Cheat Sheet

Shakespeare For Dummies

These lists break down William Shakespeare's works by type and provide you a brief summary of each play. Also find terms commonly used in relation to Shakespeare's writing, covering styles of poetry, types of plays, and stage direction.

A Shakespeare Mini Glossary

These terms help when you're reading Shakespeare's works to keep track of different types and parts of plays, the poetry styles Shakespeare often employed, and stage direction.

  • blank verse: Poetry in which the lines do not rhyme. Shakespeare used a mixture of prose, rhymed verse, and blank verse in his plays, but mostly he used blank verse.

  • comedy: A play in which the heroes do not die, but usually get married. Most comedies are lighthearted, but a few are somber until the final scene, when everyone is reconciled.

  • couplet: A pair of lines that rhyme. A couplet often marks the end of a scene or act.

  • exeunt (“eg-ZOONT”): Plural form of exit, used in stage directions when many people leave the stage at once.

  • flourish: A stage direction for a fanfare of drums and trumpets, usually announcing the entrance or exit of a king or queen.

  • history: A play that recounts historical events. Shakespeare’s history plays are historical fiction. He altered time, people, and events.

  • iambic pentameter: A form of verse in which every other syllable is stressed (as in “dah-DUM”) and each line contains five stressed syllables.

  • quatrain: A stanza of four lines, usually rhyming on alternate lines.

  • rhyme royal: A verse form of seven-line stanzas rhyming in the pattern ababbcc.

  • sennet: A stage direction for a trumpet fanfare, like a flourish.

  • soliloquy: A monologue that reveals a character’s inner thoughts and feelings.

  • sonnet: A poem of 14 lines that follows a particular rhyme scheme. Shakespeare included sonnets in a few of his plays, and he wrote 154 sonnets as a series. Most of Shakespeare’s sonnets rhyme in the pattern abab cdcd efef gg.

  • tragedy: A play in which the hero has a character flaw, such as pride, that leads to his death.

Shakespeare’s Plays

This list breaks down Shakespeare's plays by type. You'll also get a brief summary of each play by Shakespeare, if you need help remembering what a specific play is about.

Comedies

  • All’s Well That Ends Well: Bertie runs away to avoid his new wife, Helena, but she follows him and tricks him into being her faithful husband.

  • As You Like It: A romp in the Forest of Arden, where everyone falls in love.

  • The Comedy of Errors: Two sets of twins turn the town of Ephesus upside down.

  • Cymbeline: A jealous husband believes a false story about his wife. She runs away and meets her long-lost brothers.

  • Love’s Labour’s Lost: The King of Navarre and his court try to study in seclusion but succumb to the temptations of love.

  • Measure for Measure: Power corrupts Angelo, the substitute duke, who tries to seduce the sister of a condemned man.

  • The Merchant of Venice: Moneylender Shylock tries to recover his “pound of flesh” collateral for a loan.

  • The Merry Wives of Windsor: Sir John Falstaff puts the moves on the Merry Wives, who turn the tables on him.

  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Mix-and-match couples in the woods near Athens. “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

  • Much Ado About Nothing: Claudio loves Hero. Benedick doesn’t like Beatrice. Then Claudio hates Hero, and Benedick loves Beatrice. Eventually, everyone gets married.

  • Pericles: Pericles lives, loves, loses, and regains his family while touring the Mediterranean Sea.

  • The Taming of the Shrew: Petruchio “tames” his wife, Katherina.

  • The Tempest: Prospero uses magic to reclaim his dukedom and find a husband for his daughter, Miranda.

  • Troilus and Cressida: In ancient Troy, Troilus and Cressida vow undying love, which dies all too quickly.

  • Twelfth Night: Orsino loves Olivia. Olivia loves Cesario. Cesario is really Viola, who loves Orsino.

  • The Two Gentlemen of Verona: Nothing can come between best friends Valentine and Proteus, except a girl, Sylvia.

  • The Two Noble Kinsmen: Two brothers fight for love in ancient Greece.

  • The Winter’s Tale: Jealous husband Leontes drives away his wife, children, and best friend.

Histories

  • King John: John turns over England to the Pope.

  • King Richard II: Henry Bolingbroke deposes King Richard and becomes King Henry IV.

  • King Henry IV, Part 1: Henry wonders why his son can’t be more like that nice Hotspur boy, until Hotspur rebels against the king.

  • King Henry IV, Part 2: Henry’s son Hal continues to act up, and rebels still threaten the throne, but Hal comes out all right in the end and becomes King Henry V.

  • King Henry V: Henry invades France.

  • King Henry VI, Part 1: Joan of Arc leads the French army against England. The Houses of York and Lancaster start a spat that lasts through the next three plays.

  • King Henry VI, Part 2: Peasants and the House of York rebel against King Henry.

  • King Henry VI, Part 3: The House of York deposes King Henry, despite help from France. Edward, son of the Duke of York, takes the throne as King Edward IV.

  • King Richard III: Edward’s brother, Richard, kills everyone in his way and seizes the throne, only to lose it and his life.

  • King Henry VIII: King Henry divorces his wife, starts a new church, remarries, and fathers a daughter who becomes Queen Elizabeth I.

Tragedies

  • Antony and Cleopatra: Antony tries to balance love and war but sacrifices everything for love.

  • Coriolanus: Rome’s best general feels slighted, so he switches sides.

  • Hamlet: A young prince plans revenge against his murdering uncle.

  • Julius Caesar: Brutus and others kill Caesar to prevent him from becoming king.

  • King Lear: Lear gives up his kingdom to his daughters and then gives up his mind.

  • Macbeth: Witches’ prophecies prompt Macbeth to seize the throne of Scotland.

  • Othello: Iago preys on Othello’s jealousy and drives him to murder.

  • Romeo and Juliet: Forbidden love tempts and destroys a young couple.

  • Timon of Athens: Overgenerous Timon learns who his true friends are when he runs out of money.

  • Titus Andronicus: Bloody revenge in ancient Rome, with the emphasis on bloody.

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