What are the typical recurring themes in Shakespeare's plays?

There are many different themes running through each individual Shakespeare play but here are some of the most common and most recognisable and you can apply at least a couple to whichever Shakespeare play you are studying. 


Most, if not all, of the plays include some kind of fight for power. Whether it is political power (such as in Richard III) or power within families (there is alot of this in King Lear). Just look at who is fighting for the power, who they are fighting it for and how those characters are portrayed (evil, heroic, mad etc.)


Nature can primarily refer to the immediate, physical nature around us, such as in a pastoral comedy like As You Like It (in this play look at how the forest community is contrasted with that of the court). However it can also refer to human nature (such as the Nature vs Nurture argument in King Lear) and the nature of the society that we live in (Macbeth).

Love and Relationships

This is a BIG one as it is a theme examined in pretty much every play. There is romantic, irrational love (an obvious one - Romeo and Juliet, but also Hero and Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing), dutiful and tactical love (King Lear), mix-ups in love which could show the sometimes fickle nature of it (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Twelfth Night) and even love that goes unrecognised by the characters until the very end (Benedict and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing.). These are just some of the forms of love in Shakespeare's plays but chances are you can apply it to a lot of the situations that occur.


In a lot of Shakespeare's plays, there is physical conflict as the History plays (and some of the Tragedies such as Julius Caeser) actually tell the story of real battles. However, conflict can also be applied to conflict within families (Again, King Lear - there's lots of themes within this one! - but also Romeo and Juliet with the family conflict ultimately causing the tragic death of their children), conflict between lovers (Much Ado About Nothing) or even just emotional conflict (Hamlet). 

So these are just a few of the big themes and hopefully you can apply at least one or two to the particular play you are studying. 

Katy A. A Level Drama tutor, GCSE English tutor, GCSE English Literat...

6 months ago

Answered by Katy, a GCSE English Literature tutor with MyTutor

Still stuck? Get one-to-one help from a personally interviewed subject specialist


£24 /hr

Tanisha S.

Degree: Philosophy and French (Bachelors) - Exeter University

Subjects offered: English Literature, French+ 2 more

English Literature
English Language

“My main aim is to build the student's confidence in their chosen subject, and to work with them to discover methods of teaching which enable them to fulfill their potential.”

£18 /hr

Laura H.

Degree: Italian and English Literature (Masters) - Edinburgh University

Subjects offered: English Literature, Maths+ 1 more

English Literature

“About MeI am an Italian and English Literature student at the University of Edinburgh. I have a passion for all kinds of literature, and I believe that the more you study a text, the more you appreciate it. I have also enjoyed Maths ...”

£18 /hr

Harriet B.

Degree: Law LLB (Bachelors) - Southampton University

Subjects offered: English Literature, History+ 4 more

English Literature
English Language
-Personal Statements-

“About me: Hi! I am a law student at the University of Southampton. I have always had a passion for teaching and helping others to understand how to break information down into more manageable chunks. I am very friendly and love mee...”

MyTutor guarantee

About the author

Katy A.

Currently unavailable: for regular students

Degree: Drama and Theatre Arts (Bachelors) - Birmingham University

Subjects offered: English Literature, History+ 3 more

English Literature

“About Me I'm Katy and I currently study Drama and Theatre Arts at the University of Birmingham. Along with my incredible passion for drama, singing and performance, I have also studied (and have a great love for) English Literature/L...”

MyTutor guarantee

You may also like...

Posts by Katy

What are the typical recurring themes in Shakespeare's plays?

What is a "PEE" chain?

When would I use the subjunctive tense?

Other GCSE English Literature questions

How do I work critical quotations into my answer?

How should i structure my paragraph when analysing texts

Discuss the role of foreshadowing in Of Mice and men.

How do you revise for an English Literature exam?

View GCSE English Literature tutors


We use cookies to improve our service. By continuing to use this website, we'll assume that you're OK with this. Dismiss