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Week 1

What you should read or watch this week

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Choose your play

Available Shakespeare Plays with short summary

Richard III

  • First Performed: 1592-93
  • First Printed: 1597

Richard III (Richard the third) could well qualify as one of the most treacherous of Shakespearean characters. This Shakespeare play is an evil depiction of the scheming villainous crimes of Richard III the Duke of Gloucester and brother of King Edward IV. Richard’s heinous act of taking over the throne is marked by several murders of his own family including Edward the Prince of Wales. After marrying the Prince’s widow Queen Anne, his plotting succeeds in him becoming King.

Richards’s victory is short-lived after his tyrannical succession is ended in defeat by Henry the Earl of Richmond who succeeds Richard as King Henry the VII.

Comedy of Errors

  • First Performed:1592-93
  • First Printed: 1623

Comedy of errors is a typical example of Shakespearean slapstick comedy. It narrates the comical drama of mistaken identities involving two sets of identical twins separated since birth. Both Antipholus of Syracuse and his servant Dromio have corresponding twins in the likeness of brothers with the same names residing in the city of Ephesus where incidentally syracusans aren’t allowed and the penalty is death.

Comedy of errors unfolds over a series of hilarious events involving wrongful accusations, seductions, beatings and even the arrest of Antipholus of Ephesus under the charge of infidelity, thievery and insanity. The play ends on a happy note with both twins united.

Titus Andronicus

  • First Performed : 1593-94
  • First Printed : 1594

Titus Andronicus is Shakespeare’s first Tragedy. Set against the backdrop of the Roman Empire, it never really gained approval in Victorian England, primarily because of its overuse of violent overtones. Titus Andronicus is the story of Roman general Titus and his thirst for bloody revenge against Tamora Queen of Goths may well qualify as the most violent of Shakespeare plays. In what appears to be a treacherous plot of mindless murder and revenge, Shakespeare’s characters namely Titus and Tamora along with their respective supporters revel in plotting a gory and macabre killing spree of each other. The play ends with most central characters dead including Tamora and Titus.

The Taming of the Shrew

  • First Performed : 1593-94
  • First Printed : 1623

As an induction styled play common to Shakespearean literature, the main play of The taming of the shrew is enacted out for the benefit of the introductory character Christopher Sly. Sly is a drunkard who is tricked by a nobleman into believing he descends form nobility.

The ensuing play then unfolds with the comical story of Petruchio of Verona and his courtship and marriage to Katherina. The eldest of two sisters, Katrina is a head strong ill mannered shrew. The comedy depicts Petruchio’s witty but psychological treatment of Katrina in a bid to temper her obstinate behavior. He succeeds by subduing Katharina who ultimately falls in love with her husband and becomes the obedient wife.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona

  • First Performed : 1594-95
  • First Printed : 1623

The Two Gentlemen of Verona is a classic tale of choice between love and friendship. It portrays the story of two friends Proteus and Valentine who both fall in love with the same woman Silvia daughter of the Duke of Milan. Choosing love over friendship, Proteus betrays Valentine’s plan to elope with Silvia resulting in Valentines banishment from Milan.

Valentine becomes a leader of outlaws in the forest while Silvia attempts to flee and reunite with him. Meanwhile the second heroine Julia, fiancée of Proteus disguises herself as a boy to spy on Proteus. The drama ends on a happy note with the two friends resolving their differences with marriage to their respective lovers.

Love’s Labour’s Lost

  • First Performed : 1594-95
  • First Printed : 1598

Love’s Labour’s Lost is totally deceptive of its title. It follows the exploits of the King of Navarre and his three companions who swear to avoid women for three years in a bid to further academic pursuits and good health. Unfortunately their commitment coincides with the visit of the princess of Aquitaine and her ladies.

Their previous commitments forgotten, the men engage in a number of attempts to woo the ladies. A comical mix up follows with letters and messages being delivered to the wrong women.

The untimely demise of the Princess’s father dashes all hopes of marriage for the men who are instructed by the women to engage in several tasks for a year before contemplating marriage.

