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Shakespeare: Plays

Shakespeare resources for theatre students.

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Editions

Arden Third Series: The Arden Shakespeare has long set the gold standard in annotated, scholarly editions of Shakespeare's plays. Each Arden edition in the Third Series offers a modernized text with comprehensive commentary notes glossing meanings, discussing staging issues and explaining literary allusions, together with a lengthy, illustrated introduction by a leading scholar exploring the play's critical, theatrical and historical contexts.

Arden Performance Edition: This new series of Arden play texts offers annotations specifically designed to meet actors’ needs. Providing the trustworthy scholarship of the Arden Shakespeare, they will free you for your own interpretation of a part, and are perfectly suited to the context of the rehearsal room.

Yale Shakespeare: Originally published by Yale Press in the 1920s and 30s.

Oxford Edition: "The Oxford set off a revolution in Shakespeare editorial practice by prioritizing the “revisions” included in the Folio over the quartos as control texts. Previous practice had been to get as close to Shakespeare’s original manuscript as possible, generally emphasizing the earliest “reliable” quarto text." --Shakespearestribe.com

Anthologies/Collected Works

All's Well That Ends Well

Synopsis: "Helen, a lowly ward, risks her life to satisfy her boundless love for Bertram, a count and ward to the King of France. Following him to Paris, she concocts an endangering plan to win the King of France's favour and induce Bertram's hand in marriage." -- Arden Third Series

Genre: Comedy

Anthony and Cleopatra

Synopsis: "Anthony and Cleopatra is a tragic play by Shakespeare, which tells the ill-fated love story between Anthony and Cleopatra and the antagonistic role played by Julius Caesar, future Emperor of Rome." -- EBSCO

Genre: Tragedy

As You Like It

Synopsis: "As You Like It subverts the traditional rules of romance. Gender roles, nature and politics are confused in a play that reflects on how bewildering yet utterly pleasurable life can be." - RSC Website

Genre: Comedy

Comedy of Errors

Synopsis: "Shakespeare's dexterous comedy of two twin masters and two twin servants continually mistaken for one another is both farce and more than farce. The Comedy of Errors examines the interplay between personal and commercial relationships, and the breakdown of social order that follows the disruption of identity" -- Arden Third Series

Genre: Comedy

Coriolanus

Synopsis: " A proud Roman general conquers the Volscians, leads them against Rome in revenge for his banishment, and is killed by the Volscian general when Coriolanus is persuaded to spare the city." -- Yale Shakespeare Edition

Genre: Tragedy

Cymbeline

Synopsis: "King Cymbeline's evil second queen forces the king to banish his daughter Imogen's husband, Posthumus. While the queen tries to force Imogen to marry her own son, Posthumus flees to Rome. There he is tricked into believing Imogen has been unfaithful. Imogen disguises herself as a boy and flees the court." -- British Broadcasting Company

Genre: Tragedy

Double Falsehood

Synopsis: "A play performed at the Theatre Royal in London in 1727 which the producer, Lewis Theobald, claimed to have adapted from a Shakespeare play. The plot is a version of the story of Cardenio found in Cervantes' Don Quixote as translated by Thomas Shelton and published in 1612. Documentary records list a play by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher performed in 1613, probably entitled The History of Cardenio. Is this the missing play or a literary fraud?" -- Arden Third Series

Genre: Comedy / Disputed Authorship

Hamlet

Synopsis: "The young Prince Hamlet, returning from university, finds his Kingdom in disarray. With his father dead, and his uncle and mother marrying, Hamlet is confronted by an armored ghost, who, claiming to be the King, implores him to enact revenge upon the newlyweds and restore order to the realm. Yet, Hamlet's ability to act conflicts with his will to think: curing the rot and stabilising the kingdom will unleash a series of tragedies that threaten to ruin his entire family." -- Arden Performance Edition

Genre: Tragedy

Henry IV, Part I

Synopsis: "With his crown under threat from enemies both foreign and domestic, Henry IV prepares for war. As his father gets ready to defend his crown, Prince Hal is languishing in the taverns and brothels of London, revelling in the company of his friend, the notorious Sir John Falstaff. With the onset of war, Hal must confront his responsibilities to family and throne." -- Royal Shakespeare Company

