Hi, friends. In this post, we’ll glance at Shakespeare’s favorite books, which definitely influenced his writing.
Scholars formerly debated whether Shakespeare only read translations of Roman and Greek classics or whether he was proficient in Greek and/or Latin. We know now that Shakespeare knew Latin, French, and probably Italian. As did other grammar school students of the sixteenth century in England, Shakespeare learned to translate English to Latin.
Shakespeare rarely wrote dramas completely from scratch; he often adapted his works from biographies, fictions, current events, etc. Shakespeare was a brilliant synthesizer. Despite always starting with source material, he mixed things and changed things and added things to make the stories his own.
Two examples of Shakespeare’s synthesizing: The Winter’s Tale dramatizes the novella Pandosto, or The Triumph of Time; the heroine dies in the novella, but Shakespeare manipulates the ending in his version to add suspense then leave an emotional impact. Richard III converts a dry political story to “a vivid and complex portrait of a charismatic psychopath” (153).
Though Shakespeare was directly and indirectly influenced by other texts (the Bible for one), these three books greatly impacted Shakespeare’s writing.
Ovid’s Metamorphoses—Roman (Latin) narrative poem with myths about the history of the world
Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans—Biographies of famous Romans and Greeks
Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland—Comprehensive description of British History
Thanks for reading! What’s your take on formulating an original story vs. synthesizing different stories for inspiration?
Information came from The Bedford Companion to Shakespeare. ISBN: 0312248806