Shakespeare's late romances

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The late romances, often simply called the romances, are a grouping of what many scholars[who?] believe to be William Shakespeare's later plays, or final plays[1] including Pericles, Prince of Tyre; Cymbeline; The Winter's Tale; and The Tempest. The Two Noble Kinsmen is sometimes included in this grouping. This term was first used in regard to these works in Edward Dowden's Shakespeare: A Critical Study of His Mind and Art (1875).

Defining Characteristics[edit]

The final plays share a few common traits:

  • Tragic or potentially tragic elements the the beginning of the play that are then resolved by the end (such as Leonte's jealousy in The Winter's Tale, or the tempest in The Tempest.)[2]
  • Older men are more prominently featured[3]
  • Young lovers are a part of each play, but they aren't central to the plot[4]

The category of Shakespearean romance arises from a desire among critics to recognize them as a more complex kind of comedy. Although Pericles did not appear in the First Folio of 1623, its editors, John Heminges and Henry Condell, listed The Tempest and The Winter's Tale as comedies; Cymbeline is listed as a tragedy. In 1875, when Dowden argued that Shakespeare's late comedies be called "romances," he did so because they resemble late medieval and early modern "romances," a genre in which stories took place across expanses of space and time. Although some critics prefer to keep the genre "comedy" to describe these four plays, many others[who?] have accepted the genre "romance" as a special designation for Shakespeare's final comedies. These plays share characteristics such as:

  • A redemptive plotline with a happy ending involving the re-uniting of long-separated family members;
  • Magic and other fantastical elements;
  • The presence of pre-Christian, masque-like figures, like Jupiter in Cymbeline and the goddesses whom Prospero summons in The Tempest;
  • A mixture of "courtly" and "pastoral" scenes (such as the gentry and the island residents in The Tempest and the pastoral and courtly contrasts of The Winter's Tale).

Shakespeare's romances were also influenced by two major developments in theatre in the early years of the seventeenth century. One was the innovation in tragicomedy initiated by John Fletcher and developed in the early Beaumont and Fletcher collaborations. The other was the extreme elaboration of the courtly masque being conducted at the same time by Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones. [See: The Masque of Blackness; The Masque of Queens.]

The distinctiveness of the late romances has been questioned – the plays certainly share commonalities with earlier Shakespearean works like Twelfth Night, with earlier romances by other authors back to the ancient world, and with works in genres like pastoral. Yet Shakespeare's late plays have a distinctive aura to them, with elements of tragicomedy and masque blended with elements of comedy and romance and pastoral – not into a chaos as might be expected, but into coherent, dramatically effective and appealing plays.


Shakespeare's late romances include:

The Norton Shakespeare describes Henry VIII (ca. 1612–13) as being characteristic of the late romances, but still considers it one of the histories.


  1. ^ Bieman, Elizabeth (1990). William Shakespeare : the romances. Boston: Twayne. p. 1. ISBN 0-8057-6995-1. 
  2. ^ Bieman, Elizabeth (1990). William Shakespeare : the romances. Boston: Twayne. p. 1. ISBN 0-8057-6995-1. 
  3. ^ Bieman, Elizabeth (1990). William Shakespeare : the romances. Boston: Twayne. p. 4. ISBN 0-8057-6995-1. 
  4. ^ Bieman, Elizabeth (1990). William Shakespeare : the romances. Boston: Twayne. p. 1. ISBN 0-8057-6995-1. 
  5. ^ F. E. Halliday, Shakespeare Companion, pp. 419, 507-8. See also Hallett Smith on the "many links between this and the previous plays...," in: The Riverside Shakespeare, G. Blakemore Evans, textual editor; Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1974; p. 1640.

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