also based on the first edition of The Riverside Shakespeare).

Shakespeare's late comedies are considered romances: The Winter's Tale, The Tempest, Cymbeline, and Pericles. The Two Noble Kinsman is also sometimes mentioned along side these other plays as a romantic comedy.

Love's Labour's Lost has the highest percentage of rhyming lines of all of Shakespeare's plays. According to Shakespearean scholar Tucker Brooke, 62.2% of the lines in Love's Labour's Lost rhyme. The closest competitor is A Midsummer Night's Dream, with 43.4% rhyming lines.

The historical time of King Lear is roughly 800 BC, making it the second-earliest setting of any of Shakespeare's plays. Click here to find out the first.