Measure for Measure

The Problem with Problem Plays: The Failures in the Categorization of Shakespeare’s ‘Problem Plays’ College

Throughout the extensive criticism written on Shakespeare plays, the definition of these problematic plays has been a constant topic for debate. Kiernan Ryan suggests critics focus either on these plays all having in inherently ‘political implications’, or a form of deconstructive, or psychoanalytical analysis. Yet the potential for another opinion could still be valid as expressed by critics such as Jonathon Dollimore and Kathleen McLuskie who have implied that the plays are not at all problematic in the ways previously suggested. This then draws light on the problematic nature of defining problem plays at all; the defining of the plays is arguably as much of a problem as the plays themselves. This essay will try and look at some of the viable ways that the plays do connect and stand as a group of problems, but also try to expose the dangers of naming these connections, and the wider problems with genre and the categorization of Shakespeare's plays.

When looking for examples that link the plays together, of course there are obvious connections. Similar themes, paralleled characters, and the formal conventions of the plays can all be seen as viable links to grouping the three plays as problem plays. As Nicholas Marsh notes in...

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