Playwriting For Dummies
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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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Angelo Parra is an award-winning playwright who has received national acclaim for his plays. He teaches theater and playwriting at SUNY Rockland. Angelo is the founder and director of the Hudson Valley Professional Playwrights Lab and president of the board of Penguin Rep Theatre in Stony Point, New York.

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