Romeo and Juliet

  • First Performed : 1594-95
  • First Printed : 1597

Romeo and Juliet is well known as one of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy. As a popular theme for modern day love stories, the tragic tale records the story of two lovers Romeo of the house of Montague and Juliet from the house of Capulet. With love doomed to end in failure, the lovers woo each other in the wake of a warring feud between the two houses of Montague and Capulet.

A heartwarming tale ensues with the lovers finding ways and means to romance each other until their relationship is exposed. Tragic events of anger and hate end in the death of both lovers which reunite both factions overcome with remorse.

The Merchant of Venice

  • First Performed: 1596-97
  • First Printed: 1600

The Merchant of Venice is a dramatic comedy that focuses more on the antics of its anti-hero a moneylender called Shylock. The story begins with a young merchant Antonio obtaining a loan from Shylock on behalf of his friend Bassanio. Bassanio requires the money to woo a wealthy heiress Portia. Shylock resenting Antonio agrees to lend the money on condition of extracting a pound of his flesh in case of default of payment. The unthinkable happens with Antonio losing his wealth falling in debt to Shylock. Meanwhile, Bassanio is successful in his attempt to win the affections of Portia.

The play climaxes in a court scene where Portia disguised as a lawyer delivers her famous “mercy” speech to win the case against shylock.

Much Ado About Nothing

  • First Performed : 1598-99
  • First Printed : 1600

As a love comedy, Much Ado About Nothing portrays a series of comical events surrounding two sets of lovers. Claudio a young Count betrothed to marry his love Hero suspects her of infidelity and insults her at the altar. In a scheme to make Claudio make amends, her father makes him believe that a grief stricken hero has died.

Meanwhile another romantic tryst takes place between the Count Benedick and hero’s cousin Beatrice. Although well matched, they repel each other’s advances . Playing matchmaker, hero’s father brings the two together. A joint marriage is planned where Claudio is made to marry an incognito bride introduced as Beatrice’s cousin. However, she turns out to be none other than his love, the Lady Hero.

Julius Caesar

  • First Performed : 1599-1600
  • First Printed : 1623

As a historical tragedy, Julius Caesar is part of Shakespeare’s three Roman plays. It dramatizes the life of Julius Caesar who has just returned victorious from his campaign against Pompey. His growing popularity invites resentment from a group of tribunes led by Cassius. Cassius succeeds in recruiting Caesar’s best friend Brutus in a plot to assassinate Caesar. Despite of several warnings from his wife Caliphurnia, Caesar goes to the capitol and is assassinated by the conspirators.

Roman general Mark Anthony also friend to Caesar swears revenge. Along with Octavius Caesar he meets Cassius’ army in battle on the fields of Philippi. Caesar’s ghost appears to Brutus the night before the battle. Mark Antony and Octavius are successful while Brutus and Cassius commit suicide.

As You Like It

  • First Performed: 1599-1600
  • First Printed: 1623

As You Like it is one of Shakespeare’s well known comedies made famous for its speech “All the world’s a stage”.

A senior Duke has been banished to the Forest of Arden by his younger brother. However his daughter Rosalind is allowed to remain but subsequently flees to join her father. Rosalind the main heroine of the play falls in love with Orlando who also flees to Arden from his elder brother’s dominance.

During their exile in the forest Rosalind disguised as a man Ganymede, befriends Orlando as a jest.

Meanwhile, the younger evil duke while marching with an army to the forest repents his ways after a religious encounter with a holy man. He turns to religion and the senior Duke has his title and lands restored.

Twelfth Night

  • First Performed : 1599-1600
  • First Printed : 1623

Twelfth night is a romantic comedy s about two separated twins Viola and Sebastian who make their way to the kingdom of Illyria. Viola disguises herself as a boy cesario and is employed by the reigning duke Orsino. Orsino’s love interest is the Lady Olivia who will not reciprocate the same as she is mourning the death of her father. Orsino sends viola to woo Lady Olivia on his behalf but Olivia ends up falling for viola who she believes to be Cesario. Meanwhile chance brings Sebastian to the court of Olivia who makes him marry her mistaking him for Viola aka Cesario.

