100 Best Books for an Education

A Revision and Update of Will Durant's 100 Best Books for an Education

Note 59

 

The Chronology of Shakespeare's Works 

 

The Chandos Portrait of Shakespeare about 1610
 

   The chronology of Shakespeare’s work is fraught with problems; nevertheless stylometry is an invaluable aid to untangling the knots, or freeing the doubts, from when they were most likely written. Below is a timeline developed using Peter Farey’s stylometric analysis of the works. This is not his work; it is my interpretation of the data using his tools. I have tried to use as much stylometric analysis as possible when I came to a work in which Shakespearean scholarship was in doubt. I took care to compare and reasonably come to a conclusion that might credibly be called a consensus amongst mainstream scholars.

   In recent years it has become all too obvious that Shakespeare’s career started much earlier than heretofore believed. Scholars such as Eric Sams have labored tirelessly to establish his pre-eminence in time. Their findings suggest that what had been believed to be “bad” quartos were really earlier versions of the now familiar plays in the canon. Like any artist, he revised, and continued to revise throughout his career, his own earlier works. He collaborated with his earlier self, as well as with many of his contemporaries.  

   Additionally, Lukas Erne, author of Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist, wrote:

 

               I have argued . . . that many of Shakespeare’s plays existed in two               significantly different forms in the late sixteenth and in the seventeenth centuries.   On the one hand, Shakespeare produced “authorial manuscripts,” instances of what John Webster called the “poem” and what some title pages refer to as the “true original copy.” On the other hand, there were manuscripts that had undergone the company’s preparation for actual performance, what Webster calls “the play,” in other words, the text “as it has been sundry times performed.” Whereas texts in the former group were of a length which the actors found impossible to reconcile with the requirements of performance, the latter had been reduced to what was compatible with the “two hours traffic of our stage.” Contrary to the theatrical scripts, the raison d’etre of the long “poems” I have argued, was basically literary.

 

 

Year                        

Play or Poem

1584

The History of Felix and Philomena*

1585-6

Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth*

1587

Edmund Ironside*

1588

Troublesome Reign of King John, Venus and Adonis  

1589

The Rape of Lucrece, Hamlet (first version),* The Taming of a Shrew,* Henry VI, Part 1§     

1590

Henry VI, Part 2, The Chronicle History of King Leir*

1591

 Henry VI, Part 3, Richard III     

1592

Titus Andronicus, Thomas of Woodstock

1593

 Edward III (parts), Sonnets**         

1594

The Comedy of Errors, Love’s Labor Lost, The Taming of the Shrew (revised version of A Shrew)

1595

 A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Richard II (revision of Thomas of Woodstock)       

1596

The Merchant of Venice, Two Gentlemen of Verona (revision of Felix and Philomena), King John (revised from Troublesome Reign), Henry IV, Part 1 (revision of Famous Victories)

1597

Henry IV, Part 2 (revision of Famous Victories), The Merry Wives of Windsor        

1598

Henry V (revision of Famous Victories), Much Ado about Nothing

1599

Julius Caesar, As You Like It      

1600

Twelfth Night

1601

Hamlet (revision of 1589 Hamlet)        

1602

Troilus and Cressida

1603

Measure for Measure, Othello       

1604

All’s Well That Ends Well

1605

Timon of Athens,* King Lear (revision of King Leir)       

1606

Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra

1607

Pericles*      

1608

Coriolanus

1609

The Winter’s Tale        

1610

Cymbeline

1611

The Tempest

1612

Henry VIII

1613

The Two Noble Kinsmen††



* This play was probably co-authored.

This play was possibly a Marlowe-Shakespeare collaboration.

This poem may have left an impression on Christopher Marlowe who tried to imitate it later.

§ The Henry VI plays are all probable collaborations with Christopher Marlowe/Robert Greene/George Peele/Thomas Nashe.

This is probably a revision of a Christopher Marlowe/George Peele play from the late-1580s.

This was a probable revision of a Thomas Kyd play.

** The Sonnets were largely composed in the hiatus year of 1593 but sporadically continued until about 1596.

This is a probable collaboration with John Fletcher.