Shakespeare's late romances

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The late romances, often simply called the romances, are a grouping of what many scholars believe to be William Shakespeare's later plays, including Pericles, Prince of Tyre; Cymbeline; The Winter's Tale; and The Tempest. The Two Noble Kinsmen is sometimes included in this grouping. The term was first used in regard to these works in Edward Dowden's Shakespeare: A Critical Study of His Mind and Art (1875).

The category of Shakespearean romance arises from a hesitation among critics to categorize them as comedies (though all but Cymbeline, which was listed among the tragedies, were considered so by John Heminges and Henry Condell when they edited the First Folio), because they bear similarities with medieval romance literature and are different from comedies in many ways. Shakespeare's romances share the following features:

  • A redemptive plotline with a happy ending involving the re-uniting of long-separated family members;
  • Magic and other fantastical elements;
  • A deus ex machina, often manifesting as a Roman god (such as Jupiter in Cymbeline or Diana in Pericles);
  • A mixture of "civilized" and "pastoral" scenes (such as the gentry and the island residents in The Tempest);
  • "...and the poetry is a return to the lyrical style of the early plays, though more mellow and profound."[1]

Shakespeare's romances were also influenced by two major developments in theatre in the early years of the seventeenth century. One was the innovation in tragicomedy initiated by John Fletcher and developed in the early Beaumont and Fletcher collaborations. The other was the extreme elaboration of the courtly masque being conducted at the same time by Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones. [See: The Masque of Blackness; The Masque of Queens.]

The distinctiveness of the late romances has been questioned – the plays certainly share commonalities with earlier Shakespearean works like Twelfth Night, with earlier romances by other authors back to the ancient world, and with works in genres like pastoral. Yet Shakespeare's late plays have a distinctive aura to them, with elements of tragicomedy and masque blended with elements of comedy and romance and pastoral – not into a chaos as might be expected, but into coherent, dramatically effective and appealing plays.

List of plays

Shakespeare's late romances include:

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