What Types of Plays Did Shakespeare Write?

An Introduction to Shakespearean Tragedies, Comedies and Histories

William Shakespeare
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Willaim Shakespeare is a celebrated English poet and playwright who wrote most of his famous works between 1589 and 1613. He is known for using literary devices such as genre, plot, and characterization in revolutionary ways to expand on their dramatic potential.

He used soliloquies to not only develop plot, but also character like in Hamlet and Othello. He also blended genres, which was not traditionally done at the time.

For instance, Romeo and Juliet is both a romance and a tragedy, and Much Ado About Nothing can be called a tragicomedy. 

Many English words used in today's lexicon are attributed to Shakespeare's pen. For example, swagger, bedroom, lackluster, puppy dog and more everyday words were invented by the Bard of Avon.

All in all, Shakespeare heavily influenced literature, theater, poetry and the English language. His collection of 38 plays are categorized into three types: tragediescomedies, and histories


Tragedies are plays with somber themes and dark endings. Tragic conventions include flawed heroes, the fall of a noble person and the triumph of external pressures such as fate, spirits or other characters over the hero. To name a few, Shakespearean tragedies include King Lear, Macbeth, and Hamlet. 


Shakespearean comedies are on the whole more light-hearted pieces. Yet, the point of the play may not only be to make the audience laugh but also to think.

Comedies feature the clever use of language to create wordplay, metaphors and smart insults. Love, mistaken identities and extremely convoluted plots with twist outcomes are also integral aspects of a comedy. To get a taste, some Shakespearean comedies are As You Like It, All's Well That Ends Well and A Midsummer Night's Dream.


Despite its name, Shakespearean histories are not historically accurate. While histories are set in Medieval England and explored class systems of that time, Shakespeare was not trying to depict the past authentically. While he used historical events as a base, Shakespeare developed the plot based on prejudices and social commentaries of his time. 

More Information

Our list of Shakespeare plays brings together all 38 plays in the order in which they were first performed. You can also read our study guides for the Bard of Avon’s most popular plays.