From 2009, pupils will be asked to choose to answer questions on one of two plays, instead of the present three.
The move is revealed in correspondence just published between Ken Boston, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, and Alan Johnson, the former secretary of state.
Most schools have already opted not to offer Richard III, the least popular of the plays. The QCA says that the low numbers make it difficult to ensure that the test is set at the right standard.
Simon Gibbons, of the National Association for the Teaching of English, said that teachers who had offered the least popular play in recent years would be frustrated. "Opting for one of three texts was already an impoverished choice," he said. "If you cut it back to two, you are restricting it even further."
Most schools last year chose Macbeth and Much Ado About Nothing.