Shakespeare's works

Shakespeare was a dramatist and a poet. None of his own manuscripts of his works survive, so we have only those of his plays and poems that were printed. Scholars have worked closely with these editions for more than 350 years, trying to establish what Shakespeare originally wrote.

Thirty-seven plays are now regarded as by Shakespeare, and he collaborated with other dramatists on at least four more. He created his plays between about 1590 and 1614, and they began to be printed in cheap quarto editions in 1594. Eighteen of Shakespeare’s plays had appeared in quarto by the year of his death, 1616.

In 1623, Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies appeared in an expensive folio volume. This contained 36 plays and is now universally referred to as the First Folio. The quartos and the First Folio ensured that Shakespeare’s plays survived when they were no longer performed. These printed editions have been used since the 17th century by actors and directors to return Shakespeare’s plays to the stage. There is much debate among scholars about how the printed texts represent Shakespeare’s original plays.

Between about 1592 and 1604, Shakespeare wrote four poems as well as creating a collection of sonnets. These were printed in quarto editions between 1593 and 1609. Scholarly debate about the printed editions of the poems has focussed particularly on The Sonnets.

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