Where Did Shakespeare Get His Ideas From

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wordprof | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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His "ideas" about language came from two main sources.  First, the Latin language, which was the language of learned people -- scholars, officials, etc. -- was mixing with the Anglo-Saxon "English" of the common people; Shakespeare was making new words in English from the Latin words around.  Examples are in the hundreds -- a quick example is "incarnadine" meaning "the color of blood" -- red, as in "Turning the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red."  The second source of linguistic ideas came from fellow Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights and poets such as Marlowe, Jonson, Middleton, etc.  And, of course, he took much from the everyday life around him, in taverns, at the theatre, in church, etc.

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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William Shakespeare derived his ideas both from his own imagination and from a wide range of earlier sources.

The main source of ideas for many of William Shakespeare's plays on classical themes was Thomas North's 1579 English translation of Plutarch's Lives. This contains the stories Shakespeare adapted in Antony and Cleopatra and Julius Caesar.

Shakespeare's history plays, Henry IV, Part I, Henry IV, Part II, Henry V, Henry VI Part I, Henry VI Part II, Henry VI Part III, Henry VIII, King John, Richard II, and Richard III rely to a great extent on events described in Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland.

Hamlet is derived from material found in Saxo Grammaticus' History of the Danes and Romeo and Juliet on Arthur Brooke's 1562 poem The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Iuliet.

Although most of Shakespeare's plots can be traced back to earlier sources, his own imagination was also a factor. As Shakespeare himself has Theseus explain in A Midsummer Night's Dream:

The poet's eye, in fine frenzy rolling, ...

... bodies forth

The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen

 Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing

A local habitation and a name.

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katwood001's profile pic

katwood001 | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

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Here is the list: 

Anthony and Cleopatra: Plutarch's Lives by Thomas North, 1579

Coriolanus: Plutarch's Lives by Thomas North, 1579

Hamlet: Either- Histories Tragiques (French Translation of Saxto's History of the Danes) by Belleforest, 1514  -or- The Hystorie of Hamblet (An English Translation of Belleforests work, 1608.  (Most historians assume that it is the English Translation that Shakespeare used. Though it could be either.  Shakespeare was fluent in French.)

Julius Caesar- Plutarch's Lives by Thomas North, 1579 (Lots of plagiarism) 

King Lear- The True Chronicle History of King Leir and his three daughters: Gonorill, Ragan, and Cordella, 1605; Chronicles, Holinshed; Mirror for Magistrates, Higgens, 1574; The Faerie Queen, Spenser.   

Macbeth- Chronicles (Macbeth), Holinshed (Shakespeare used this work a lot!)

OthelloHecatommithi, Cinthio, 1565. 

Romeo and Juliet- The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Luliet, Brooke, 1562; The Palace of Pleasure (c. 1580)

Timon and Athens- Life of Antonius, Plutarch; Timon the Misanthrope, Lucian

Titus Andronicus- Identified as original with some influences from Greek tragedies.  (Thyestes, Seneca)

Henry IV pt 1Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, Holinshed, 1587; The Civil Wars between the Two Houses of York and Lancaster, Daniel, 1595

Henry IV pt 2- Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, Holinshed, 1587; The Civil Wars between the Two Houses of York and Lancaster, Daniel, 1595

Henry VChronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, Holinshed, 1587

Henry VI pt1Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, Holinshed, 1587

Henry VI pt 2Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, Holinshed, 1587; The Union of the two noble and illustre famelies of Lancaster and Yorke, Hall, 1550.

Henry VI pt 3- Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, Holinshed, 1587; The Union of the two noble and illustre famelies of Lancaster and Yorke, Hall, 1550; The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York, Anonymous, 1595.

Henry VIIIChronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, Holinshed, 1587; The Union of the two noble and illustre famelies of Lancaster and Yorke, Hall, 1550; Foxe's Book of Martyrs, Foxe.  

King JohnChronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, Holinshed, 1587; Foxe's Book of Martyrs, Foxe.  (Controversial ->) The Troublesome Raigne of John King of England, Anonymous, 1591)

Richard II- Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, Holinshed, 1587; Chronicles of Froissart, Froissart.  (Shakespeare changed much of the history in these books.  This is most likely due to making Queen Elizabeth happy, since the major characters in the play directly affected her ancestry and throne.)

Richard IIIChronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, Holinshed, 1587; The Union of the two noble and illustre famelies of Lancaster and Yorke, Hall, 1550; The History of King Richard the Thirde, Sir Thomas More, 1513.

All's Well That Ends WellThe Decameron, Boccaccio, 1353.

As You Like It- Rosalynde: Euphues Golden Legacie, Lodge, 1590

The Comedy of ErrorsThe Menaechmi, Plautus, Ancient Rome.

Cymbeline- Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, Holinshed, 1587; The Decameron, Boccaccio, 1353. 

Love's Labour's Lost- Shakespeare Original (May have been inspired by events happening in London during Shakespeare's life.)

Measure for MeasureThe Right and Excellent and Famous Historye of Promos and Cassandra: Divided into Commercial Discourses, Whetstone, 1578. 

The Merry Wives of Windsor- Shakespeare Original.  (Elizabeth commanded a play about Falstaff.  One of her favorite Shakespeare's characters.)

The Merchant of Venice- Il Pecorone- The Simpleton, Fiorentino, 1565.

A Midsummer Night's Dream- Shakespeare Original.  

Much Ado About Nothing- 22d Novel of Bandello (Histoires Tragiques), Belleforest, c. 1590.

Pericles Prince of TyreApollonius of Tyre, Ancient Greek Play (Translation by Gower), c. 1390.

Taming of the Shrew- Supposes Gascoigne, 1566.  

Tempest- Shakespeare Original.  (There is a story that Shakespeare wrote this play based upon a bet that he couldn't use all of Aristotles's Unities in a play- Shakespeare tends to break these rules of theater.  Tempest is the only play that follows all of the Unities.  If so, it seems, Shakespeare won the bet.)  

Troilus and CressidaTroilus and Cresseide, Chaucer; Recuyell of the historyes of Troye translated and drawen out of frenshe into englishe, Caxton, 1471; Illiad, Chapman, 1597.

Twelfth Night- Gl'lngannati, unknown, 1530; Apollnius and Silla, Riche, 1581. 

Two Gentlemen of VeronaDiana Enamorada, Jorge de Montemayor, 1542; Decameron, Boccaccio, 1353.  

Winters Tale: Pandosto, Robert Greene, 1588; Decameron, Boccaccio, 1353.

There you go. The whole list.  :)

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