The comedies and romances we have been considering belong in part to the period in Shakespeare’s authorship when his relatively simple vision of moral issues achieved its greatest triumphs in lighthearted comedy before that vision was darkened and complicated by more deeply disturbing insights into the human condition. As You Like It and Twelfth Night are still light enough to keep us continuously amused, but Much Ado About Nothing, which probably preceded them, already approaches a concern with wickedness and suffering which exceeds in gravity anything we find in the comedies up to and including The Merchant of Venice. The dating of the plays written somewhere between 1598 and 1602 is not precisely established, but Twelfth Night may have been roughly contemporaneous with Hamlet, which opened up a tragic vein intensively exploited at the Globe for as long as eight years.1 It was at the beginning of this tragic phase that Troilus and Cressida, All’s Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure appeared, a pseudo-tragedy and two comedies, the latter presenting an overall comic structure which was all but overwhelmed by tragic implications. Not till two Roman plays (Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus) and possibly Timon of Athens had exhausted his motivation for tragedy did Shakespeare discover less psychologically searching and more emblematically universal dramatic subjects which reverted to comic solutions while retaining a strong tragic awareness of weakness and corruption.


Simple Vision Satisfying Resolution Classical Mythology Play Break Sudden Conversion 
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  1. 4.
    See Smidt A., Unconformities in Shakespeare’s Early Comedies (1986), p. 173.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kristian Smidt 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kristian Smidt
    • 1
  1. 1.University of OsloNorway

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