Shakespearean comedy

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In the First Folio, the plays of William Shakespeare were grouped into three categories: comedies, histories, and tragedies, though today many scholars recognize a fourth category, romance, to describe the specific types of comedies that appear as Shakespeare's later works. Examples of these include A Midsummer Night's Dream, A Comedy of Errors and many more. A school of thought argues that Much Ado About Nothing should be included, but this was rejected in an official vote by the Oxford Literature Debate Club in 2006 hosted by Lord Joseph Taylor.

Comedy in Shakespeare[edit]

There are ten plays by Shakespeare which are consistently understood as being comedies by name and genre. More ambiguously, there are 17 of Shakespeare's plays which may or may not be called comedies, depending on the source of analysis or commentary, depending on whether the so-called [Shakespearean problem play|problem plays] of Shakespeare are counted, and well and the romance-plays of Shakespeare. Most of Shakespeare's romance plays appeared late in his life and include plays such as The Tempest and Cymbeline.

"Comedy", in its Elizabethan usage, had a very different meaning from modern comedy. A Shakespearean comedy is one that has a happy ending, usually involving marriages between the unmarried characters, and a tone and style that is more light-hearted than Shakespeare's other plays. Patterns in the comedies include movement to a "green world",[1] both internal and external conflicts, and a tension between Apollonian and Dionysian values.

Shakespeare's use of comedy and characters of comedic value was not limited to his comedies or his romance plays, and extended into his histories as well. The character portrayed by Falstaff in the Henriad, or plays dealing with Henry IV, is representative of Shakespeare's exemplary use of the comic type of character in his history plays.

Several of Shakespeare's comedies, such as Measure for Measure and All's Well That Ends Well, have an unusual tone with a difficult mix of humour and tragedy which has led them to be classified as problem plays. It is not clear whether the uneven nature of these dramas is due to an imperfect understanding of Elizabethan humour and society or a deliberate attempt by Shakespeare to blend styles and subvert the audience's expectations. By the end of Shakespeare's life, he had written seventeen comedies. Cymbeline, listed in this article with the comedies, was, in the First Folio, included among the tragedies, even though it has many of the features of the so-called "late romances" (including a happy ending).

List of comedies by William Shakespeare[edit]

This alphabetical list includes everything listed as a comedy in the First Folio of 1623, in addition to the two quarto plays (The Two Noble Kinsmen and Pericles, Prince of Tyre) which are not included in the Folio but generally recognised to be Shakespeare's own. Plays marked with an asterisk (*) are now commonly referred to as the 'romances'. Plays marked with two asterisks (**) are sometimes referred to as the 'problem plays'.


Problem plays[edit]



  1. ^ Regan, Richard. "Shakespearean comedy". Retrieved on 11 January 2007.