William Shakespeare’s Comedies

William Shakespeare's Comedies Image

In this post I present a brief description of each of William Shakespeare’s comedies. At the end of each description I provide a link to download a free copy of each play discussed.

Common Features In Shakespeare’s Comedies

Of the 38 surviving plays we have for the Bard, 16 were comedies. Common features found in Shakespeare’s comedies include clever wordplay, witty dialogue, deception, concealed identity, and repeated plot twists. Many of Shakespeare’s comedies, while humorous, also deal with profound cultural concerns and character issues. What’s more, he seldom provides easy answers. Often, questions raised are simply left for his audience to ponder.

Read Shakespeare’s Comedies For Yourself

In the end, the only way to fully appreciate Shakespeare’s comedies is to read them for yourself. Therefore, simply go through the brief summaries I provide. Then, follow the links at the bottom of each description to download a copy of the play itself. Everything is free. Enjoy.

Be Persistent

If you have never attempted to read anything by William Shakespeare before, however, a word of caution is in order. While everything Shakespeare wrote is in English, modern readers often find his plays and poetry difficult to understand at first. Be persistent. People in our present culture have been taught to give up when things become difficult. Don’t quit. Most things of lasting value are rarely easy.

You May Not Understand Everything At First

Shakespeare wrote in a style like that found in the old King James Bible. That’s Okay. You may not understand all the words at first. Don’t worry about. Just slow down, and keep going. After a few pages, you’ll begin to understand enough to figure out what’s going on.

Try Watching Shakespeare Movies

Also, remember, Shakespeare’s plays were written to be performed rather than merely read. With this in mind, try watching a movie of one or more of his plays. When you see the action matched to the words, the stories become easier to follow. Movies with Kenneth Branaugh are especially good, because he follows the original plays more closely than other productions.

Make Reading Shakespeare’s Comedies Easier

With practice most people do begin to comprehend what Shakespeare was saying when he wrote. Still, some simply can’t get past the language without a modern “translation” to refer to as they read. Fortunately, there’s a solution available at reasonable cost. The Shakespeare Made Easy series available through amazon.com can help.

These special editions of the poet’s works feature Shakespeare’s original lines on the left-hand page, and a modern, easy-to-understand “translation” on the right. The price per play for these versions runs about $7.99 a piece.

See The World In A New Way

Once you begin to let Shakespeare’s comedies rattle around in your head, congratulations! You’ll begin to see the world in a whole new way, and many modern stories will begin to seem shallow by comparison. Read and watch enough, and you may even begin to see just how broken our current culture really is.

Please subscribe to be notified of future posts if you like this content, and don’t forget to check out my YouTube channel as well. That said, let’s begin our review of William Shakespeare’s 16 comedies.

1. All’s Well That Ends Well

Lithograph Image of Shakespeare's "All's Well That Ends Well"
William Shakespeare’s “All’s Well That Ends Well”
Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

All’s Well That Ends Well was published in 1623 as part of William Shakespeare’s First Folio. The date of the play’s composition is contested. Possibilities range from 1598 to 1608. In the play, a woman named Helen marries Bertram, the man she longs for. Because she is of lower rank, however, he refuses to accept the marriage. Helen therefore must somehow win his affection, and, after many challenges, she happily does so by the end of the play. Download your free copy of All’s Well That Ends Well here.

2. As You Like It

Lithograph Image of Shakespeare's "As You Like It"
William Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”
Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In As You Like It, witty words and romance play out against the disputes of divided pairs of brothers. Orlando’s older brother, Oliver, treats him badly and refuses him his small inheritance from their father’s estate. Meanwhile, Duke Frederick forces his older brother, Duke Senior, into exile in the Forest of Arden. There, Duke Senior’s daughter, Rosalind, meets and falls in love with Orlando. She assumes a male identity to be close to him and, while disguised, forms a teasing relationship with him. After Orlando saves his brother’s life, Oliver finally reforms. Rosalind reveals her identity, and several weddings ensue. Download your free copy of As You Like It here.

3. The Comedy Of Errors

Lithograph Image of Shakespeare's "The Comedy Of Errors"
William Shakespeare’s “The Comedy Of Errors”
Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Comedy of Errors is one of William Shakespeare’s early plays. It is his shortest and one of his most farcical comedies. Much of the humor comes from slapstick, mistaken identity, puns, and word play. It is one of only two Shakespeare’s plays to observe the classical unities. Shakespeare takes his story from Plautus’s Menaechmi, a play about identical twins who accidentally meet after a lifetime apart. Although a farce, Shakespeare still suggests complexities beyond what one would normally expect from such a comedy. Download your free copy of The Comedy Of Errors here.

