Before the publication of the First Folio in 1623, twenty-two of the thirty-eight plays in Shakespeare's canon had appeared in quarto format. All but Othello (1622) and The Two Noble Kinsmen (1634), 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.
The last of Shakespeare's great political tragedies, chronicling the life of the mighty warrior Caius Marcius Coriolanus.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Othello, a valiant Moorish general in the service of Venice, falls prey to the devious schemes of his false friend, Iago.
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."
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.
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.
Henry IV, Part I (1597-1598) One of Shakespeare's most popular plays, featuring the opportunistic miscreant, Sir John Falstaff.
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.
Henry V (1598-1599) Henry V is the last in the second tetralogy sequence. King Henry is considered Shakespeare's ideal monarch.
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.
Henry VI, Part II (1590-1591) Part two of Shakespeare's chronicle play. Based on Hall's work, the play contains some historical inaccuracies.
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.
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.
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.
Richard II (1595-1596) More so than Shakespeare's earlier history plays, Richard II is notable for its well-rounded characters.
Richard III (1592-1593) The devious machinations of the deformed villain, Richard, duke of Gloucester, made this play an Elizabethan favorite.
All's Well That Ends Well (1602-1603) Modern scholars contend that this is a problem play, due primarily to the character Helena and her ambiguous nature. Is she a virtuous lady or a crafty temptress?
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.
The Comedy of Errors (1592-1593) This is Shakespeare's shortest play, which he based on Menaechmi by Plautus.
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.
Love's Labours Lost (1594-1595) Love's Labours Lost fell out of favour for many years, criticized by scholars as muddled and confusing. But the play is making a comeback, and Kenneth Branagh's version has helped it along.
Measure for Measure (1604-1605) Considered a "dark" comedy, Measure for Measure was inspired by Cinthio's Epitia and Whetstone's Promos and Cassandra.
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.
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.
A Midsummer Night's Dream (1595-1596) A magical exploration of the mysteries of love, and one of Shakespeare's best-known comedies.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Two Gentlemen of Verona (1594-1595) The tale of two friends who travel to Milan and learn about the chaotic world of courting.
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.
In the Spotlight
Quote in Context
Down, down I come;
Like glistering Phaethon,
Wanting the manage of unruly jades. Richard II (3.3), King Richard
As Richard's throne is usurped he compares himself to glistering Phaethon. Richard is referring to the fable of Phaethon, son of Helios, who convinced his father to allow him to drive the chariot of the sun, with its mighty steeds, across the path of the sky from east to west. But Phaethon was an incompetent charioteer, unable to control the willful horses. Just as Phaethon has failed to control his unruly horses (jades), King Richard has failed to control his unruly subjects.
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.
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.