What Influenced William Shakespeare Essay Example


Throughout various centuries, countless influential authors such as Charlotte Bronte, Emily Dickinson, and Ralph Waldo Emerson have written influential pieces of literature. One of these lionized authors is the renowned William Shakespeare, known for his major literary masterpieces including, but not limited to, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Macbeth, and Hamlet. It has been argued by critics that Shakespeare had multiple influences that contributed to his plethora of literary works. Not only did William Shakespeare’s tragedies revolve around stories of the kings of England, but Shakespeare was also primarily influenced by Latin, European, and Greek authors’ stories, as seen in his tragic plays Macbeth, Hamlet, and Romeo and Juliet. 

Kings of England

As seen through one of his plays Macbeth, critics claim that Shakespeare was inspired by the kings of England: “It is said that since Shakespeare lived during the age of monarchy in England, he was influenced by James I. In fact, “shortly after James I took throne, he announced that he would be the new sponsor of Shakespeare’s theatre company, which renamed itself the King’s men” (Andrew Dickson). This was a turning point for Shakespeare, as one of his biggest inspirations now became a sponsor of Shakespeare’s theatre company, a clear indication that James I deeply admired Shakespeare’s work.

As James I had a passion for theatre, Shakespeare then wished to flatter the king. As a result, the renowned tragic play Macbeth was born. “The play “contains witches (a fascination of James'), Scotland (of course), Banquo (who is an ancestor of James') and themes of guilt and conscious (which was another area of great interest to James). Not to mention, of course, that the main theme of the play is, 'don't mess with the divine right to rule'. For a monarch as paranoid as James, this must have been a very satisfying message” (“How Did a Monarch”). Shakespeare’s knowledge of James I’s interests shows how committed he was to please the king; after all, James I was a significant contributor to Shakespeare’s creations of his work. However, Macbeth was not the only play that flattered James I. 

Shakespeare then produced yet another literary masterpiece Hamlet, which was once again written in tribute to James I. As critic William Smith writes, “The fact that Hamlet is set in Elsinore is a nod to James, as it was where he spent his honeymoon with Anne of Denmark.” While some critics argue that Hamlet was written prior to the ruling of James I, it can also be argued that changes could have been made to the play in order to satisfy the king. The fact that the setting took place in the same location as the honeymoon of James I and Anne of Denmark is flattering to the monarch, and only increases his fondness of Shakespeare more. Yet, James I was not the only inspiration for Shakespeare and his work. 

Latin, European, and Greek Authors

Shakespeare was also primarily influenced by Latin, European, and Greek authors. Shakespeare enjoyed taking inspiration from authors of different descents, as seen through Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet. “Hamlet is borrowed from an old Scandinavian tale, but Romeo and Juliet comes from an Italian writer writing at the same time as Shakespeare” (“Shakespeare’s Life”). Shakespeare’s fascination with Latin language resulted in him borrowing from Latin texts. 

Ancient Texts

He also regularly borrowed copiously from ancient texts and re-told the great histories and stories of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Shakespeare used the classics across a wide spectrum, and indeed it is impossible to imagine what he would have produced had he not relied so heavily on the classics. In doing so, he contributed an enormously important new wealth to the history of literature: he helped to popularize and retain many of the classical stories and traditions that without his help may have shriveled from public recognition altogether in English. (Andrew Phillips and Patrick Hunt) Shakespeare’s borrowing of different languages allowed for literature to be more diverse, as Latin texts were now being incorporated in non-traditional Latin pieces of literature.

Giovanni Boccaccio

Shakespeare then took inspiration from Italian scholar Giovanni Boccaccio and incorporated his work with his stories. “Sometimes he worked from the stories of comparatively recent Italian writers, such as Giovanni Boccaccio—using both well-known stories (Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing) and little-known ones (Othello)” (“Shakespeare’s Sources”). Since the middle ages was a time of deprecating pieces of literature, Shakespeare knew to borrow work from Boccaccio because his work was more intellectual in comparison to other scholars of that time. In addition, Shakespeare took inspiration from the Pyramus and Thisbe story, as there are many similarities between the story and Romeo and Juliet: “...as portrayed by Bottom and his fellow mechanicals, and Romeo and Juliet. 

Two lovers who can not be together because their families hate each other. A misunderstanding about the death of one leads to the real death of the other, which in turn leads to the real death of both of them.  The families realize the error of their ways and the wall that parted them comes down, happily ever after.  There’s even a prologue to explain the story ahead of time” (“Romeo and Thisbe? Pyramus and Juliet?”). Pyramus and Thisbe was written prior to Romeo and Juliet, making it reasonable to think that Shakespeare drew some sort of inspiration from the story. However, Shakespeare borrowed ideas from other scholars as well. 

Saxo Grammaticus

Shakespeare then borrowed work from Danish author Saxo Grammaticus, providing inspiration for his tragic play Hamlet. “In around 1200 AD, Saxo Grammaticus wrote Gesta Danorum (or “Deeds of the Danes”) which chronicled Denmark’s Kings and told the story of Amleth – the real-life Hamlet! You will notice that Hamlet is an anagram of Amleth. It is believed that Shakespeare would have had to work from the original Latin” (Lee Jamieson). The anagram of Amleth shows how much inspiration Shakespeare took from the Latin language. 

Conclusion

William Shakespeare has taken inspiration from multiple authors for his literary masterpieces. Examples of these tragic plays include Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet, and are all instances of borrowed ideas from other authors. Evidence shows that while William Shakespeare’s tragedies revolve around stories of the kings of England, Shakespeare was also primarily influenced by Latin, European, and Greek authors’ stories, as seen in his three tragic plays Macbeth, Hamlet, and Romeo and Juliet. These influences have allowed Shakespeare to not only become the eulogized author that he was at his time, but in present day society as well.

 

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