Genre: History

Henry IV, Part II

Synopsis: "More troubled and troubling than King Henry IV, Part 1, the play continues the story of King Henry's decline and Hal's reform. Though Part 2 echoes the structure of the earlier play, it is a darker and more unsettling world, in which even Falstaff's revelry is more tired and cynical, and the once-merry Hal sloughs off his tavern companions to become King Henry V. " -- Arden Third Edition

Genre: History

Henry V

Synopsis: "After an insult from the French Dauphin, King Henry V of England invades France to claim the throne he believes should be his. Henry stops an assassination plot, gives powerful speeches, and wins battles against the odds. In the end, he woos and marries the Princess of France, linking the two nations." -- Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Genre: History

Henry VI, Part I

Synopsis: "After Henry V's death and while Henry VI is young, nobles rule England and fight the French, including Joan of Arc. As Henry VI becomes King, the noble houses begin to divide and take sides between York and Lancaster. The war with France winds down, and the nobles try to find Henry a wife and disagree about who Henry chooses." -- Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Genre: History

Henry VI, Part II

Synopsis: "Against the wishes of the nobles, King Henry marries the penniless Margaret who plots against him with her lover. As tensions between York and Lancaster build, the Duke of York gathers supporters for his claim to the throne. York secretly leads a rebellion, his supporters proclaim him king, and Henry is forced to flee." -- Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Genre: History

Henry VI, Part III

Synopsis: "After York's claims to the throne, Henry changes the succession and makes York his heir, disinheriting his own son. Henry's queen kills York, and York's son Edward seizes the throne. Henry is imprisoned several times and eventually killed by King Edward's brother, Richard." -- Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Genre: History

Henry VIII

Synopsis: "King Henry VIII listens to Cardinal Wolsey too much and gives him power, which the Cardinal uses to convict a duke of treason. Henry meets Anne Boleyn, divorces his wife Katharine, and marries Anne. Anne gives birth to Princess Elizabeth who the Archbishop prophesies will become great." -- Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Genre: History

Julius Caesar

Synopsis: "Jealous conspirators convince Caesar's friend Brutus to join their assassination plot against Caesar. To stop Caesar from gaining too much power, Brutus and the conspirators kill him on the Ides of March. Mark Antony drives the conspirators out of Rome and fights them in a battle. Brutus and his friend Cassius lose and kill themselves, leaving Antony to rule in Rome." -- Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Genre: Tragedy

King Edward III

Synopsis:  "King Edward III ruled for fifty years. Under his genial splendor, the fractious wilderness inherited from his murdered father became transformed into an English nation. It was a reign outstandingly rich in dramatic events and sometimes violent in its contrasts. There were spectacular feats of war at Sluys, Crécy and Poitiers, as well as at Nájera beyond the Pyrenees. They made the king and his eldest son, the Black Prince, into figures of legend. Yet the brightly colored pageantry of the chivalric king and his sons and loyal captains has to be set against the horrors and miseries of the Black Death. Similarly, if less sensationally, the king founded his new Order of the Garter for the benefit of a select group of those whom he and future monarchs might delight to honor just when the humble Commons were repeatedly demanding that he show a quite new respect for their own, less exalted persons and in particular for their pockets." -- Arden Third Edition

Genre: History / Disputed authorship 

King John

Synopsis: "King John goes to war against the French after claims that his nephew should be king instead. John has conflict with the church, orders his nephew's death, and turns the nobles against himself. In the end, John dies from poison, the French retreat, and his son becomes King." -- Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Genre: History

King Lear

Synopsis: "King Lear divides his kingdom among the two daughters who flatter him and banishes the third one who loves him. His eldest daughters both then reject him at their homes, so Lear goes mad and wanders through a storm. His banished daughter returns with an army, but they lose the battle and Lear, all his daughters and more, die." -- Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Genre: Tragedy

Love Labor's Lost

Synopsis: "After vowing to avoid women, the King and three of his friends have to host a princess and her three ladies. The four men fall in love and decide to court the women. In the end, the women must return to their kingdom for a year after which they will marry the king and his friends, providing they remain true to them." -- Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Genre: Comedy

