How Many Plays Did Shakespeare Write?

Shakespeare most likely wrote more plays than you think; some that aren’t included in your Complete Works of William Shakespeare. There isn’t a lot of original writings that have survived from Elizabethan England and dramatic literature is no exception.

Some of Shakespeare’s works were published in Quartos during his lifetime, about 18. Later on in 1623, the First Folio was published with 36 plays in it and was considered the first accurate source for Shakespeare’s text. Since then scholars have found evidence to attribute more plays to Shakespeare.

Your average Complete Works contains 37 plays, the First Folio only 36. The extra one is Pericles which was not yet published. Now we’re up to 37 plays without much argument. Two Noble Kinsmen was originally credited to Shakespeare and John Fletcher when first published in Quarto in 1634. Many accept that is was a joint effort between the two, but it isn’t included in some complete works editions. So far we’re at 38.

A fairly recent addition to Shakespeare’s Canon is Edward III, the 11th History play with lots of questions surrounding it. The play’s author was listed as Anonymous for several years and it was thought to have been written by a contemporary of Shakespeare. There was no written evidence to link it to any author or theatre company. Some scholars over the next few centuries thought it to be Shakespeare’s because “no one else could write something so good” – or something to that effect. Only in the 1990s with computer analysis and comparison with other works of Shakespeare, it was decided by some that Shakespeare had something to do with it. 39!

Another co-authorship is Sir Thomas More, handwriting analysis has shown that Shakespeare did write some of it. But not all of it. This play isn’t publish in many places, and almost never performed. 40.

So far I’ve only mentioned texts that still exist. Not everything from 400 years ago will survive, but there are small pieces of evidence that tell us of plays that did once exist. One of the “lost” plays is Love’s Labours Won, quite possibly a sequel to Love’s Labours Lost. I’d be surprised if the two weren’t related. The other is Cardenio, based on Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. 42.

Other plays possibly attributed to Shakespeare (classified as The “Apocrypha”) include The Birth of Merlin, Locrine, The London Prodigal, The Puritan, The Second Maiden’s Tragedy, Richard II, Part I: Thomas of Woodstock, Sir John Oldcastle, Thomas Lord Cromwell, A Yorkshire Tragedy, Fair Em, Mucedorus, The Merry Devil of Edmonton, Arden of Faversham, Edmund Ironside, Vortigern and Rowena. Quite a list, but there’s not a lot of evidence there. If there’s an anonymous play from the 16th or 17th century people tend to think “Shakespeare must’ve writtten it.”

The number of plays William Shakespeare actually wrote during his lifetime may never be known, but anything that’s in a Complete Works of William Shakespeare, scholars are pretty darn sure about.

So the accurate answer to the title question is unknown; the closest answer that anyone can give you is probably 39, but none of us were there – the world may never know for sure.

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  1. dani Feb 28, 2008

    i’m studying shakespeare at school it’s very very boring but then all school is

  2. yiannitza fontanez Mar 13, 2008

    I like almost all your plays Im a big fane of yours!!!

  3. Craig Mar 20, 2008

    With respect to “Love’s Labour’s Won,” I’d just like to mention that there is some precedent for plays to be connected in name but not in nature. “A Knack to Know a Knave” was a success on the Elizabethan stage, but the later “A Knack to Know an Honest Man” had nothing to do with it but the name. Ben Jonson followed up “Every man in his Humour” with “Every man out of his Humour,” although they have nothing in common but the name and the author. And it’s the same story with “When you see me, you know me,” and “If you know not me, you know nobody.” So it’s not unreasonable to think that “Love’s Labour’s Won” might be an unrelated play capitalizing on the name recognition of the earlier “Lost,” but otherwise unrelated. And we certainly have evidence that Elizabethan plays were occasionally known under alternate titles: Shakespeare’s own “Merchant of Venice” was probably better known as “The Jew of Venice,” and his “Henry VI, Part 3″ was originally published as “The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York,” for instance.

    But, then again, perhaps I’m just indulging in wishful thinking, because I think that the unresolved, ambiguous “ending” of “Lost” is what makes that play a real masterpiece. I’d hate to think that Will went back and tied everything up in a nice bow…it would be worse than “2010: The Year We Make Contact.”

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  6. YASMIN May 15, 2008

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  7. bob Jun 3, 2008


  8. non_of_your_business Jun 22, 2008

    thanx so much. (:

  9. Vaishali Satwase Aug 11, 2008

    William Shakespeare was the real artist who write and performed his own plays on the theatre, ‘The King’s men’. Therefore, whatever he wrote, copied or taken some ideas from other sources are totally false. Everyone creates his own world of ideas and share it with all of us like Shakespeare did it openly….

  10. dave Sep 10, 2008

    the website is fine, chill people. it is informative and to the point. Thank you!

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  13. sarah Dec 15, 2008

    omg i do not like shakespheare any more there is way to much to learn and read but all well

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  17. Jaylin Brown Jan 13, 2009

    i was joking about what i said before…but i really love shakespeare

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