Canon of Scripts
Plays by Shakespeare are listened here by estimated date of first performance. Plays from First Folio are marked “First Folio only”. Shakespeare did not actively participate in publishing his plays. If not for the First Folio, published by his friends in 1623 (the year of his wife’s death, about a decade after his retirement and a few years after his own death), we would not have half of his thirty-six plays. This includes famous plays like Julius Caesar and Macbeth.
What existed prior to the First Folio were quarto versions of individual plays. Quartos were makeshift versions cheaply produced and published, much like distributing pirated versions of music or movies nowadays. Only plays considered to be his sole authorship are considered here.
The twelve plays in bold form a significant part of this book.
The Canon of Shakespeare’s Play Scripts —
Henry VI, Part II (1590-91)
Henry VI, Part III (1590-91)
Henry VI, Part I (1591-92, First Folio only)
Richard III (1592-93) — Act 4
Comedy of Errors (1592-93, First Folio only)
Titus Andronicus (1593-94)
Taming of the Shrew (1593-94, First Folio only)
Two Gentlemen of Verona (1594-95, First Folio only)
Love's Labour's Lost (1594-95)
Romeo and Juliet (1594-95) — Act 5
Richard II (1595-96)
A Midsummer Night's Dream (1595-96)
King John (1596-97, First Folio only)
The Merchant of Venice (1596-97) — Act 5
Henry IV, Part I (1597-98)
Henry IV, Part II (1597-98)
Much Ado About Nothing (1598-99)
Henry V (1598-99)
Julius Caesar (1599-1600, First Folio only) — Act 4
As You Like It (1599-1600, First Folio only)
Twelfth Night; Or, What You Will (1599-1600, First Folio only) — Act 5
Hamlet (1600-01) — Act 5
The Merry Wives of Windsor (1600-01)
Troilus and Cressida (1601-02)
All's Well That Ends Well (1602-03, First Folio only)
Measure for Measure (1604-05, First Folio only) — Act 5
Othello (1604-05, first published in 1622) — Act 4
King Lear (1605-06) — Act 5
Macbeth (1605-06, First Folio only) — Act 4
Antony and Cleopatra (1606-07, First Folio only)
Coriolanus (1607-08, First Folio only) — Act 4
Timon of Athens (1607-08, First Folio only)
Cymbeline (1609-10, First Folio only)
The Winter's Tale (1610-11, First Folio only)
The Tempest (1611-12, First Folio only) — Act 5
Henry VIII (1612-13, First Folio Only)
Two Noble Kinsmen (1612-13, first published in 1634, cowritten with John Fletcher)
Chronology of Events
A.D. 0-33, life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews
1215, Magna Carta establishes with the King of England rights of landowners, nobles, and the Catholic Church in England. This is a key document in American history, seen as a forefather of our own Declaration of Independence.
1509-47, Reign of King Henry VIII
1509, King Henry VIII marries Catherine of Aragon (Aragon is a region in Spain)
1517, Luther posts his 95 Thesis, a moment seen as the official start of Protestantism
1534, Act of Supremacy passed, making King Henry VIII head of Church in England. This establishes the Church of England as separate and independent from the Catholic Church. This establishes the government in England as head of the church. To this day, there is no separation of Church and State in England.
1558-1603, Reign of Queen Elizabeth I
1562, 39 articles of the Church of England
1564-1616, Life of William Shakespeare
1588, Spanish Armada
1592-1613, Shakespeare’s career as actor and playwright
1603-1625, Reign of King James I
1609, Jamestown settled in Virginia
1611, King James Bible published
1620, Plymouth colony established in Massachusetts; Mayflower Compact composed
1623, Shakespeare’s Folio of plays produced, it contains 36 plays, 18 of which are printed for the first time. This is the same year as the death of his wife, Anne Shakespeare.
1625-1649, Reign of King Charles I, reign ends when he is beheaded by the people of England
1633, Lord Baltimore is given charter to settle Maryland
1776, Thirteen American colonies declare independence from England and form one nation
Communion with Saints
The following are excerpts from the poetic works of Robert Southwell, mostly the introductions from his famous work, Saint Peter’s Complaint. Robert Southwell was a cousin of Shakespeare as well as a Jesuit priest. He was captured in his home country of England in 1592 for the heinous crime of being a traitor because he would not renounce his vocation as a Catholic priest nor name the Catholics he served. This was roughly the time Shakespeare was finishing his first plays for the English stage, on the cusp of building his everlasting reputation as poet and playwright. Southwell, after imprisonment and torture, was convicted of treason and sentenced to death for his allegiance to the Pope in Rome and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ in England. After three years imprisonment in the Tower of London, he was hanged, drawn, quartered, and killed in 1595. He was canonized a saint by the Catholic church in the 20th Century.
