Was It Me Or Not Me That

Was It Me, Or Not Me, That Is The Question Essay, Research Paper

Shakespeare was a man of many accomplishments. Many were in his writings; others were in his great director and playwright skills. The play Hamlet is one of the most re-created and re-written books to date. Hamlet is still being performed in theaters around the world. Even though many people perceive Shakespeare as a literary genius, we can not give him sole credit for his plays and sonnets.

With a few exceptions, Shakespeare did not invent the plots of his plays. Sometimes he used old stories (Hamlet, Pericles). Sometimes he worked from the stories of comparatively recent Italian writers, such as Boccaccio – using both well-known stories (Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing) and little known ones (Othello). Shakespeare has been proven, by many authors, to have borrowed from the Arts, the Histories and the Sciences. (Britannica Online, http://www.eb.com:180/cgi-bin/g?DocF=macro/5005/75/12.html)

"The first collection of information about sources of Elizabethan plays was published in the 17th century. Gerard Langbaines account of the English Dramatic Poets (1691) briefly indicated where Shakespeare found materials for some plays."(Britannica Online)

It has been shown in this book that Shakespeare quoted his contemporary Christopher Marlowe in As You Like It. He casually refers to the Aethiopica ("Ethiopian history") of Heliodorus (which has been translated by Thomas Undertown in 1569) in Twelfth Night. Chapman’s vigorous translation of Homer’s Iliad impressed him, though he used some of the material rather sardonically in Troilus and Cressida. He derived the ironical account of an ideal republic in The Tempest from one of Montaigne’s essays. He obviously read Samuel Harsnett’s Declaration of Egregious Popish Imposters and remembered lively passages from it when he was writing King Lear. The beginning lines of sonnet 106 indicates that he had read Edmund Spencer’s poem The Faerie Queene or comparable romantic literature.

"The source of Hamlet was an earlier play, now lost, known as The Source of Hamlet or, more fashionably Ur-Hamlet." ( Satin, 385) The favorite choice for authorship of Ur-Halmet is Thomas Kyd, author of the "Spanish Tragedy". (Britannica Online) "The Spanish Tragedy" is one of the most popular Elizabethan plays, which kept its place on the stage in spite of parody, resembles Hamlet so closely that it would appear that the source play was written by Kyd or a close imitator of his. Both plays begin with a ghost demanding vengeance; both are concerned with madness, real or assumed, of the avenger; both heroes blame themselves for their procrastination.(Muir, 112) We know very little about Ur-Hamlet, except that the Hamlet was supposed to have said, "there are things called whips in store." This looks suspiciously like a misquotation of a passage from one of the late additions to the Spanish Tragedy:

And there is Nemesis and Furies,

And things called whips,

And they do sometimes meet with Murderers.(Muir, 118)

The story given by Saxo Grammaticus and in Belaprest’s Histories Tragiques is substantially he same. The father of Amleth(hamlet with H in the back), a governor of Jutland, to whom the king of Denmark had given his daughter Gerutha(similar to gertrude)in marriage, won fame by slaying the king of Norway in single combat. His brother Feng, murdered him, seized his office and married his wife, hence "adding incest to unnatural mother". We may even be sure that the author of the Ur-Hamlet, imitating the Spanish Tragedy, invented the Mouse Trap, the Ghost and Ophelia’s death.

Many of Shakespeare’s plays also depended a lot on astronomy. The first scene in Shakespeare’s Hamlet reminds us that in Shakespeare’s plays it was usual for dramatic events to be paralleled by heavenly bodies. At eight years of age Shakespeare was greatly influenced by the sudden appearance of the "star" and by his contemporary, Tycho Brahe, the famous astronomer. Tycho Brahe was 26 at the time. "The star that shown ‘westward from the pole’ and other astronomical evidence were extremely important in leading us toward deciphering time periods in the play." (Olsen, 69) One striking example in Hamlet’s act 1, scene 5, shows Shakespeare describing a disturbed state of mind with imagery borrowed directly from astronomy.

Ghost: I could a tale unfold whose lightest word would harrow up thy sole, freeze thy young blood, Make thy two eyes like stars start from their spheres.

The idea of a star leaping out of its sphere is markedly odd. John Dee tried to explain why the supernova suddenly appeared, for example, by proposing that the star had left its accustomed sphere and dropped directly toward earth.(Olson, 71-72) Another piece of evidence, as noted by Owen Gingerich, is that the family names ‘Rosencrans’ and ‘Guildenstern’ appear in the famous portrait showing Tycho surrounded by the coat-of-arms of him ancestors. Gingerich concluded that "the coincidence with the names Rosencrans and Guildenstern" is "so striking that we may be reasonably sure that Tycho’s portrait was one of the sources for Hamlet’s cast of characters.(Olson, 72) Moreover, if Shakespeare had looked up Denmark in the most famous pictorial atlas of the period, he would have seen Tycho’s castle observatory immediately adjacent to the castle at Elsinore that he eventually chose for his Danish setting.

Even though more than half the human population considers Shakespeare as one of the greatest playwrights of our time, we can not give him sole credit for any of his literary accomplishments. Shakespeare has borrowed heavily from his precursors causing a bit of originality, but, we have to give him credit for being able to compile the bits and pieces that he has taken and turn them into the most historical pieces of literature human kind had ever seen. Shakespeare has gotten many of his ideas from previous writers of his time, but who hasn’t? Ideas have to come from somewhere. Shakespeare was able to take these ideas and turn them into great plays and sonnets. A recreation of old artwork such as this is simply genius. He alone has added more than 200 words to the modern day English language. Even though we sit here and contradict Shakespeare and his writing, we easily forget that there lies a huge difference between Shakespeare the Man and Shakespeare the legend. There are two parts to every person. A part that wants to survive and live a descent life and does so by striving and pushing themselves to a biological and psychological limit, and the other part that we see everyday minus the pain and suffering that they have gone through to be where they are today. When we look at Shakespeare the legend it is hard for us to separate him from the man he was. We see him as a literary genius and not as a man who did as every other single writer in his time period did. Great poets and writers before him have borrowed their way to success. What makes Shakespeare any different? I think the main thing we have to remember when defining Shakespeare both as a Man and as a Playwright is that the two entities can not be separated, for he who is man has to abide by man’s rules in order to survive.

Works Cited

1- Satin, Joseph , "Shakespeare and his Sources". Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston 1966, 381-396

2- "William Shakespeare : The Poet and the Dramatist. Shakespeare’s Reading" Britannica Online. http://www.eb.com:180/cgi-bin/g?DocF=macro/5005/75/12.html

3- Muir, Kenneth, "Shakespeare’s Sources". Methuen & Co. LTD, 1957 v.1 110-121

4- Olson, Donald W. et. Al., "The Stars of Hamlet", Sky and Telescope, Cambridge: Nov 1998, 96:5 68-73

5- "Shakespeare Critisism", C 1991 Gale Research inc., V.13 296-303

6- Robertson, John M. , Montaigne and Shakespeare , London Press. 1909, 254-256



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