William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, one of the greatest writers in the English language and the world’s preeminent dramatist. He is often called England’s national poet and the Bard of Avon. His surviving works, including some collaborations, consist of about 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, two epitaphs on a man named John Combe, one epitaph on Elias James, and several other poems. His plays have been translated into every major living language. Also, they are performed more often than those of any other playwright.
His Famous Plays
- Romeo & Juliet: A tragic story of young love thwarted by the hatred between two families, Romeo & Juliet is perhaps Shakespeare’s most famous work. The play has been adapted countless times for stage, film, and television, and its themes of love, loss, and redemption continue to resonate with audiences centuries after it was first written. It is also a staple in many high school English classes around the world.
- Hamlet: Considered one of Shakespeare’s finest works, Hamlet tells the story of Prince Hamlet, who seeks revenge on his uncle Claudius for murdering his father, King Hamlet. It is often hailed as one of the best tragedies ever written because of its breadth and depth. The Bard composed this masterpiece in only three months while suffering from an illness that would eventually kill him less than a year later. Although it was not published until 1623, a half-century after Shakespeare’s death, some scholars believe the play might have been read aloud during the late 1500s at private gatherings called quodlibets.
- Macbeth: A powerful tale of greed and ambition starring one of literature’s most notorious villains (and now Halloween costume idea), Macbeth centres on Scottish nobleman Macbeth. His wife urges him to murder King Duncan so they can take over the throne. Macbeth has often been called the greatest tragedy of all time. A tragedy can be defined as a drama in which a noble hero suffers an overwhelming catastrophe because of some fatal flaw in his character (Dictionary). Macbeth fits this definition perfectly, as he starts by being honoured by Duncan the King and ends up killing him for personal gain. This act of greed leads to a series of unfortunate events that ultimately destroy everything Macbeth has built up over his lifetime.
One of Shakespeare’s most famous comedies, The Taming of the Shrew is a story of love and marriage. Lucentio falls in love with Bianca, but her father will not allow him to marry her until he marries her older sister, Katherine. Katherine is an unwilling bride, but Lucentio is determined to win her.After disguising himself as a tutor, Petruchio teaches Katherine how to behave like a gentlewoman so that she can find a wealthy husband. It is through this process that they fall in love and get married. Meanwhile, Tranio (Lucentio’s servant) plots to help his master woo Bianca. He dresses up as a music teacher by the name of Litirio and tutors Bianca on how to woo men. Soon after, we see them engaged too! And at the end of it all, it turns out that the servants were behind all this mischief to set their masters up together.
5. Julius Caesar: Shakespeare’s play about the betrayal of Julius Caesar is one of his most famous works. The story has been adapted many times, most notably in the form of a movie starring Marlon Brando. The play is full of suspense and intrigue, making it a classic piece of literature. Uncomfortable with how successful he has become as an author; William writes a suicide note to his loved ones and commits suicide by drinking poison in 1613.
6. Midsummer Night’s Dream: Midsummer Night’s Dream is a comedy that follows two sets of lovers who are caught up in each other’s schemes. Fairies intervene to help them, leading to chaotic results. It is often believed that this work is autobiographical because it parallels many aspects of Shakespeare’s life. There are also hints in the text to suggest that Shakespeare had a connection with Queen Elizabeth I, which would have helped him climb social ranks. Additionally, scholars have noted that Midsummer Night’s Dream might have been influenced by Love’s Labours Lost, another play written by Shakespeare.
7. Twelfth Night: One of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies, Twelfth Night, tells the story of Viola, a woman who disguises herself as a man after shipwrecking on the shores of Illyria. Viola falls in love with Duke Orsino, who is fascinated with the beautiful Olivia. Meanwhile, Countess Olivia has grown tired of her life as a nun. She also refuses to marry anyone that does not love her. Disguised as Cesario (Cesario means little Caesar), Viola wins the heart of Countess Olivia through his witty words and good looks.
But when she reveals her true identity, Countess Olivia still loves him so much that she will let him go so he can be happy with his true identity: Duke Orsino. She agrees to release Cesario from their engagement because she wants him to find happiness with someone else. However, whether this other person would be male or female is unclear. In any case, Orsino agrees and eventually marries Viola. The play ends with Olivia as an older woman telling her niece what happiness awaits those who have endured patiently in faith and truth.
8. The Merchant of Venice: One of Shakespeare’s most famous works, The Merchant of Venice, is a tragic comedy that tells the story of Antonio, a Venetian merchant, who agrees to loan money to his friend Bassanio to woo the beautiful Portia. However, when Antonio cannot repay the loan, Shylock, a Jewish moneylender, demands his pound of flesh. While the play ends happily for Antonio and Bassanio, it reminds them of the dangers of prejudice and intolerance.