Shakespeare wrote nearly 40 plays during his life. These plays can be divided into four types:
- Tragedies – these plays focus on a tragic hero (or couple, as in Romeo and Juliet) whose downfall is brought about through weakness or misfortune of some kind. This kind of play ends with the death of the central character but also involves the death of a number of other characters.
- Comedies – this kind of play involves humour and often confusion, disguise,mistaken identity etc. Unlike our modern idea of comedy, some ofShakespeare’s comedies can be quite ‘dark’ but the main thing is that they end happily and there are no deaths at the end.
- Histories – this kind of play is based on historical events and characters, often on kings or important figures from Roman history. These plays often have tragic elements too.
- Romances – these are some of Shakespeare’s later plays (sometimes called ‘Last Plays), and often involve magical worlds and happenings, mysterious events and moral lessons contained within a ‘happy’ ending. A small number of his plays, however, do not fit easily into these categories. These are plays that fall somewhere between tragedy and comedy and contain dark, unsettling elements but which end ‘happily’ in so far as no one dies. They are knows as ‘Problem Comedies’ or ‘Dark Comedies’.
Decide which type of play you are studying and be aware of its particular characteristics
Plot and Structure
All plays, including those of Shakespeare, have a plot and some kind of structure.
Put simply, the plot of a play is the ‘story’ that the play tells and the structure is the way that the story is organised and put together.
Plot and structure are important because they make up the whole ‘storyline’ of the play and so, before you can really begin to study the other aspects of the play, you really need to be familiar with these.
You cannot begin to study a play properly until you know what happens in the play.