Who Inspired Shakespeare?

Posted by Hayley on April 21, 2016

Shakespeare is still everywhere, 400 years after his death. Claire Underwood channels Lady Macbeth on House of Cards, shades of King Lear weave through Empire, and Game of Thrones's warring families embrace the cutthroat politics of Richard III. And those are just the television shows. We're treated to new film adaptations of the Bard's plays nearly every year, and you can fill a whole library with the books his stories inspired.

But what about Shakespeare himself? When he sat down, quill in hand, whose words were running through his head? In honor of #ShakespeareWeek, we did the research and found five writers who helped shape Shakespeare's work. Check them out for yourself! If they inspired the Bard to write, imagine what they could do for you.

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Picture Shakespeare as a young boy, wading through dense Latin prose. Roman poet Ovid's Metamorphoses was likely a part of the Bard's school program, and its powerful theme of transformation followed Shakespeare into adulthood.
Ovid: "Chance is always powerful. Let your hook be always cast; in the pool where you least expect it, there will be a fish."

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Shakespeare was quite fond of a 1579 translation of Greek writer Plutarch's Parallel Lives. And by "quite fond" we mean that the Bard, on more than one occasion, stuck some of Plutarch's lines directly into his own plays. (Our modern concept of plagiarism wasn't around then.)
Plutarch: "I don't need a friend who changes when I change and who nods when I nod; my shadow does that much better."

Geoffrey Chaucer
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The Canterbury Tales, English poet Chaucer's most famous work, is really a story about stories. Not only did Shakespeare explore this theme in his own plays, he also wrote The Two Noble Kinsmen, a retelling of Chaucer's The Knight's Tale.
Chaucer: "What is better than wisdom? Woman. And what is better than a good woman? Nothing."

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Raphael Holinshed
A big history buff, Shakespeare turned to English chronicler Holinshed's books for inspiration. As a result, Holinshed's research was the source of most of the Bard's history plays, including Macbeth.
Holinshed: "It is dangerous (gentle reader) to range in so large a field as I have here undertaken…"

Christopher Marlowe
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Well, let's get one thing out of the way: Some people believe that Marlowe wrote most of the plays we now attribute to Shakespeare. While modern analysis suggests this theory is not true, there's no denying the similarity between the two English playwrights' work.
Marlowe: "Why should you love him whom the world hates so? Because he love me more than all the world."

What writers inspire you? Tell us in the comments!
All research done by resident Goodreads and Shakespeare expert Carla Quesada
Top image credit: Shakespeare in Love

Comments Showing 1-24 of 24 (24 new)

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message 1: by Elly (Schrody) (new)

Elly (Schrody) Which writers inspire me? Well, certainly not Shakespeare. Some even go so far in saying he was merely an uneducated peasant, and couldn't have so broad knowledge of certain things (i.e., he had help with his plays or he wasn't the author at all). Famous historic people always had mysteries tying their lives, and some of them will forever stay as such. Nevertheless, Shakespeare is and always will be one of the greatest writers, and his work will be studied for centuries to come.

message 2: by Bellatrix (new)

Bellatrix Lestrange uhh... i dont know what to believe anymore...

message 3: by S.L.J. (new)

S.L.J. Shakespeare: Romeo and Ethel the pirates daughter.

Marlow: Romeo and Juliet...just a thought.


message 4: by Caroline (new)

Caroline Most good writers inspire me.It is a wonderful thing to write a book,play etc and have it read and enjoyed by others.
As much as I would like to, I am never going to write a book.

message 5: by Tejas (new)

Tejas Nair Orwell and Salinger are for me.

Bookishnymph *needs hea* Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Tolkien, and Patricia McKillip I find inspiring.

message 7: by Gareth (new)

Gareth Reeves I'm neither a writer nor a person of note so I won't offer my inspirations here, but I would like to talk about Shakespeare a little bit.