Macbeth

Synopsis: "Three witches tell the Scottish general Macbeth that he will be King of Scotland. Encouraged by his wife, Macbeth kills the king, becomes the new king, and kills more people out of paranoia. Civil war erupts to overthrow Macbeth, resulting in more death." -- Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Genre: Tragedy

Measure for Measure

Synopsis: "Angelo rules as a religious tyrant, tries to manipulate a nun to sleep with him, is foiled, and ultimately punished." -- Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Genre: Comedy

Merchant of Venice

Synopsis: "Antonio, an antisemitic merchant, takes a loan from the Shylock to help his friend to court Portia. Antonio can't repay the loan, and without mercy, Shylock demands a pound of his flesh. The heiress Portia, now the wife of Antonio's friend, dresses as a lawyer and saves Antonio." -- Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Genre: Comedy

Merry Wives of Windsor

Synopsis: "Falstaff decides to fix his financial woe by seducing the wives of two wealthy merchants. The wives find he sent them identical letters and take revenge by playing tricks on Falstaff when he comes calling. With the help of their husbands and friends, the wives play one last trick in the woods to put Falstaff's mischief to an end." -- Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Genre: Comedy

Midsummer Night's Dream

Synopsis: "Four Athenians run away to the forest only to have Puck the fairy make both of the boys fall in love with the same girl. The four run through the forest pursuing each other while Puck helps his master play a trick on the fairy queen. In the end, Puck reverses the magic, and the two couples reconcile and marry." -- Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Genre: Comedy

Much Ado about Nothing

Synopsis: "Count Claudio falls in love with Hero, the daughter of his host. Hero's cousin Beatrice (a confirmed spinster) and Benedict (an eternal bachelor) are each duped into believing the other is in love with them. Claudio is deceived by a malicious plot and denounces Hero as unchaste before they marry. She faints and is believed dead, but recovers to be proved innocent by a chance discovery. Benedict wins Beatrice’s love defending her cousin’s honour, and to his surprise, Claudio is reunited with Hero, who he believed dead." -- Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Genre: Comedy

Othello

Synopsis: "Iago is furious about being overlooked for promotion and plots to take revenge against his General; Othello, the Moor of Venice. Iago manipulates Othello into believing his wife Desdemona is unfaithful, stirring Othello's jealousy. Othello allows jealousy to consume him, murders Desdemona, and then kills himself." -- Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Genre: Tragedy

Pericles

Synopsis: "Pericles, Prince of Tyre leaves home to escape death only to win a jousting contest and marry a princess. Once he can return home, his family sails with him, but a storm separates them, so Pericles returns alone. Years later, Pericles finds his daughter and reunites with the wife he had thought was dead." -- Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Genre: History

Richard II

Synopsis: "King Richard II banishes Henry Bolingbroke, seizes noble land, and uses the money to fund wars. Henry returns to England to reclaim his land, gathers an army of those opposed to Richard, and deposes him. Now as Henry IV, Henry imprisons Richard, and Richard is murdered in prison.  " -- Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Genre: History

Richard III

Synopsis: "Jealous and crippled, Richard of Gloucester wants to be King of England and uses manipulation and deceit to achieve his goal. He murders his brothers, nephews, and any opposition to become King Richard III. In the end, Henry of Richmond raises an army, kills Richard in battle, and becomes King Henry VII. " -- Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Genre: History

Romeo and Juliet

Synopsis: "An age-old vendetta between two powerful families erupts into bloodshed. A group of masked Montagues risk further conflict by gatecrashing a Capulet party. A young lovesick Romeo Montague falls instantly in love with Juliet Capulet, who is due to marry her father’s choice, the County Paris. With the help of Juliet’s nurse, the women arrange for the couple to marry the next day, but Romeo’s attempt to halt a street fight leads to the death of Juliet’s own cousin, Tybalt, for which Romeo is banished. In a desperate attempt to be reunited with Romeo, Juliet follows the Friar’s plot and fakes her own death. The message fails to reach Romeo, and believing Juliet dead, he takes his life in her tomb. Juliet wakes to find Romeo’s corpse beside her and kills herself. The grieving family agree to end their feud." -- Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Genre: Tragedy