Southwell and his poems had a strong effect on William Shakespeare. In some cases, Shakespeare lifts lines straight from Southwell’s works; in other instances, Shakespeare’s own works mimic the stanza and structure of Saint Peter’s Complaint by Southwell. From plays like Macbeth and Hamlet to poems like Venus and Adonis, Shakespeare was aware of Southwell and vice versa. They are not only cousins, but also famous English poets. Please read the introduction penned by Southwell to his “worthy cousin, Master WS”. The version of Southwell’s poems printed before 1616 did not include the initials, only in 1616, after Shakespeare died, did the manuscripts include the added phrase “Master W.S.”
As a playwright and a person, Shakespeare had constraints — constraints in artistic medium (poems and plays), constraints in the laws of the nation (could not practice Catholic religion freely), constraints of censorship (all his plays had to be approved by a totalitarian government before being published or staged), and all these constraints affected his mission and message. These constraints are for our benefit, as Shakespeare was stretched to creative genius that few others ever come close to achieving. It was the unique circumstances of Elizabethan and Jacobean England which produced not only the United States of America, but also the profound genius of the bard of Avon and poet of England, William Shakespeare.
Please read the following excerpts from Southwell to his worthy cousin, Master W.S. The first is a prose introduction prior to his poem, Saint Peter’s Complaint. The next two quotes are snippets of Southwell’s introductions to his catalogue of poems. Southwell’s poems were only distributed to a small readership due to the laws of the land, and made widely available after he was tortured and killed by the State.
The first excerpt, quoted in full.
"To My Worthy Good Cousin, Master W.S.
Poets, by abusing their talent, and making the follies and feigning of love that customary subject of their base endeavors, have so discredited this faculty, that a poet, a lover, and a liar, are by many reckoned but three words of one signification. But the vanity of men cannot counterpoise the authority of God, who delivering many parts of Scripture in verse, and, by His Apostle willing us to exercise our devotion in hymns and spiritual sonnets, warrant the art to be good, and the use allowable. And therefore not only among the heathen, whose gods were chiefly canonized by their poets, and their paynim divinity oracles, in verse, but even in the Old and New Testament, it has been used by men of the greatest piety, in matters of most devotion. Christ Himself, by making a hymn the conclusion of His Last Supper, and the prologue to the first pageant of His Passion, gave His Spouse a method to imitate, as in the office of the Church it appears; and to all men a pattern, to know the true use of this measured and footed style.
But the devil, as he affects deity and seeks to have all the complements of divine honor applied to his service, so has he among the rest possessed also most Poets with his idle fantasies. For in lieu of solemn and devout matter, to which in duty they owe their abilities, then now busy themselves in expressing such passions as only serve for testimonies to what unworthy affections they have wedded their wills. And because the best course to let them see the error of their works is to weave a new web in their own loom, I have here laid a few course threads together, to invite some skill-fuller wits to go forward in the same, or to begin some finer piece; wherein it may be seen how well verse and virtue sit together.
Blame me not (good Cousin) though I send you a blameworthy present; in which the most that can commend it is the good will of the writer; neither art nor invention giving it any credit. If in me this be a fault, you cannot be faultless that did importune me to commit it, and therefore you must bear part of the penance when it shall please sharp censures to impose it. In the meantime, with many good wishes, I send you these few ditties; add you the tunes, and let the Mean, I pray you, be still a part in all your music.”
A second excerpt of a longer introductory poem —
"Profane conceits and feigning fits I flee
Such lawless stuff doth lawless speeches fit:
With David, verse to Virtue I apply,
Whose measure best with measured words doth fit:
It is the sweetest note that man can sing,
When grace in Virtue’s key tunes Nature’s string.”
A third excerpt, again, of a longer introductory poem —
"This makes my mourning Muse revolve in tears,
This themes my heavy pen to plain in prose;
Christ’s thorn is sharp, no head His garland wears;
Still finest wits are ‘stilling Venus’ rose,
In Paynim toys the sweetest vanes are spent;
To Christian works few have their talents lent.”