Shakespeare’s Comedy and Tragedy Plays examination

Shakespeare’s plays have been divided by scholars into different categories, including comedies and dramas. The playwright has shown considerable talent in exemplifying styles in his productions, but not to excellence, as most critics point out. In some ways, his play starts as a joke but concludes as a tragedy. However, there has been some interest in recent literature on how plays have been viewed over the years. Different interpretations have resulted in various categorizations of Shakespeare’s plays in the form of genres. This paper would draw a comparison between Shakespeare’s comedies and tragedies. The article will examine three plays: one widely grouped as comedy, one tragedy, and one history play.
Measure for Measure as a Comedy Play

Green (n.d.) noted that Measure for Measure has been categorized differently by various literature writers and readers. It has been called an allegory, a satire, a tragicomedy, and a tragedy by some critics. However, the most parts of the play are comic and this explains the reason why the play was included in the First Folio’s comedy section. The play is known to be the darkest “comedies” ever to be written by Shakespeare. It is obsessed with corruption both in the legal system and in the society. According to Green (n.d.), the “happy endings” offered in the play was the most ‘artificial’ in the Western literature history. The ending made the play stand out as a good comedy.

Green (n.d.) noticed a relationship between the play and the personal life of Shakespeare. The play was created at the time Shakespeare was in the midst of the writing of some his great tragedies like Macbeth, King Lear, Othello, and Hamlet. This created the tragic mood that can be realized in some parts of the play hence the suggestion by some critic that the play should be classified as tragic. However, it is worth noting that most of Shakespeare’s comedy plays were characterized by a happy ending rather than other elements in parts of the play. Green (n.d.) observed that during the era of Shakespeare, a romantic comedy was characterized by bits of love, idealized heroine, and a problem that is brought to a happy conclusion. Measure for Measure clearly falls into the category of a romantic comedy because it bears these features.

The moral, emotional, and theatrical problems in Measure for Measure are acted in plots with central themes of marriage and sexuality. The problems are revealed through the illicit use of power and threatening and execution of violence. But the play brings the comic effect to neutralize these problems through bawdy humor, disguise, and thwarted courtship. The play starts with the Duke of Vienna, Vincentio, leaving Angelo, the strict judge, for a diplomatic mission (Green, n.d.). On another part, Juliet and Claudio want to marry but, unfortunately, they have insufficient funds. The starting point of the play manifests the beginning of the problems which welcome the comic effect and a happy ending. Through the comic elements in the play, Shakespeare appears to handle the conflict among the characters with a lighter tone. The comic relief assures the readers that finally, the good will prosper.

Hamlet as a Tragedy

Hamlet can be rightfully classified as a tragedy because most of the events are marred with conflicts that result to death. The personal life of the young character known as Hamlet reflects the tragedy in the play. For the better part of the play, Hamlet strives to figure out how he can avenge the death of his father. He also does approve the marriage of his mother to Uncle Claudius and engages in quarrels with his mother (Billington, n.d.). He wonders how the marriage came too soon after the death of his father. Hamlet is created as a protagonist who the characters sympathize with but he still has the capacity to do both good and harm.

Hamlet achieved artistic maturity in depicting tragic dramatic development by showing a hero tagging with two opposing forces: the need to avenge the death of his father and the need to have moral integrity. Hamlet does not consider the option of killing his uncle or just suffer in silence. He is in the middle of thinking whether or not to kill his uncle. This prepares the reader to a tragic event at the end. True to the expectations of the audience from the onset of the play, Hamlet ends in a great tragedy. Many characters die. Hamlet ends up killing Polonius. He also stabs Claudius to death after forcing him to take a poisoned drink. Laertes uses his poisonous sword to end the life of Hamlet (Billington, n.d.). Ophelia drowns herself. Also, the mother of Hamlet, Gertrude, drinks a poisoned drink that was choreographed for Hamlet to take. These series of deaths make Hamlet the greatest tragedies to be written by Shakespeare.

Henry V Play of History

Henry V forms part of a four-part series that includes Richard II, I Henry IV, and II Henry IV that describes an account of history for the emergence of the Lancaster royal house. The play stands out as the most popular history plays to be written by Shakespeare. It incorporates several entertaining characters speaking different languages and accents. Apart from being a host of a significant number of heroic battles, the play also has many noble speeches as well as English underdogs who consistently fight for power (The Guardian, n.d.) The play depicts King Henry as a perfect leader characterized by brevity and being fierce focused.

The Guardian (n.d.) finds the treatment of the king by the play as problematic as it shows him as a model of traditional heroism but, on the other hand, his system of values is confusing to the audience. For instance, with his sense of honor, he attacks a nonaggressive state and kills thousands of civilians. Additionally, he sentences to death the prisoners of war and some of his formers friends. With all the bloodshed, King Henry V does not acknowledge being responsible and yet he claims to value mercy. The presentation of the king’s character in the play showcases the complications that are mostly associated with Shakespeare’s plays. Henry is made to look as an ideal king despite his acts that disapprove that notion. From the play, he is an admirable man. The careful presentation of his image and the brilliance exemplified in his speeches make him appear an inspiring and effective leader.


Although there have been controversies over the classification of certain Shakespeare’s plays into varied existing genres – tragedy, comedy, history – the genre of the reviewed plays (Measure for Measure, Hamlet, and Henry V) can be easily identified. Measure for Measure has a happy ending that provides a comic relief to the audience after a series of problems. Hamlet ends with a series of deaths including the main character Hamlet.

Works Cited

Billington, Michael. The Tragedy of Hamlet Review. The Guardian, (2001). Retrieved from

Green, Jesse. Review: In ‘Measure for Measure,’ Desperately Seeking Solutions in a Problem Play. The New York Times, (2017). Retrieved from

The Guardian. Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V: Right Royal Entertainment. The Guardian, (2015). Retrieved from

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