The Genius of Shakespeare’s “Plagiarisms”. Case Studies: Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth

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This paper aims at exploring the cultural ambiguity which William Shakespeare remarkably extracts from the sources of his major plays, turning it, eventually, into an essential instrument of the tragic and the tragedy. What in normal/modern circumstances would easily count as “plagiarism”, becomes here, paradoxically, a token of artistic genius and brilliant creation. Our examples will be from the four outstanding tragedies—Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth. The sources selected by our research will be Saxo Grammaticus’s Histoires tragiques, Cinthio’s Un Capitano Moro, the Celtic legend Leir of Britain and, obviously, Holinshed’s Chronicles. We shall try to demonstrate that the so-called cultural ambiguity adopts various forms in Shakespeare’s plays, going from the clash of civilisations (Hamlet and Othello) to the crisis of identity (Lear and Macbeth).

Belleforest, François de. Histoires Tragiques. Paris: Laurens Chancelier, 1564. Print

Cinthio (Giovanni Battista Giraldi). Gli Hecatomithi. Mondovi: Roma, 1565. Print.

Grammaticus, Saxo. Gesta Danorum. Books I-IX. Transl. by Oliver Elton. London: Marble Books, 1905. Print.

Holinshed, Raphael. The Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland. London: Marble Books, 1922. Print.

Monmouth, Geoffrey of. Historia Regum Britanniae/History of the Kings of Britain. Bilingual Edition. London: Marble Books, 1938. Print.

Shakespeare, William. The Complete Works. Volume 2. Ed. Avid Bevington. London: Scott, Foresman & Company, 1980. Print.

Eliot, T. S. “Hamlet and his Problems”. Critical Theory Since Plato. Ed Hazard Adams. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers, 1992. Print.

French, Marilyn. “The Late Tragedies”. Shakespearean Tragedy. Ed. John Drakakis. London & New York: Longman, 1992. Print.

Schopenhauer, Arthur. The World as Will and Representation. Transl. by E.F.J. Payne. New York: Dover Publications, 1969. Print.


The Journal of Linguaculture Centre for (Inter)cultural and (Inter)lingual Research, Alexandru Ioan Cuza University of Iasi

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