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Shakespeare's 3 Play Types Based on the First Folio


Statue of Shakespeare at Westminster Abbey in London, UK

This year we celebrate 400 years since the publication of Shakespeare’s First Folio. This book brought together most of Shakespeare’s plays in one edition in 1623… That is seven years after Shakespeare’s death. The story goes: two actors from his troop got together and organized a folio publication, but without final scripts from the Bard it was a mish mash of memory, scraps of paper, and those that had been published in the quarto format during Shakespeare’s lifetime.


It would be titled Mr. William Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies which nicely divides his plays into three categories or types, labels we still use to this today. You’ll also notice that Shakespeare’s name is prominent on the title since he was popular enough to garner recognition by readers and play goers, and thus make sales.


It is important to note that without this publication we wouldn’t have Twelfth Night or even Macbeth. Can you imagine a world without Macbeth’s weird sisters aka witches?! The culture molding lines of:

Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble.


The publication didn’t receive the warmest of receptions by contemporaries. Oxford University Press explains that “Drama was usually deemed too vulgar for such publication, and one bishop complained [that the folio’s] pages seemed a better quality than many bibles.” It is likely that the first print run was for only about 750 copies since books were a luxury at the time.


Today there survives 235 First folios that we know about and we cannot deny its influence on the English literary canon and culture writ large. Here is the breakdown of which of his plays fall into which category based on the First Folio:


Comedies

  • All’s Well That Ends Well

  • As You Like It

  • The Comedy of Errors

  • Love's Labour's Lost

  • Measure for Measure

  • The Merchant of Venice

  • The Merry Wives of Windsor

  • A Midsummer Night's Dream

  • Much Ado About Nothing

  • The Taming of the Shrew

  • The Tempest

  • Twelfth Night

  • The Two Gentlemen of Verona

  • The Winter's Tale


Tragedies

  • Antony and Cleopatra

  • Coriolanus

  • Cymbeline

  • Hamlet

  • Julius Caesar

  • King Lear

  • Macbeth

  • Othello

  • Romeo and Juliet

  • Timon of Athens

  • Titus Andronicus

  • Troilus and Cressida

Histories

  • Henry IV Part I

  • Henry IV Part II

  • Henry V

  • Henry VI Part I

  • Henry VI Part II

  • Henry VI Part III

  • Henry VIII

  • King John

  • Richard II

  • Richard III


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