Shakespearean history

In the First Folio, the plays of William Shakespeare were grouped into three categories: comedies, histories, and tragedies. The histories—along with those of contemporary Renaissance playwrights—help define the genre of history plays. The histories might be more accurately called the "English history plays" and include the outliers King John and Henry VIII as well as a continuous sequence of eight plays covering the Wars of the Roses. These last are considered to have been composed in two cycles. The so-called first tetralogy, apparently written in the early 1590s, deals with the later part of the struggle and includes Henry VI, parts one, two & three and Richard III. The second tetralogy, finished in 1599 and including Richard II, Henry IV, Part 1, Henry IV, Part 2 and Henry V, is frequently called the Henriad after its protagonist Prince Hal, the future Henry V.

The folio's classifications are not unproblematic. Besides proposing other categories such as romances and problem plays, many modern studies treat the histories together with those tragedies that feature historical characters. These include Macbeth, set in the mid-11th century during the reigns of Duncan I of Scotland and Edward the Confessor, and also the Roman plays Coriolanus, Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra and the legendary King Lear.