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Shakespeare's Plays

Before the publication of the First Folio in 1623, nineteen of the thirty-seven plays in Shakespeare's canon had appeared in quarto format. With the exception of Othello (1622), all of the quartos were published prior to the date of Shakespeare's retirement from the theatre in about 1611. It is unlikely that Shakespeare was involved directly with the printing of any of his plays, although it should be noted that two of his poems, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece were almost certainly printed under his direct supervision.

Here you will find the complete text of Shakespeare's plays, based primarily on the First Folio, and a variety of helpful resources, including extensive explanatory notes, character analysis, source information, and articles and book excerpts on a wide range of topics unique to each drama.


 Antony and Cleopatra (1607-1608)
The story of Mark Antony, Roman military leader and triumvir, who is madly in love with Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt.
Earliest known text: First Folio (1623).

 Coriolanus (1607-1608)
The last of Shakespeare's great political tragedies, chronicling the life of the mighty warrior Caius Marcius Coriolanus.
Earliest known text: First Folio (1623).

 Hamlet (1600-1601)
Since its first recorded production, Hamlet has engrossed playgoers, thrilled readers, and challenged actors more so than any other play in the Western canon. No other single work of fiction has produced more commonly used expressions.
Earliest known text: Quarto (1603).

 Julius Caesar (1599-1600)
Although there were earlier Elizabethan plays on the subject of Julius Caesar and his turbulent rule, Shakespeare's penetrating study of political life in ancient Rome is the only version to recount the demise of Brutus and the other conspirators.
Earliest known text: First Folio (1623).

 King Lear (1605-1606)
The story of King Lear, an aging monarch who decides to divide his kingdom amongst his three daughters, according to which one recites the best declaration of love.
Earliest known text: Quarto (1608).

 Macbeth (1605-1606)
Macbeth is one of Shakespeare's most stimulating and popular dramas. Renaissance records of Shakespeare's plays in performance are scarce, but a detailed account of an original production of Macbeth has survived, thanks to Dr. Simon Forman.
Earliest known text: First Folio (1623).

 Othello (1604-1605)
Othello, a valiant Moorish general in the service of Venice, falls prey to the devious schemes of his false friend, Iago.
Earliest known text: Quarto (1622).

 Romeo and Juliet (1594-1595)
Celebrated for the radiance of its lyric poetry, Romeo and Juliet was tremendously popular from its first performance. The sweet whispers shared by young Tudor lovers throughout the realm were often referred to as "naught but pure Romeo and Juliet."
Earliest known text: Quarto (1597).

 Timon of Athens (1607-1608)
Written late in Shakespeare's career, Timon of Athens is criticized as an underdeveloped tragedy, likely co-written by George Wilkins or Cyril Tourneur. Read the play and see if you agree.
Earliest known text: First Folio (1623).

 Titus Andronicus (1593-1594)
A sordid tale of revenge and political turmoil, overflowing with bloodshed and unthinkable brutality. The play was not printed with Shakespeare credited as author during his lifetime, and critics are divided between whether it is the product of another dramatist or simply Shakespeare's first attempt at the genre.
Earliest known text: Quarto (1594).


 Henry IV, Part I (1597-1598)
One of Shakespeare's most popular plays, featuring the opportunistic miscreant, Sir John Falstaff.
Earliest known text: Quarto (1598).

 Henry IV, Part II (1597-1598)
This is the third play in the second tetralogy of history plays, along with Richard II, Henry IV, Part 1, and Henry V.
Earliest known text: Quarto (1600).

 Henry V (1598-1599)
Henry V is the last in the second tetralogy sequence. King Henry is considered Shakespeare's ideal monarch.
Earliest known text: Quarto (1600).

 Henry VI, Part I (1591-1592)
The first in Shakespeare's trilogy about the War of the Roses between the houses of Lancaster and York.
Earliest known text: First Folio (1623).

 Henry VI, Part II (1590-1591)
Part two of Shakespeare's chronicle play. Based on Hall's work, the play contains some historical inaccuracies.
Earliest known text: Quarto (1594).

 Henry VI, Part III (1590-1591)
Part three begins in medias res, with the duke of Suffolk dead and the duke of York being named Henry VI's heir.
Earliest known text: Quarto (1595).

 Henry VIII (1612-1613)
Many believe Henry VIII to be Shakespeare's last play, but others firmly believe that he had little, if anything, to do with its creation.
Earliest known text: First Folio (1623).

