Week One: The Tragedies

This first week discusses seven passages from Shakespeare’s darkest plays that derive from North’s earlier writings.

7. Coriolanus’s Belly-Fable Conflates 3 Fables, All Written by North

In an earlier example, we noted that the playwright of Julius Caesar was able to recall passages from North’s Dial while copying passages from North’s Plutarch. In this example, he intertwines stories from three of North’s translations. As is well known, in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, Menenius’s fable, in which “all the body’s members / Rebelled againstContinue reading “7. Coriolanus’s Belly-Fable Conflates 3 Fables, All Written by North”

5. North’s “Dial” and Caesar’s Speech on Death and Cowards

As is well known, Caesar’s speech that “Cowards die many times before their deaths” was hinted at in North’s Plutarch’s Lives. But previously, it was believed that Shakespeare took that hint and then refashioned it himself with many new details. Yet, as we see both above and below, the specific words and notions of theContinue reading “5. North’s “Dial” and Caesar’s Speech on Death and Cowards”

4. Romeo’s Sorrow

In North’s own copy of his translation of the 1582 edition of The Dial of Princes, the translator adds a marginal note highlighting the “description of sorrow (Fol. 296 in 1582 edition; 475 in 1619 ed.) The passage describes how people act when they are depressed: they crave solitude, hate the day, love the night,Continue reading “4. Romeo’s Sorrow”

3. The Miseries of Hecuba and Hamlet’s Play to Catch The Conscience of a King

After Hamlet watches an actor perform a tragic description of Hecuba’s agonies caused by the “tyrant Pyrrhus,” he expresses astonishment at the actor’s abilities to fake such deep sorrow: “For Hecuba! / What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba, / That he should weep for her?” (2.2.558-60). In this same speech, the Prince thenContinue reading “3. The Miseries of Hecuba and Hamlet’s Play to Catch The Conscience of a King”

2. Lear’s Poor Naked Wretches Who Must Borrow Clothing From Beasts

In one chapter in The Dial that deals with poverty, North writes that “the author … compareth the misery of men with the liberty of beasts.” The point was that, in contrast to human beings, animals possess a number of natural gifts that help them survive: “to birds she [Nature] hath given wings … toContinue reading “2. Lear’s Poor Naked Wretches Who Must Borrow Clothing From Beasts”

1. Iago’s Speech on He Who Robs Me of My Good Name

Thomas North would publish his first translation, The Dial of Princes, in 1557, seven years before Shakespeare was born. And we do not even complete its first page before we come across something that sounds suspiciously Shakespearean — specifically, a passage that reads much like Iago’s speech on the thief of reputation in Othello. North’sContinue reading “1. Iago’s Speech on He Who Robs Me of My Good Name”

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