Sir Thomas More

Synopsis: "An Elizabethan play by Anthony Munday and others that depicts the life of Thomas More. It survives only in a single manuscript, now owned by the British Library. Its main claim to fame is that three pages of it may have been written by William Shakespeare's hand, but the manuscript is also important for what it reveals about censorship of Elizabethan drama." -- Arden Third Series

Genre: History / Disputed Authorship

Taming of the Shrew

Synopsis: "Lucentio loves Bianca but cannot court her until her shrewish older sister Katherina marries. The eccentric Petruccio marries the reluctant Katherina and uses a number of tactics to render her an obedient wife. Lucentio marries Bianca and, in a contest at the end, Katherina proves to be the most obedient wife." -- Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Genre: Comedy

The Tempest

Synopsis: "Prospero uses magic to conjure a storm and torment the survivors of a shipwreck, including the King of Naples and Prospero’s treacherous brother, Antonio. Prospero’s slave, Caliban, plots to rid himself of his master, but is thwarted by Prospero’s spirit-servant Ariel. The King’s young son Ferdinand, thought to be dead, falls in love with Prospero’s daughter Miranda. Their celebrations are cut short when Prospero confronts his brother and reveals his identity as the usurped Duke of Milan. The families are reunited and all conflict is resolved. Prospero grants Ariel his freedom and prepares to leave the island." -- Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Genre: Comedy

The Two Noble Kinsmen

Synopsis: "This tragi-comedy is one of the plays we know Shakespeare worked with a collaborator on -- John Fletcher -- and is based on Chaucer's Knight's Tale." -- Arden Third Series

Genre: Comedy /Tragedy / Disputed Authorship (dual authorship John Fletcher and William Shakespeare)

Timon of Athens

Synopsis: "Wealthy and popular, Timon of Athens helps his friends, gives many gifts, and holds a feast. After ignoring his true friends' warnings, Timon runs out of money, and none of his "friends" will help him. He runs away to a cave where he curses humanity, finds gold, funds someone to destroy Athens, and dies." -- Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Genre: Tragedy

Titus Andronicus

Synopsis: "The Roman general Titus Andronicus returns from war with four prisoners who vow to take revenge against him. They rape and mutilate Titus' daughter and have his sons killed and banished. Titus kills two of them and cooks them into a pie, which he serves to their mother before killing her too. The Roman emperor kills Titus, and Titus' last remaining son kills the emperor and takes his place." -- Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Genre: Tragedy

Troilus and Cressida

Synopsis: "Trojan prince Troilus falls in love with Cressida, as war rages around them. After vowing to be faithful, Cressida is traded to the Greek camp, where she then agrees to see another man. Troilus witnesses Cressida's unfaithfulness and vows to put more effort into the war. The play ends after further deaths on both sides, and with no resolution in sight." -- Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Genre: Tragedy

Twelfth Night

Synopsis: "Viola, separated from her twin Sebastian, dresses as a boy and works for the Duke Orsino, whom she falls in love with. Orsino is in love with the Countess Olivia, and sends Viola to court her for him, but Olivia falls for Viola instead. Sebastian arrives, causing a flood of mistaken identity, and marries Olivia. Viola then reveals she is a girl and marries Orsino." -- Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Genre: Comedy

Two Gentlemen of Verona

Synopsis: "Two best friends, Proteus and Valentine, travel to Milan where they both fall in love with Silvia. Silvia loves Valentine, but Proteus pursues her despite having a girlfriend at home. After an apology, Proteus and Valentine reconcile, Proteus falls in love with his girlfriend again, and both couples marry." -- Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Genre: Comedy

Winter's Tale

Synopsis: "The jealous King Leontes falsely accuse his wife Hermione of infidelity with his best friend, and she dies. Leontes exiles his newborn daughter Perdita, who is raised by shepherds for sixteen years and falls in love with the son of Leontes' friend. When Perdita returns home, a statue of Hermione "comes to life", and everyone is reconciled." -- Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Genre: Comedy

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