 King John (1596-1597)
In the shadow of Shakespeare's second tetralogy of history plays lies the neglected masterpiece, King John. Although seldom read or performed today, King John was once one of Shakespeare's most popular histories, praised for its poetic brilliance.
Earliest known text: First Folio (1623).

 Richard II (1595-1596)
More so than Shakespeare's earlier history plays, Richard II is notable for its well-rounded characters.
Earliest known text: Quarto (1597).

 Richard III (1592-1593)
The devious machinations of the deformed villain, Richard, duke of Gloucester, made this play an Elizabethan favorite.
Earliest known text: Quarto (1597).


 All's Well That Ends Well (1602-1603)
In 1767, a scholar named Richard Farmer concluded that this play is really the revision of Shakespeare's missing Love's Labour's Won, which was likely written around 1592. It is considered a problem play, due primarily to the character Helena and her ambiguous nature. Is she a virtuous lady or a crafty temptress?
Earliest known text: First Folio (1623).

 As You Like It (1599-1600)
As You Like It is considered by many to be one of Shakespeare's greatest comedies, and the heroine, Rosalind, is praised as one of his most inspiring characters.
Earliest known text: First Folio (1623).

 The Comedy of Errors (1592-1593)
This is Shakespeare's shortest play, which he based on Menaechmi by Plautus.
Earliest known text: First Folio (1623).

 Cymbeline (1609-1610)
This play, modeled after Boccaccio's Decameron, is often classified as a romance. It features the beautiful Imogen, considered by many to be Shakespeare's most admirable female character.
Earliest known text: First Folio (1623).

 Love's Labour's Lost (1594-1595)
Love's Labour's Lost is a play of witty banter and little plot, written during the early part of Shakespeare's literary career, when his focus was on fancy conceits and the playful nature of love.
Earliest known text: Quarto (1598).

 Measure for Measure (1604-1605)
Considered a "dark" comedy, Measure for Measure was inspired by Cinthio's Epitia and Whetstone's Promos and Cassandra.
Earliest known text: First Folio (1623).

 The Merchant of Venice (1596-1597)
The character of Shylock has raised a debate over whether the play should be condemned as anti-Semitic, and this controversy has overshadowed many other aspects of the play.
Earliest known text: Quarto (1600).

 The Merry Wives of Windsor (1600-1601)
The Merry Wives is unique amongst Shakespeare's plays because it is set in Shakespeare's England. It features the Bard's beloved character, Falstaff.
Earliest known text: Quarto (1602).

 A Midsummer Night's Dream (1595-1596)
A magical exploration of the mysteries of love, and one of Shakespeare's best-known comedies.
Earliest known text: Quarto (1600).

 Much Ado About Nothing (1598-1599)
The story of two very different sets of lovers, Beatrice and Benedick and Claudio and Hero. The witty banter between Beatrice and Benedick is the highlight of the play.
Earliest known text: Quarto (1600).

 Pericles, Prince of Tyre (1608-1609)
Portions of Pericles are ripe with imagery and symbolism but the first three acts and scenes v and vi (the notorious brothel scenes) of Act IV are considered inadequate and likely the work of two other dramatists. The play was not included in the First Folio of 1623. In Shakespeare's sources, Pericles is named Apollonius.
Earliest known text: Quarto (1609).

 The Taming of the Shrew (1593-1594)
The Taming of the Shrew revolves around the troubled relationship between Katharina and her suitor, Petruchio, who is determined to mold Katharina into a suitable wife.
Earliest known text: First Folio (1623).

 The Tempest (1611-1612)
Hailed as a stunning climax to the career of England's favorite dramatist, The Tempest is a play praising the glories of reconciliation and forgiveness. Some believe that Prospero's final speeches signify Shakespeare's personal adieu from the stage.
Earliest known text: First Folio (1623).

 Troilus and Cressida (1601-1602)
Troilus and Cressida is difficult to categorize because it lacks elements vital to both comedies and tragedies. But, for now, it is classified as a comedy.
Earliest known text: Quarto (1609).

 Twelfth Night (1599-1600)
Shakespeare loved to use the device of mistaken identity, and nowhere does he use this convention more skillfully than in Twelfth Night.
Earliest known text: First Folio (1623).

 Two Gentlemen of Verona (1594-1595)
The tale of two friends who travel to Milan and learn about the chaotic world of courting.
Earliest known text: First Folio (1623).