I think Marlowe was more of a rival than an inspiration - there is a passage in Titus Andronicus (Aaron the Moor: 'Ay, that I had not done a thousand more...') where he's quite obviously trying to outdo The Jew of Malta; there is also the looking-glass scene in Richard II ('Was this face the face/That every day under his household roof/Did keep ten thousand men?') which echoes Doctor Faustus ('Was this the face that launch'd a thousand ships,/And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?'). When Shakespeare really got going, from about Richard II onward, there was no other dramatist like him, no drama in English as powerful or original. You have to wonder what literature, if any, could inspire a writer of such magnitude. Having said that, I would add the Bible and Book of Common Prayer to the list above, as well as Michel de Montaigne in the Florio translation.

message 8: by Elly (Schrody) (new)

Elly (Schrody) Kiara wrote: "uhh... i dont know what to believe anymore..."

... and that's the beauty of myths and legends :) True or not, there will never be someone like Shakespeare again.

message 9: by berthamason (new)

berthamason Elly wrote: "Which writers inspire me? Well, certainly not Shakespeare. Some even go so far in saying he was merely an uneducated peasant, and couldn't have so broad knowledge of certain things (i.e., he had he..."

You really believe he didn't write his plays?

message 10: by Julie (new)

Julie Akeman I am a kid at heart, I do love Brian Jacques Redwall Abbey series. Tolkein and CS Lewis, Loved the Harry Potter books and I read those as an adult, loved them. Currently into Game of Thrones and I love the writing on this one. My favorite book of all is still The Neverending Story, one I love to re read again. I also LOVE L'Engle's Time series, A Wrinkle in Time, and really love her Swiftly Tilting Planet book. I do love Shakespere though there is a lot of doubt going about his writing, I do love reading Shakespeare and I will be reading Richard the III for the first time. I will be looking forward to reading The Bard's influences too.

message 11: by Elly (Schrody) (new)

Elly (Schrody) Poliana wrote: "You really believe he didn't write his plays? ."

I haven't said that, just that the intrigue often finds a way. He surely was a talented writer. There's an interesting Dr. Who episode with Shakespeare :)

message 12: by Abigail H. (new)

Abigail H. Leskey Rosemary Sutcliff.

message 13: by Maya (new)

Maya Some books or authors that inspire me are, Olive's Ocean, Sugar and Ice, and more. Now for authors, J.K. Rowling, she inspired me to believe in magic. That is just a few.

message 14: by Shailendra (last edited Apr 22, 2016 03:27AM) (new)

Shailendra Modi I am basically un-inspirable so no author can really inspire me to write.

However I would like to share a spoof that I read, which claimed that Shakespeare was actually an Arab named Sheikh-Ul-Peer who adapted the 5th century Arabian romantic poem of Layla and Majnun as Romeo and Juliet.

message 15: by Gareth (new)

Gareth Reeves Gareth wrote: "I think Marlowe was more of a rival than an inspiration - ..."

I'd like to nuance this statement. Marlowe's work was competition early on but Marlowe the man/the myth was an inspiration.

message 16: by Elentarri (new)

Elentarri Shakespeare does not inspire me - his works leave me half asleep and bored. Though I suspect this may have something to do with having read some of his plays at school and then having to "dissect"them. Or maybe its because the teachers chose all the love stories. I despise dissecting books, or being forced to read a genre/book (romance!) I am not interested in at that point in time.

Another thing - plays should really be performed and seen, rather than read. Much Ado About Nothing, Henry V and Hamlet were pretty good on the screen - not so much on paper.

message 17: by Gareth (new)

Gareth Reeves Elentarri wrote: 'plays should really be performed and seen, rather than read. Much Ado About Nothing, Henry V and Hamlet were pretty good on the screen - not so much on paper. '

