A black book with a gold title on it which reads The Tragedie of Hamlet of Denmark

SHAKESPEARE’S PLAYS.

Explore the plays of William Shakespeare

Find out more about how, when and where William Shakespeare wrote his plays, plus use the links at the bottom of this page to explore individual titles in depth.

INTRODUCTION

‘What Shakespeare wrote and when he wrote it can be notoriously difficult to pin down…’

Like so many details of his life, what Shakespeare wrote and when he wrote it can be notoriously difficult to pin down. We know Shakespeare was working in London by 1592, since a pamphlet attacks him for being ‘an upstart crow’ – an arrogant newcomer who supposes he can join the ranks of the city’s more established dramatists.

Which plays excited such disapproval is open to conjecture, except for Richard Duke of York (now titled Henry VI Part 3), which the pamphlet writer scornfully parodies. The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Taming of the Shrew, Titus Andronicus, and Parts 1 and 2 of Henry VI were also composed by, or around, this time.

 

An old book with brown pages has black text on it

A scene from Macbeth. Pictured: Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies, 1623 (Munro First Folio). Photographer: Pete Le May

Over the course of the next decade, Shakespeare wrote enduring favourites such as Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night. He also established his reputation as an accomplished poet with the narrative poems Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece.

A collage shows 12 pages from an old book as small thumbnails

‘About half of Shakespeare’s plays were printed as standalone editions…’

Starting around 1600, by which time Shakespeare’s company had moved into the Globe Theatre in London, Shakespeare embarked on writing his well-known tragedies: Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra. Towards the end of his career, from about 1608 onward, he composed his astonishing late plays, like The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest.

About half of Shakespeare’s plays were printed as standalone editions (known as quartos) during his lifetime. In 1623, seven years after his death, the First Folio of his collected works was published by members of his acting company. It contains 36 plays, many of them never printed before, such as The Tempest, Macbeth, and Twelfth Night.

A portrait of William Shakespeare engraved by Martin Droeshout as the frontispiece for the title page of the First Folio

Shakespeare’s portrait in the First Folio. Credit: Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies, 1623. Photographer: Pete Le May

About half of Shakespeare’s plays were printed as standalone editions (known as quartos) during his lifetime. In 1623, seven years after his death, the First Folio of his collected works was published by members of his acting company. It contains 36 plays, many of them never printed before, such as The Tempest, Macbeth, and Twelfth Night.

But the First Folio leaves out some plays it is generally accepted Shakespeare co-wrote: Pericles, The Two Noble Kinsmen, and Edward III. Two other plays, Cardenio and Love’s Labour’s Won, have also been attributed to Shakespeare, though they were never printed and have not survived.

EXPLORE PLAYS

COMING SOON...

This section of our website is still growing – check back here soon for more plays!

DISCOVER