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A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Complicated interconnected plots don’t lend themselves to single-

sentence summaries, but basically this girl Hermia and her boyfriend Lysander try to elope while
fairy-King Oberon and his estranged fairy wife fight and a bunch of low-rent traveling actors
rehearse a play, and then eventually everyone lives happily ever after despite a brief scare when
Oberon’s wife falls in love with a guy with a donkey head.

All’s Well That Ends Well: Helena, who’s gorgeous but from a low-rent family, gets to marry her
dream man, Count Bertram, who enjoys her company so little that he immediately heads off to war,
desperately hoping he’ll die before he has to return to Helena; but Bertram ends up not dying,
making the play one that ends happily, but doesn’t end particularly well. (AWTEW is one of
Shakespeare’s least well-regarded plays.)

As You Like It: A Duke (who’s never given a proper name) is unseated from his Duchy, whereupon
he moves to the forest for a while until the Duke’s traitorous son is saved from a lioness by the
Duke’s loyal servant, which leads to no fewer than four weddings, and the Duke’s return to

Cymbeline: So poorly regarded that some scholars think Shakespeare wrote it as a joke,
Cymberline stars Posthumous (that’s his name), who gets kicked out of a kingdom for secretly
marrying the King’s daughter, which leads to a series of events so convoluted that in Act V, Scene
IV, the god Jupiter descends from heaven and orders everyone to shut up and explain what’s going
on, which everyone does, whereupon the play ends with no deaths, making it a comedy.

Love’s Labour Lost: Three men who’ve just sworn off girls happen across three attendants to a
beautiful princess, and sure enough they forget their swears.

Measure for Measure: A favorite in Political Science classes, a politico named Angelo condemns
young Claudio to death for getting his (Claudio’s) fiancée pregnant, but then Angelo, in a stirringly
honorable turn, agrees to spare Claudio’s life if Angelo can engage in some fornication of his own
with Claudio’s hot sister—an event that is narrowly averted, perhaps because it would have been
hard to stage, what with everybody being played by guys.

The Merchant of Venice: Classified as a comedy, even though its most famous character, the
Jewish moneylender Shylock, ends up bankrupt after trying to extract a pound of flesh from
Antonio, who is saved by the lawyer-like contract analysis of the hot young heiress Portia (who’s like
Paris Hilton, except smart).

The Merry Wives of Windsor: Sir John Falstaff tries to win over two wealthy, married Windsor
women—and fails, making him perhaps the stage’s first fat, ugly guy who can’t get lucky (cf.,
George Costanza).

Much Ado about Nothing: A grumpy old man named Don John endeavors to break up young
lovers Claudio and Hero apparently because he just hates their happiness; meanwhile, Hero’s cousin
Beatrice and Claudio’s buddy Benedick fall in love–so in the end, not only does Don John’s attempt
at romantic terrorism fail, but two couples end up happily instead of just one (Curses!).
Pericles, Prince of Tyre: Shakespeare probably only wrote the last 13 scenes (everything before
is pretty wretched) of this play that follows the sea-faring adventures of the title character, who
faces a lot of impediments (a shipwreck, pirates, and a girl with a serious Elektra complex) before
he finally manages to get married.

The Taming of the Shrew: A vulgar, man-hating shrew, Katherina Minola, is (eventually) tamed
by her suitor, Petruchio, but not before Shakespeare reveals a hint of misogyny.

The Comedy of Errors: Shakespeare’s shortest play, and our shortest summary: Egeon almost
loses his life, his wife, and his children—but then doesn’t.

The Tempest: In the greatest of Shakespeare’s later plays, the sorcerer Prospero and his daughter
Miranda are stranded on an island with the deformed (and possibly homosexual) Caliban when a
second shipwreck brings ashore the man of Miranda’s dreams.

Twelfth Night: This cross-dressing, gender-bending extravaganza stars Viola (a girl) who lives as
Cesario (a boy), who works for Duke Orsino (a boy), who’s in love with Olivia (a girl), who herself
falls in love with Viola/Cesario (a, uh, whatever), who’s in love with the Duke, and it only gets more
complicated from there until finally the Duke marries Viola and Olivia marries Viola’s brother
Sebastian (who, we forgot to mention, washes ashore after a shipwreck round about Act II).

The Two Gentlemen of Verona: Two gentlemen from Verona find—you’ll never guess—love,
although in this case it’s after a discomforting, pathos-ridden scene in which one of the purported
“gentlemen” attempts to rape the character Silvia.

The Two Noble Kinsmen: This tragicomedy often lumped with Shakespeare’s comedies was a
collaboration with lesser playwright John Fletcher in which two cousins fight over a princess;
eventually, the cousin who hasn’t just died (Palamon) gets to marry the princess.

The Winter’s Tale – Set it Bohemia, this play features a character named Hermione (see also,
Harry Potter), the oracle of Delphi, a magical resurrection, and Shakespeare’s most famous stage
direction: “Exit, pursued by a bear.”