This is an old dogma of theatrical criticism, which ignores the fact that Shakespeare was a great poet as well as a great playwright. The friction between these roles (the high and the low, the elite and the popular) is part of what makes Shakespeare stand out from his peers. Also, some of his plays feature scathing remarks about the theatre. In the case of Henry IV Part Two or Troilus and Cressida, I would say reading them is infinitely preferable to watching them - Henry IV (both parts together) would be too long to watch in one sitting, and the second part really benefits from knowledge of the first, suggesting that Shakespeare didn't always think in purely theatrical terms (see Harold C. Goddard's The Meaning of Shakespeare). Personally I get upset when a director or actor screws up the meaning. For example, Mel Gibson's Hamlet has an Oedipus complex - an interpretation brought to the play by Freud - which completely ignores the fact that, in the final scene, Hamlet says 'Wretched queen, adieu!' and then talks of other matters. You have to find out what Hamlet means to you, and that means looking at the original text(s) as well. Interpretations can be fun and useful and, yes, sometimes preferable (The Comedy of Errors, the Henry VI trilogy, etc.) but discounting the reading of the texts is absurd.

Incidentally, Marlowe is much more fun to read than watch. He was a fine poet but not a great dramatist.

As for school... 'I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.' Mark Twain

message 18: by Pignut (new)

Pignut Robert Graves hypothesised that Shakespeare had a Welsh schoolteacher, who inspired the character of Sir Hugh Evans in The Merry Wives of Windsor, and introduced Shakespeare to old Welsh legends. There are similarities between The Tempest and the story of Taliesin.

message 19: by Ainna (new)

Ainna oh lol i have a Shakespeare play on Sunday and that only hamlet

message 20: by Kaushani (new)

Kaushani Oh come on.. The Sandman inspired Shakespeare... Or didn't you know? :P ;)

message 21: by v (new)

v zenari Too bad people are using this day to perpetuate the myth that Shakespeare wasn't Shakespeare. Shakespeare may have been a peasant (i.e., not an aristocrat), but he was a fine poet and playwright--better than anyone who has written these Shakespeare parodies or anyone who will be posting here. President Barack Obama was not born in Kenya, either, nor were the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, perpetrated by the FBI. Tupac Shakur is certainly dead. Those white trails of condensation that appear behind aircraft under certain atmopheric conditions are not chemicals dropping down on us by "them" (lizard people, Illuminati, or, once again, the FBI).

message 22: by Diego (new)

Diego Sánchez Pérez I have a lot influences when i read. Jules Verne, George R. R. Martin, Philip K. Dick, Rudyard Kipling, George Orwell, Agatha Christie,, Jack London, J. R. R. Tolkien, Jorge Luis Borges, Albert Camus, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, Lewis Wallace, Vicente Huidobro, Bob Dylan, Fiódor Dostoyevski, Friedrich Nietzche, Alberto Blest Gana, Anthony Burgues, Rubén Darío, H. G. Wells, Roberto Bolaño, Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, Alexandre Dumas, William Gibson, Franz Kafka, William Shakespeare, Boris Pasternak, Francisco Coloane, Pablo Neruda, Ernest Cline, William Golding, Aldus Huxley, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Arthur Rimbaud, Julio Cortázar

message 23: by Elly (Schrody) (new)

Elly (Schrody) Vzenari wrote: "Too bad people are using this day to perpetuate the myth that Shakespeare wasn't Shakespeare. Shakespeare may have been a peasant (i.e., not an aristocrat), but he was a fine poet and playwright--b..."

I just wrote what I read once - doesn't mean I believe it or that's a correct information, just thought it's an interesting possibility. Chill.

message 24: by Willa (last edited May 22, 2016 10:37AM) (new)

Willa Valentine (paper.seas) I'm mostly inspired by people like Cassandra Clare, Maggie Stiefvater, and Sarah Maas; but that's just because I am a teenager who reads young adult. If I want to get serious I would probably say that I was also inspired by JRR Toilken, JK Rowling, Charles Dickens, Louisa May Alcott, and Mark Twain more as a child. Of course Jodi Picoult is a big inspiration as well; I'd say that anyone who I have read more than one book or one really inspiring book of helped me with my writing.

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