How many tragedies did Shakespeare write, and what are some of the titles?

Expert Answers
mpenza eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is generally accepted that Shakespeare wrote 10 tragedies during his life time with one that is still disputed . (Cymbeline - which was regarded in his first Folio as a tragedy yet most agree today it is a romance)

William Shakespeare's Tragedies are as follows:
Romeo and Juliet
King Lear
Titus Andronicus
Julius Caesar
Antony and Cleopatra
Timon of Athens

Shakespearean tragedies feature a main character (s)  with a tragic flaw that brings about his or her downfall. Easiest way to look at a Shakespearean tragedy is to know that the Tragic Hero is doomed and usually dies. The redemption in a Shakespearean Tragedy usually comes from someone close to the Tragic hero or the Tragic Hero himself realizing the tragic flaw and what the flaw has done to destroy his life. Where some would say that Shakespeare's view of human existence is the   we are all doomed by forces that are oft times beyond our control( either fate or urges that are inherent in the human condition) . Shakespeare wrote most of his most famous tragedies during the time period of 1601 - 1608.  Most English Classes in High School cover Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, and Hamlet. Some AP courses might cover Othello or King Lear depending on the teacher and the course content. If you love tragedy and enjoy reading Shakespeare you may want to try: Antony and Cleopatra and Titus Andronicus.

playsthething eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are some plays that don't neatly fit into categories, or that seem to span categories.  For example, "Julius Caesar" could be considered a history or a tragedy.  "Pericles" could be considered a romance or a tragedy.  So the number of tragedies Shakespeare wrote can be disputed.  I'd put the number at around 14:  "Romeo and Juliet," "Macbeth," "Othello," "Hamlet," "TItus Andronicus," "Pericles," "Cymbeline," "Troilus and Cressida," "Timon of Athens," "King Lear," "Coriolanus," "Julius Caesar," Antony and Cleopatra."

esoppelt | Student

There is a simple answer to the question and a complex answer. The simple answer is that there are ten plays credited to Shakespeare that are generally considered tragedies. They are: 

  1. Antony and Cleopatra
  2. Coriolanus
  3. Hamlet
  4. Julius Caesar
  5. King Lear
  6. Macbeth
  7. Othello
  8. Romeo and Juliet
  9. Timon of Athens 
  10. Titus Andronicus

These plays are generally considered tragedies because they do not end happily. Instead they end with multiple characters dying and those left behind left to mourn and ask what they could have done differently. Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth and King Lear and generally considered Shakespeare's four great tragedies. 

The moe complex answer to this questions depends on what definition of tragedy you are using. Aristotle, a Greek philosopher who lived and wrote between 384 and 322 BCE, wrote a book on poetry and drama called Poetics. In that book Aristotle described a tragedy as a piece the aroused feelings of pity and fear in the audience and then provides a catharsis, or a release of those emotions for audience members. The plays listed above meet this criteria as well; each play deals with issues that can bring up pity and fear in an audience, like loss of family, ambition, familial expectations, jealousy, loyalty and love.

Another definition of tragedy relies on the economic and political position of the main character. In this definition, the pieces needs to have a tragic hero, someone of noble birth who has admirable or heroic qualities but who falls or fails because of fate or a tragic flaw that destroys them. Tragedies tell the stories of the fall, failure or death of royalty, of queens, kings, princes and princesses. Stories that describe the fall, failure or death of non-royal characters are called melodramas. The definition and use of the word melodrama has changed and is now used to describe exaggerated plots with stock characters. But historically it was a piece where the characters who suffered were not royalty. Using this definition Coriolanus, Romeo and Juliet and Timon of Athens from the list of tragedies since the main characters in these pieces are not of noble birth. 

The playwright Arthur Miller (Death of a Salesman, All My Sons, The Crucible) wrote an essay called Tragedy and the Common Man, in which he argued that any person could be a tragic hero. He called his play Death of a Salesman a tragedy because even though his main character was not noble he was a tragic hero with noble qualities who fell at the end of the piece. 

thewanderlust878 | Student

Shakespeare is known to have written about 40 plays total in his lifetime. Of those supposed 40 (some experts say 37, but no one is completely sure) about 10 were tragedies. The titles of these tragedies are:

Antony and CleopatraCoriolanusHamletJulius CaesarKing LearMacbethOthelloTimon of AthensTitus Andronicus, and of course, the extremely well known Romeo and Juliet. 

Hope this helped!

zumba96 | Student

I believe the number is 10 tragedies he has written. Some of his most famous works within this category is Macbeth, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Julius Caesar and many more. While his work has spanned different categories such as Comedy to Tragedy to Histories, most of his famous works included romance.