 The Winter's Tale (1610-1611)
The Winter's Tale is considered a romantic comedy, but tragic elements are woven throughout the play. We have a first-hand account of a production of the play at the Globe in 1611. It is one of Shakespeare's final plays.
Earliest known text: First Folio (1623).

Today's Guess the Play
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Quote in Context

If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again!
      Twelfth Night (1.1), Duke Orsino

Orsino, the Duke of Illyria, is consumed by his passion for the melancholy Countess Olivia. His ostentatious musings on the nature of love begin with what has become one of Shakespeare's most famous lines: "If music be the food of love, play on." It is apparent that Orsino's love is hollow. He is a romantic dreamer, for whom the idea of being in love is most important. When Valentine gives him the terrible news that Olivia plans to seclude herself for seven years to mourn her deceased brother, Orsino seems unfazed, and hopes Olivia may one day be as bewitched by love (the one self king) as he. Fittingly, the scene ends with Orsino off to lay in a bed of flowers, where he can be alone with his love-thoughts. Later in the play it will be up to Viola to teach Orsino the true meaning of love.

Bard Bites

Although The Two Noble Kinsmen likely was written in 1613, the first printing of the play did not occur until 1634, when "the memorable worthies of their time, Mr John Fletcher, and Mr William Shakespeare, Gent." were credited as co-authors on the title page. It is now generally accepted that Fletcher wrote the majority of the play, while Shakespeare wrote most of Act 1 (1.1, 1.2, 1.3) and Act 5, with the exception of Scene 2.

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).

This relative of Shakespeare developed a treatment for scurvy made from local grasses and plants high in ascorbic acid over one hundred years before James Lind's discovery that the disease could be treated with citrus fruit. Who was he? Find out...

This famous Romantic poet was so influenced by Shakespeare that he kept a bust of the Bard beside him for inspiration while he wrote. Who was he? Find out...

So great was the Elizabethan demand for wigs made from human hair that "children with handsome locks were never allowed to walk alone in the London streets for fear they should be temporarily kidnapped and their tresses cut off." Read on...

Elizabethan and Jacobean audiences reveled in shocking drama. Patrons consistently packed the theatres to see the newest foray into debauchery and murder. Shakespeare appealed to the masses by baking this character's two sons in a meat pie and feeding them to her. Who is she? Find out...

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.

Shakespeare was familiar with seven foreign languages and often quoted them directly in his plays. His vocabulary was the largest of any writer, at over twenty-four thousand words. Read on...

Related Resources

 Chronology of Shakespeare's Plays (when written)
 Chronology of Shakespeare's Plays (when set)
 Shakespeare Characters A to Z

 Chronological List of Elizabethan Theatres
 How many plays did Shakespeare write?
 The Four Periods of Shakespeare's Work

 Shakespeare's Metaphors and Similes
 Characteristics of Shakespeare's Plays
 Top 10 Shakespeare Plays

 Seneca's Tragedies and Elizabethan Drama
 Shakespeare's Blank Verse
 Elements of Comedy

 A Shakespeare Glossary
 Pronouncing Shakespearean Names
 Words Shakespeare Invented
 Shakespeare's Impact on Other Writers

 What Inspired Shakespeare?
 Reasons Behind Shakespeare's Influence
 Shakespeare's Language
 Bloody will be thy end: Shakespeare Farewells

 Hamlet Essays and Study Guide
 Macbeth Essays and Study Guide
 Othello Essays and Study Guide

 Julius Caesar Essays and Study Guide
 King Lear Essays and Study Guide
 Henry IV, Part 1 Essays and Study Guide

 Essays on The Tempest
 Essays on A Midsummer Night's Dream
 Essays on Twelfth Night
 Essays on As You Like It

 Shakespearean Quotations
 Early Copies of Shakespeare's Plays
 The Two Noble Kinsmen: Overview
 Shakespeare's Edward III?

 Shakespeare's Audience in his Day
 Going to a Play in Shakespeare's London
 London's First Public Playhouse
 Shakespeare's Trap Doors
 Shakespeare's Boss

 Shakespeare Hits the Big Time
 Shakespeare's Villains
 Portraits of Shakespeare
 Shakespeare's Contemporaries

 Shakespeare's Sexuality
 Worst Diseases in Shakespeare's London
 Daily Life in Shakespeare's London
 Shakespeare Q & A

How to Study Shakespeare
Many students of English literature dread studying Shakespeare. However, while it is true that Shakespeare's dramas are the most demanding works encountered by high school students, with a little perseverance any student can master Shakespeare. Here are five steps to success reading a play by the Bard.