4. Love’s Labour’s Lost

Lithograph Image of Shakespeare's "Love's Labour's Lost"
William Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost”
Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Love’s Labour’s Lost is one of William Shakespeare’s early comedies. Scholars believe he wrote it in the mid-1590s for a performance at Court before Elizabeth I. The story follows a King and three companions who attempt to swear off the company of women for three years. Instead, they fall in love with the Princess of France and her ladies in waiting. Surrendering to temptation, they attempt to win the ladies’ hands. In a nontraditional ending for a comedy, the play closes with the death of the Princess’s father. All weddings are postponed for a year. On a deeper level, Love’s Labour’s Lost begins with a belief that all woman are either seductresses or goddesses. Neither, of course, is true. True male-female relationships are complicated, and women are seldom what men imagine them to be. Download your free copy of Love’s Labour’s Lost here.

5. Measure For Measure

Lithograph Image of Shakespeare's "Measure For Measure"
William Shakespeare’s “Measure For Measure”
Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Scholars believe William Shakespeare wrote Measure For Measure in 1603 or 1604. The First Folio lists it as a comedy. Modern scholars classify it as one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays, however, due to its ambiguous tone and content. The play’s themes include justice, morality, mercy, and virtue.

In he play, the Duke of Vienna announces he is going away and leaves his deputy Angelo in charge. Once in control, Angelo immediately enforces a law prohibiting sex outside of marriage. He sentences Claudio to death for sleeping with Juliet, Claudio’s now-pregnant fiancée. When Claudio’s sister, Isabella, appeals to save her brother, Angelo demands she sleep with him. The Duke, now disguised as a friar, suggests Angelo’s jilted fiancée, Mariana, secretly take Isabella’s place instead. Although the scheme works, Angello orders Claudio’s execution anyway. The Duke then steps in and orders Angello to marry Mariana and be put to death. Despite his failings, Mariana and Isabella plead for Angello’s life. In the end, Claudio is revealed to be alive, Angello is pardoned, and the Duke proposes to Isabella. Download your free copy of Measure For Measure here.

6. The Merchant Of Venice

Lithograph Image of Shakespeare's "The Merchant Of Venice"
William Shakespeare’s “The Merchant Of Venice”
Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Shakespeare most likely wrote The Merchant Of Venice between 1596 and 1598. In the play, a 16th century Venice merchant must default on a large loan provided by an abused Jewish moneylender. Although listed in the First Folio as a comedy, most remember it for its dramatic depiction of the Jewish money lender, Shylock. Download your free copy of The Merchant of Venice here.

7. The Merry Wives of Windsor

Image of Shakespeare's "The Merry Wives Of Windsor"
“Falstaff And His Friends” from William Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives Of Windsor”
Charles Robert Leslie, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Although first published in 1602, scholars believe Shakespeare wrote The Merry Wives Of Windsor before 1597. In the play, Shakespeare’s “merry wives” are Mistress Ford and Mistress Page from the town of Windsor. The two play practical jokes on Mistress Ford’s jealous husband and a visiting knight, Sir John Falstaff. For his part, Falstaff responds with the same wit Shakespeare gives him in the history plays in which he appears. Tradition holds that Queen Elizabeth I requested the comedy. She loved the Falstaff character and asked the Bard to write a play about Falstaff in love. Download your free copy of The Merry Wives Of Windsor here.

8. A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Lithograph Image of Shakespeare's "Midsummer Night's Dream"
William Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream”
Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Shakespeare wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream between 1590 and 1596. It portrays the events surrounding the marriage of the Duke of Athens, Theseus, and Hippolyta. In the play, the residents of Athens mix with fairies from a local forest with comic results. This romantic comedy is arguably one of Shakespeare’s most popular works. Download your free copy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream here.

9. Much Ado About Nothing

Lithograph Image of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing"
William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing”
Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Much Ado About Nothing is thought to have been written in 1598 and 1599. The play is set in Messina. It centers around two romantic pairings that emerge among a group of soldiers. Much Ado About Nothing includes two quite different stories of romantic love. Hero and Claudio fall in love at first sight, but an outside troublemaker, Don John, attempts to ruin their happiness. Another couple, Beatrice and Benedick allow their pride and mutual antagonism to keep them apart until others decide to play Cupid. Much Ado About Nothing is one of Shakespeare’s most frequently produced comedies. Download your free copy of Much Ado About Nothing.

10. Pericles, Prince of Tyre

Image from Shakespeare's "Pericles; Prince Of Tyre"
William Shakespeare’s “Pericles; Prince Of Tyre”
Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Scholars believe Shakespeare wrote Pericles, at least in part, in 1607 or 1608. It does not appear in the First Folio and some question Shakespeare’s sole authorship. In the play, Pericles risks his life to win a princess. When he discovers she is in an incestuous relationship with her father, he flees and marries another named Thaisa. Thaisa dies giving birth to a daughter, and Pericles moves from one disaster to another. He is eventually reunited with his daughter, and the play concludes with a miraculously happy ending. Download your free copy of Pericles here.

11. The Taming Of The Shrew

Lithograph Image of Shakespeare's "Taming Of The Shrew"
William Shakespeare’s “Taming Of The Shrew”
Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Taming Of The Shrew is believed to have been written between 1590 and 1592. It begins with a separate introduction often referred to as an induction. In this induction, a mischievous nobleman tricks a drunken tinker named Christopher Sly into believing he is also a nobleman. The nobleman then stages a play for Sly’s diversion. That “play” is The Taming Of The Shrew. In the play, a rich landowner, Baptista, has two marriageable aged daughters. The younger daughter, Bianca has many suitors, but Baptista will not allow her to marry before her older sister, Katherina.

