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William Shakespeare

Why did shakespeare copy other works?


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January 06, 2011 9:08PM

Coming up with original ideas for plot of plays was not Shakespeare's strong suit. He generally used a story idea he had read about and dramatised it. Sometimes he used passages from his sources with very little change (e.g. the description of Cleapatra's barge in Antony and Cleopatra; the explanation of Henry V's claim to the throne of France in Henry V) but what changes he did make were invariably improvements. The description of Cleopatra's barge in the original is clunky and dull; when Shakespeare was done with it, it sparkled.

Why did he do this? Presumably he felt that it was pointless to reinvent the wheel; why invent a second-rate plot when you can use a great one that already exists? Shakespeare was an expert in creating great dialogue and great characters out of these stale stories. Thank heaven he did copy them! Our ideas about copyright and originality would have prevented the greatest literature in the world from being written.