In the last of his tragedies, Timon of Athens, Shakespeare abandoned what for him had become traditional character development and instead created a work more allegorical in nature. That tendency may be observed more fully in his final four plays, known often as "the romances," in which the playwright seems to be striving for a new dramatic form, one that incorporates elements of tragedy, comedy, and history, as well as music and dance and even fairy tales. In addition, the works have a didactic quality, as if the playwright intended to teach the audience about the meaning of life and the beliefs human beings ought to hold. Some critics have speculated that this experimental genre with its elaborate spectacle was created for the more affluent and sophisticated audience at Blackfriars, a private theater.
The romances have several plot characteristics in common, many familiar from folklore. All the stories concern conflict between generations, royal families divided and children lost over extended periods of time, and the reconciliation of these families. Such accords become manifestations not only of love, but also of political and social stability. All the works involve substantial journeys, many across expanses of water, and one prevalent image is that of water as both the embodiment of chaos and the sustainer of life. In all the plays, major characters undergo great suffering, and several approach death. Yet the endings are happy, achieved with the help of magic or the influence of the supernatural. Furthermore, the good characters are almost always rewarded and the wicked punished. Thus the plays have tragic potential, but their fairy-tale-like qualities ensure that the resolutions are joyous.
Thematically the romances have several points in common. In Shakespeare's more traditional tragedies, comedies, and histories, trials endured by the characters are usually the product of the interplay between character and circumstance. Figures find themselves in situations where their own personalities and values lead to conflict. In the romances, on the other hand, a chain of causality is not always present, and characters may be victimized through no fault of their own. This arbitrariness leads them to question the purpose of existence, and a