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.




Play or Poem


The History of Felix and Philomena*


Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth*


Edmund Ironside*


Troublesome Reign of King John, Venus and Adonis  


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


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


 Henry VI, Part 3, Richard III     


Titus Andronicus, Thomas of Woodstock


 Edward III (parts), Sonnets**         


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


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


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)


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


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


Julius Caesar, As You Like It      


Twelfth Night


Hamlet (revision of 1589 Hamlet)        


Troilus and Cressida


Measure for Measure, Othello       


All’s Well That Ends Well


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


Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra






The Winter’s Tale        




The Tempest


Henry VIII


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.