William Shakespeare's 38 plays covered three major genres: tragedy, history and comedy. He wrote 10 histories, 10 tragedies, and 18 comedies. His plays contain Elizabethan plots, tropes and themes consistent with their specific genre.
"Hamlet," "Macbeth," "King Lear," and "Othello" are considered the four great Shakespearean tragedies. They each have a noble but flawed protagonist and end with the death of most major characters. The heroes are noblemen who experience social and psychological ruin from a place of wealth and power through external forces that may include evil spirits, fate or villainous characters. His other tragedies follow similar plot lines.
Shakespeare's histories are known for combining comedy and tragedy to tell the stories of certain English kings from the 12th to 16th centuries. The most famous are "Henry V" and "Richard III." While most of Shakespeare's work contains historical elements, these plays depict the real wars and politics of the time. However, they are still imaginative and not wholly accurate to historical events.
The comedies of William Shakespeare are a varied group containing elements such as mistaken identities, clever wordplay, the clash of two generations and convoluted plots that follow several interweaving tales. "Much Ado About Nothing" and "The Merchant of Venice" are examples of comedies that contain romance and some surprisingly dark moments.
Shakespeare himself did not differentiate between the genres of his plays, which is one possible reason why the three major genres often overlap. Shakespearean critics divided the plays into these categories in later years.