Shakespeare’s Works

Title: Shakespeare’s Works

Author: Shakespeare Resource Center

Full Text & Source: http://www.bardweb.net/works.html
The Internet, Online, 30/4/2016

Sample Text
William Shakespeare, in terms of his life and his body of work, is the most written-about author in the history of Western civilization. His canon includes 38 plays, 154 sonnets, and 2 epic narrative poems. The First Folio (cover shown at left) was published posthumously in 1623 by two of Shakespeare’s acting companions, John Heminges and Henry Condell. Ever since then, the works of Shakespeare have been studied, analyzed, and enjoyed as some of the finest masterpieces of the English language.

It is all the more wondrous when one can study the works and see Shakespeare developing as a playwright right there upon the pages. Love’s Labours Lost and the early comedies are the work of a gifted and clever author. Perhaps such plays alone would have earned him literary fame in later days. The grandeur of a Hamlet or King Lear, however, is the work of a master who learned from his own writing and long practice.

In his time, Shakespeare was the most popular playwright of London. As centuries have passed, his genius eclipses all others of his age; Jonson, Marlowe, Kyd, Greene, Dekker, Heywood—none approach the craft or the humanity of character that marks the Bard’s work. He took the art of dramatic verse and honed it to perfection. He created the most vivid characters of the Elizabethan stage. His usage of language, both lofty and low, shows a remarkable wit and subtlety. Most importantly, his themes are so universal that they transcend generations to stir the imaginations of audiences everywhere to this day.

His plays generally fall into four categories:

Pre-1594 (Richard III, The Comedy of Errors)
1594–1600 (Henry V, Midsummer Night’s Dream)
1600–1608 (Macbeth, King Lear)
Post-1608 (Cymbeline, The Tempest)

The first period has its roots in Roman and medieval drama—the construction of the plays, while good, is obvious and shows the author’s hand more brusquely than the later works. The earliest Shakespeare also owes a debt to Christopher Marlowe, whose writing probably gave much inspiration at the onset of the Bard’s career.

The second period showed more growth in style, and the construction becoming less labored. The histories of this period are Shakespeare’s best, portraying the lives of kings and royalty in most human terms. He also begins the interweaving of comedy and tragedy, which would become one of his stylistic signatures. His comedies mature in this period as well, portraying a greater characterization in their subjects.

The third period marks the great tragedies, and the principal works which would earn the Bard his fame in later centuries. His tragic figures rival those of Sophocles, and might well have walked off the Greek stage straight onto the Elizabethan. Shakespeare is at his best in these tragedies. The comedies of this period, however, show Shakespeare at a literary crossroads—moody and without the clear comic resolution of previous comedies. Hence, the term “problem plays” to describe them.

The fourth period encompasses romantic tragicomedy. Shakespeare at the end of his career seemed preoccupied with themes of redemption. The writing is more serious yet more lyrical, and the plays show Shakespeare at his most symbolic. It is argued between scholars whether this period owed more to Shakespeare’s maturity as a playwright or merely signified a changing trend in Elizabethan theatre at the time.
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About Author Annette J Dunlea Irish Writer

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