To resolve the issue, Bianca’s suitors agree to pay Petruchio to woo and marry Katherina. Petruchio agrees. To counter Katherina’s shrewish nature, Petruchio pretends that any harsh things she says or does are actually kind and gentle. In response to his willingness and ability to counter her acid wit, Katherina agrees to marry Petruchio. Bianca is now free to marry as well.

After Petruchio’s and Katherina”s marriage, however, Petruchio sets out to finish taming his shrew. He deprives her of food and clothing and contradicts every word she says. Finally, she begins to agree to anything he says no matter how absurd. When the couple at last returns for Bianca’s wedding, Katherina appears fully submissive. In a final speech, she urges all other women to submit to their husbands as well. Unsurprisingly, the play continues to draw controversy to this day. Download your free copy of The Taming Of The Shrew here.

12. The Tempest

Lithograph Image of Shakespeare's "The Tempest"
William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”
Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Shakespeare wrote The Tempest in 1610 or 1611. Many critics also believe it to be the last play Shakespeare wrote as sole author. The play is set on a remote island. There Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan, plots to restore his daughter Miranda to her rightful place through magic and manipulation. Conjuring a storm, he lures his usurping brother Antonio and the complicit King Alonso of Naples to the island. The play explores many themes, including magic, betrayal, revenge, and family. Postmodern scholars often use the play as a way to attack European colonialism and promote their own alternative race narratives. Download your free copy of The Tempest here.

13. Twelfth Night

Image of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night"
Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night; Or What You Will”
Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

William Shakespeare wrote The Twelfth Night, Or What You Will around 1601-1602. Named for the twelfth night after Christmas, the end of the Christmas season, Twelfth Night examines love and power. The Countess Olivia, a woman with her own household, attracts Duke Orsino. Two other would-be suitors for her affections include her pretentious steward, Malvolio, and Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Download your free copy of Twelfth Night here.

14. The Two Gentlemen Of Verona

Lithograph Image of Shakespeare's "Two Gentlemen Of Verona"
William Shakespeare’s “Two Gentlemen Of Verona”
Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Two Gentlemen Of Verona was likely written between 1589 and 1592. Scholars believe it was the first play Shakespeare actually wrote. The story deals with themes of friendship, infidelity, the conflict between love and friendship, and the foolish behavior of people in love. Download your free copy of The Two Gentlemen Of Verona here.

15. The Two Noble Kinsmen

Image of Shakespeare's "Two Noble Kinsmen"
Shakespeare’s “Two Noble Kinsmen”
Abby Sage Richardson, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Two Noble Kinsmen is a Jacobean tragicomedy first published in 1634. Researchers attribute it to William Shakespeare and John Fletcher. Most believe it was the last play Shakespeare ever worked on. The plot comes from “The Knight’s Tale” in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Shakespeare thus transforms a late medieval narrative into a seventeenth-century story. The play’s devoted kinsmen are Arcite and Palamon. They go to prison together when the king they serve is defeated. Through the window of their prison cell, they see Emilia and fall in love. Willing to fight to the death for her love, she initially does not even know they exist. Download your free copy of The Two Noble Kinsmen here.

16. A Winter’s Tale

Lithograph Image of Shakespeare's "The Winter's Tale"
William Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale”
Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

A winter’s tale is a story told or read on a long winter’s night. In Shakespeare’s case, The Winter’s Tale is an odd story probably written in 1610 or 1611. It features murderous passions, man-eating bears, princes and princesses in disguise, death by drowning, and death by grief. It also has oracles, betrayal, an unexpectedly joyous ending, and even twelve dancing men dressed as satyrs.

The tale unfolds in two sections set sixteen years apart. In the first, King Leontes of Sicilia falsely accuses his wife, Hermione, of bearing a child by the visiting King Polixenes of Bohemia. Polixenes escapes, and Hermione is jailed. When the child, a daughter named Perdita, arrives, she is sent away and abandoned. Heartbroken, Hermione and Leontes’s son both die of grief. Leontes finally comes to his senses, but it is too late.

Sixteen years later, Polixenes’s son falls in love with Perdita who has been adopted by local shepherds. Polixene forbids his son to marry Perdita, because he believes her to be merely a shepherd girl. In the end, Perdita’s true identity is revealed. She is reunited with her father and joyfully marries Polixenes’s son. Even Hermione comes back to life as a statue who steps down from her pedestal to rejoin her family. Download your free copy of The Winter’s Tale here.

Download All William Shakespeare’s Plays And Poetry

To download all of Shakespeare’s plays and poetry including his tragedies, histories, sonnets, and longer narrative poems, go to my Shakespeare Plays And Poetry page.

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To learn more about William Shakespeare’s life, go to my William Shakespeare Biography page.

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