A healthy rigmarole ensues till all is cleared with the duke finding new love with viola. Noteworthy among the characters is the antics of Malvolio and Sir Andrew Aguecheek.


  • First Performed : 1600-01
  • First Printed : 1603

Hamlet is one of the most powerful of Shakespearean tragedies famed for its catch line “to be or not to be’’ part of the popular speech of this play. This Shakespeare play is a classic tale of betrayal, murder and revenge. Prince Hamlet of Denmark is incited by ghostly apparitions of his father who wants revenge against his murderer Claudius. Claudius also his brother seizes both the throne and marries his brother’s wife Gertrude.

The prince’s initial plot to kill Claudius fails with him killing his sweetheart Ophelia’s father instead. When prince is sent to England by Claudius, he chances upon Ophelia’s funeral instead. While Gertrude is killed by drinking poison meant for the prince, Claudius incites a duel between prince and Laertes Ophelia’s brother. Both the men are fatally wounded, but hamlet kills Claudius before succumbing to his injuries.

The Merry Wives of Windsor

  • First Performed : 1600-01
  • First Printed : 1602

The Merry Wives of Windsor is a typical farce involving one of Shakespeare most significant characters, john Falstaff. Falstaff is a womanizer and a money grabber who pretends to woo two married women of Windsor Mrs. page and Mrs. Ford

Both women are wise to hid lecherous behavior and play along. Complications arise in the guise of Mr. Ford disguising himself and employing Falstaff to woo his wife and present her to him as proof of her infidelity. However both men are duped by the women on several occasions. Falstaff is led on a merry chase undergoing insult, and humiliation by the women.

This Shakespeare play also depicts the wooing of Anne page which ends in her marriage to her lover Mr. Fenton. In the end Falstaff is forgiven.

Troilus and Cressida

  • First Performed : 1601-02
  • First Printed : 1609

One of Shakespeare’s most ambiguous and problematic plays, Troilus and Cressida is set against the backdrop of the Trojan-Greek war involving Helen.

Troilus son of Trojan King Priam is in love with Cressida daughter of Calchas a Trojan siding with the Greeks. Troilus and Cressida meet through her uncle Pandorus. In a turn of events, Cressida is sent to the Greek cam in exchange for a Trojan prisoner Antenor.

Meanwhile in the Greek camp trouble constantly brews between Agamemnon and Greek hero Achilles. During the course of battle, Hector son of Priam kills Achilles’ friend Patroclus. An enraged Achilles then slays Hector. Meanwhile Cressida is wooed by Greek prince Diomedes angering Troilus who swears revenge.


  • First Performed : 1604-05
  • First Printed : 1622

Like the Shakespeare play Hamlet, Othello is a significant and popular tragedy. Othello is a Moorish captain serving in the Venetian army. Unfortunately for him, he has several enemies the worst of whom is his most trusted ensign Iago. In what unravels as a classic narration of racism, love, betrayal, jealousy and wrongful accusation, Iago hatches a plot to wrongfully accuse his wife Desdemona of infidelity. Inflamed with passion and jealousy an enraged he kills Desdemona.

Iago’s wife Emilia informs Othello of Desdemona’s innocence revealing Iago’s dastardly plot but she to is killed by Iago. He is filled with remorse and in revenge tries to kill Iago but only wounds him. Before he can be arrested he commits suicide.

King Lear

  • First Performed : 1605-06
  • First Printed : 1608

King Lear of Britain in an attempt to avoid unrest divides his kingdom between his three daughters, each portion depending on their declaration of loyalty for him. His elder two Reagan and Goneril succeed in his affections by their hypocritical declarations of love. However Cordelia the youngest is unable to do so and is banished by Lear. Cordelia goes on to marry the King of France.

