Jonathan Bates explores the Classics that may have affected Shakespeare and his writings. Bates traces the influence of Horace, Juvenal, Cicero, Virgil, and Seneca on several of Shakespeare’s plays. But Bates stresses that the author that many have had the greatest influence on Shakespeare’s writings is Ovid. With dozens of examples, Bates builds a case that Ovid and his sensibility permeate Shakespeare’s plays.

Through careful quotes and citations, Bates shows the effects of Shakespeare’s reading on his writing. If you’re a fan of Shakespeare, you’ll learn a lot about the sources of the Bard’s plots, wit, and humor. Bates also deals with the women characters in Shakespeare and the Puritan influence: “And the relationship between church and the theatre became increasingly strained as ‘Puritan’ polemicists voiced their disapproval of players, especially when adult male actors stared kissing boys dressed as girls.” (p.3)

I particularly enjoyed the analysis of Plutarch and Montaigne as Bates traces their effect on various plays and sonnets. I found How the Classics Made Shakespeare informative and entertaining. What’s your favorite Shakespeare play? GRADE: A
Table of Contents
Preface and Acknowledgments ix
Illustrations xiii
1 The Intelligence of Antiquity 1
2 O’er-Picturing Venus 21
3 Resemblance by Example 36
4 Republica Anglorum 48
5 Tragical-Comical-Historical-Pastoral 64
6 S.P.Q.L. 90
7 But What of Cicero? 106
8 Pyrrhus’s Pause 126
9 The Good Life 146
10 The Defence of Phantasms 160
11 An Infirmity Named Hereos 185
12 The Labours of Hercules 210
13 Walking Shadows 232
14 In the House of Fame 252
Appendix: The Elizabethan Virgil 277
Notes 285
Index 349

12 thoughts on “HOW THE CLASSICS MADE SHAKESPEARE By Jonathan Bate

  1. Prashant C. Trikannad

    George, I can’t imagine the research that went into this book. Jonathan Bate would’ve read nearly all of the Classics writers, the bard’s contemporaries and those who came before him. Interesting premise for the book. I haven’t read Shakespeare since school (most of it abridged) and plan to pick up my grandfather’s 1950s hardback edition of all his works sometime post-retirement, unless I’m inspired to read the plays earlier.

    1. george Post author

      Prashant, you’re right about the volume of research Bate invested in HOW THE CLASSICS MADE SHAKESPEARE. I appreciate Shakespeare’s education more now.

  2. Deb

    MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING—Beatrice and Benedick ftw.

    Of the tragedies, I like MACBETH best. The fatalism that runs all the way through it.

  3. Jeff Meyerson

    I have to agree with Deb. Love MUCH ADO and have seen many versions over the years, since the Joe Papp production in Central Park (and again on Broadway) in 1972, with Sam Waterston and Kathleen WIddoes as Benedick and Beatrice and Barnard Hughes as Dogberry.


    1. george Post author

      Jeff, I’m sure we’ll hear from Dan about HAMLET. I’m also a fan of ROMEO AND JULIET, even the Clare Danes/Leonardo DiCaprio version.

  4. wolf

    Since my first foreign languages were French and Latin – both of which I almost totally forgot, my English knowledge and knowledge of English literature were very limited during school time. So I didn’t read any Shakespeare, especially not in the original – unlike most of my friends who learned English instead of Latin.
    At that time the language courses were horrible in Germany, just grammar and a few irrelevant authors to learn by heart. Also most of our teachers were old, had been in WW2 and didn’t know too much …
    Luckily for me I got interested in Rock&Roll and Science Fiction too so I had to learn English on my own.
    The first memory of Shakespeare is the MacBeth movie by Polanski which impressed us deeply. I’ve seen some others but don’t remember them.

    1. george Post author

      Jerry, I agree with you on KING LEAR. I’ve seen it six times and walked out of the performances devastated each time. That’s a play that really takes a toll on me with its greatness and tragedy.

    1. george Post author

      Rick, I was impressed with Bate’s HOW THE CLASSICS MADE SHAKESPEARE because it was aimed at an educated audience–not just literary specialists–and the book was well written. I appreciated the wealth of information between those covers.


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