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“Shakespeare’s plays”

• Study Questions

1. How many plays did Shakespeare write?

– He wrote 38 plays altogether; although not all of them are his for
sure. He may have written more plays in collaboration with other
dramatists, as was the custom of the period.
2. What kinds of drama did he experiment with?
– He experimented with all the major dramatic genres: the history
play, the tragedy and the comedy, but also with the romance.
3. How can we subdivide his career as a dramatist?
– Shakespeare’s career as a whole may be divided into four significant
• the years of apprenticeship,
• the history plays and the love comedies;
• the great tragedies and the dark comedies;
• the romances.
4. What dramatic genres did he experiment with in the years of
─ In the years of apprenticeship Shakespeare experimented with
all dramatic genres:
• History plays or chronicle plays (Richard III and the II and III
part of Henry VI)
• The Plautine comedy (the Comedy of Errors);
• The tragedy of horror (Titus Andronicus);
• The love comedy ( “The Two Gentlemen of Verona”, “Love’s
Labour Lost”, “Romeo and Juliet”, “A Midsummer night’s
5. What are the main features of his love and history plays?
─ The struggle for power, love and property against a
recent and crucial period of English history are the main
themes debated in the history plays;
─ Love conventions and the exploration of the psychology
of love, including its delusions, characterize the so-called
love plays .
6. What characterizes Shakespeare’s great tragedies?
̶ A growing disillusion characterizes his great tragedies
which are all studies of complex characters faced by
extremely difficult choices.
7. Why do we speak of dark comedies?
– We refer to the comedies of this period as “dark comedies”
because they all reflect the deep change that had come over
Shakespeare. The plays are a balance between comedies and
tragedies: love has changed from the carefree emotion of the
early comedies into a complex, disillusioned experience.
8. What is the last phase characterized by?

• In the last phase there is a return to the romantic drama which

shows Shakespeare reconciliation with human nature, whose
faults don’t lead to a tragic conclusion but to a restoration of
order and harmony. What caused such a change was a new love
and understanding for the new generation.
• Study Questions
9. List the main themes of Shakespeare’s works and pair each theme
with at least one of Shakespeare’s plays.

̶ In Shakespeare’s theatre women are just as important as men, even

if their distribution and importance varies considerably in the plays.
In some plays the action is equally divided between men and
women, in others men are more important or vice versa. Therefore,
some of the main themes in Shakespeare’s plays could be:
• women and love (“Romeo and Juliet”),
• women and power (“Macbeth”),
• fathers and daughters (“The Merchant of Venice”, “King Lear”),
• rhetoric and power (“Hamlet”),
• the world as a stage (“The Merchant of Venice”, “Macbeth”).
10. In what does Shakespeare’s universality consist?

– In his Roman plays and history plays Shakespeare brought the

Renaissance into contact with the classical times, on the one hand, and
with the modern world, on the other hand.
– In the great tragedies we find his famous definitions of the
meaninglessness of life; such a position is a modern one though he
expresses it through a traditional dramatic framework. Shakespeare’s
“Hamlet” and “Othello” are considered the first modern tragic heroes.
Shakespeare’s comedies are modern too: in fact besides being comical
and entertaining they explore themes such as love, friendship, and
human relationships in general.