King Lear gradually sinks into manic depression at the indifferent attitude of his two elder daughters’ towards him. In a tragic twist both daughters end up dead as a result of their feuding over the affections of Edmund the bastard son of Gloucester. Edmund in his bid to take over his brother’s property imprisons Lear and executes Cordelia. Lear dies soon after out of remorse.


  • First Performed : 1605-06
  • First Printed : 1623

Macbeth is a dramatic representation of the treachery of political ambition and how it can lead to madness. General Macbeth after a victorious battle is prophesied by witches to become king. However the prophesy predicts his friend Banquo’s lineage as his successors.

Influenced By his wife, he murders Duncan the King of Scotland and ascends the throne. Fearing that Banquo suspects him, he orders Banquo to be killed in the forest but his son Fleance escapes. The witches warn him against Macduff the thane of Fife. He orders the killing of Macduff and his family however Macduff isn’t present. Meanwhile hi wife becomes insane with guilt and dies.

In revenge, Macduff and Duncan’s son Malcolm wage war on Macbeth killing him in battle. Malcolm is crowned king.

Antony and Cleopatra

  • First Performed : 1606-07
  • First Printed : 1623

Antony and Cleopatra narrates the relationship between Mark Antony of Rome and Cleopatra the queen of Egypt. Rome is ruled by the triumvirate of Antony, Lepidus and Octavius caesar. However, Antony spends more time with Cleopatra in Egypt. He returns to Rome to successfully quell rebellion by Pompey after which he marries Octavia, Caesars widowed sister.

He soon returns to Cleopatra enraging Octavius who then declares war on Anthony in a bid to become sole ruler of Rome. Anthony is defeated in battle and accuses Cleopatra of betraying him. Later, thinking Cleopatra to be dead, Anthony mortally wounds himself and subsequently dies in Cleopatra’s arms. Octavius orders Cleopatra to be brought to Rome, but Cleopatra commits suicide by getting bitten by a poisonous Asp.


  • First Performed : 1609-10
  • First Printed : 1623

Cymbeline is the Celtic king of Britain whose sons were styolemn by Belarus after he was banished from court. The play however does not revolve much around him, but rather over the exploits of his daughter Innogen and her suitors posthumous and Cloten her step brother whom she rejects. Her step mother the queen attempts to poison her.

Amidst events surrounding the Roman attack of Britain in which the British emerge victorious. Cymbeline meets with Belarus who has been instrumental in the defense of Britain along with his two adopted sons Guiderius and Aviragus. They are revealed to him as his sons. Meanwhile Innogen dressed a page in the service of Lucius the Roman representative is given to him who reveals herself as Innogen.

The Winter’s Tale

  • First Performed: 1610-11
  • First Printed: 1623

Polixenes, king of Bohemia invites the wrath of his friend king leontes of Sicily who suspects Polixenes of infidelity with his wife Hermione. Polixenes fleas Sicily where Leontes imprisons his wife and exiles her newborn daughter who is raised by a shepherd in Bohemia. Later thinking Hermione to be dead, he repents his misdeeds.

Hermione’s daughter grows up as Perdita a shepherd girl and is wooed by Prince Florizel Polixenes son. Polixenes disapproves and the lovers elope to Sicily. They are followed by the shepherds and Polixenes. This Shakespeare play climaxes with characters appearing in Leontes court where Perditas true identity is revealed. Leontes is reunited with Hermione.

The Tempest

  • First Performed: 1611-12
  • First Printed: 1623

The Tempest narrates the tale of Prospero, former Duke of Milan and his daughter Miranda who was usurped by his Brother Antonio and banished to an island. Prospero with his books of magic lives on the island with a savage creature Caliban and Ariel a sprite as his slaves.

Prospero watches a shipwreck from the island whose passengers were none other than Antonio the usurper, Alonso the king of Naples, his brother Sebastian and his son Prince Ferdinand.The group is washed ashore on the same island. In a series of bemusing events Ferdinand falls in love with Miranda and is married to her with Prospero’s blessings. The entire casts of characters are then brought together and Prospero’s identity is revealed. The play ends in reconciliation and celebration.

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