Shakespeare's plays

Definition of Shakespeare’s plays

Today, William Shakespeare is probably best known for his plays. Scholars disagree on the exact number of plays, how to classify them, and whether Shakespeare co-wrote them with other playwrights. However, it is believed that he wrote about 39 plays, which can be divided into three genres: tragedies, comedies, and history plays.

Note that tragedies may include comical elements, just as comedies may include serious or ‘dark’ elements.


As the name of the genre implies, tragedies have unhappy endings. Shakespeare’s tragedies feature a tragic hero who is led to his downfall by a tragic flaw he cannot overcome (such as ambition or other types of moral weakness). Also, the plays often include inner and external conflict, a battle between good and evil, and a focus on fate.

Examples include Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Macbeth.


Shakespeare’s comedies are characterized by a satirical or humorous tone, happy endings, and young lovers struggling to overcome obstacles. They also frequently include mistaken identity, cross-dressing, and plot twists.

Examples include A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, and Twelfth Night.

History plays

In a way, Shakespeare’s history plays (or histories, as originally called) are tragedies, too, because they tend to end in tragedy. They are based on historical events and people, but not historically accurate. They are typically set in medieval England, but provide social commentary on the society Shakespeare lived in. 

Examples include H...

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