|Perdita by Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys|
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 desire among critics to recognize them as a more complex kind of comedy. Although Pericles did not appear in the First Folio of 1623, and The Tempest was printed out of order in this edition, its editors, John Heminges and Henry Condell, listed Cymbeline and The Winter's Tale as comedies. In 1875, when Dowden argued that Shakespeare's late comedies be called "romances," he did so because they resemble late medieval and early modern "romances," a genre in which stories took place across expanses of space and time. Although some critics prefer to keep the genre "comedy" to describe these four plays, many others have accepted the genre "romance" as a special designation for Shakespeare's final comedies. These plays share characteristics such as:* A redemptive plotline with a happy ending involving the re-uniting of long-separated family members;
* Magic and other fantastical elements;
* The presence of pre-Christian, masque-like figures, like Jupiter in Cymbeline and the goddesses whom Prospero summons in The Tempest;
* A mixture of "courtly" and "pastoral" scenes (such as the gentry and the island residents in The Tempest and the pastoral and courtly contrasts of The Winter's Tale).
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.
- Pericles, Prince of Tyre is a Jacobean play written at least in part by William Shakespeare and included in modern editions of his collected works despite questions over its authorship, as it was not included in the First Folio. Modern editors generally agree that Shakespeare is responsible for almost exactly half the play—827 lines—the main portion after scene 9 that follows the story of Pericles and Marina. Modern textual studies indicate that the first two acts of 835 lines detailing the many voyages of Pericles were written by a mediocre collaborator, which strong evidence suggests to have been the victualler, pander, dramatist and pamphleteer George Wilkins
- Cymbeline is based on legends concerning the early Celtic British King Cunobelinus. Although listed as a tragedy in the First Folio, modern critics often classify Cymbeline as a romance. Like Othello and The Winter's Tale, it deals with the themes of innocence and jealousy. While the precise date of composition remains unknown, the play was certainly produced as early as 1611.
- The Winter's Tale was originally published in the First Folio of 1623. Although it was grouped among the comedies, some modern editors have relabelled the play as one of Shakespeare's late romances. Some critics, among them W. W. Lawrence consider it to be one of Shakespeare's "problem plays", because the first three acts are filled with intense psychological drama, while the last two acts are comedic and supply a happy ending.
- The Tempest was written in 1610–11, and thought by many critics to be the last play that Shakespeare wrote alone. It is set on a remote island, where Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan, plots to restore his daughter Miranda to her rightful place using illusion and skillful manipulation. He conjures up a storm, the eponymous tempest, to lure his usurping brother Antonio and the complicit King Alonso of Naples to the island. There, his machinations bring about the revelation of Antonio's low nature, the redemption of the King, and the marriage of Miranda to Alonso's son, Ferdinand.
- The Two Noble Kinsmen, ca. 1612–13 (co-written with John Fletcher) It is a Jacobean tragicomedy, first published in 1634 and attributed to John Fletcher and William Shakespeare. Its plot derives from "The Knight's Tale" in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales.