Week Five: North’s Stories in the Canon

As we have seen in prior weeks (including with the borrowings from North in the tragedies, in the English Histories, and those related to North’s journal), characters will frequently recite the humanist wisdom and political metaphors found in North’s earlier writings. For example, when Iago observes that the thief of temporal riches does less harm than he who robs me of my good name, he is quoting a passage from North’s Dial. Likewise, when the gardener and servant discuss how commonwealths are like gardens and unruly children are like fruit trees, they were conflating two passages from two different works of North, The Dial and Plutarch’s Lives.

But as will be shown this week in the posts below, many of the characters in the canon also appear to have been familiar with the stories and fables of North’s earlier writings too:

35. Joan Pucelle’s and Henry VI’s Ironic Allusions to North’s Disastrous Stories about Caesar

As we have seen, many characters in the Shakespeare canon like to cite various stories from North’s translations–often using them to highlight parallels to their own situation. This especially occurs in the early English histories, with various characters referencing North’s chapters on Julius Caesar in North’s Plutarch’s Lives. This includes Joan Purcelle and Henry VI,Continue reading “35. Joan Pucelle’s and Henry VI’s Ironic Allusions to North’s Disastrous Stories about Caesar”

34. Hamlet as Brutus, Polonius as Caesar, & a Burial in Hugger-Mugger

The full title of Thomas North’s Plutarch’s Lives begins: “The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans Compared Together…” And sometimes this is abbreviated to Plutarch’s Parallel Lives, referring to the correspondences that Plutarch drew between Greek and Roman rulers. North then used this same framework for his histories and tragedies, drawing parallels between theContinue reading “34. Hamlet as Brutus, Polonius as Caesar, & a Burial in Hugger-Mugger”

33. Lysimachus, Antiochus, Tyre, Tarsus, Miletum, and the Wise Man Who Wished To Know None of the King’s Secrets

When Thaliard enters in act 1, scene 3 of Pericles, he mentions a story about a wise philosopher who wanted just one thing from a King. As shown, the story comes from “The “The Life of Demetrius” in North’s Plutarch’s Lives. North’s Plutarch Shakespeare’s Pericles and Twelfth Night but he was much more to beContinue reading “33. Lysimachus, Antiochus, Tyre, Tarsus, Miletum, and the Wise Man Who Wished To Know None of the King’s Secrets”

32. Edgar as the Impoverished, Unperfumed Learned-Theban, Who Stands in Esperance and Knows the Cause of Thunder.

Numerous scholars have discussed King Lear’s unswerving focus on the virtues of poverty and charity. Throughout the tragedy, many of the characters are forced into destitution and misery–especially Edgar (Poor Tom) and King Lear – only to end up embracing the impoverished and natural state of the human race. This theme of poverty and charityContinue reading “32. Edgar as the Impoverished, Unperfumed Learned-Theban, Who Stands in Esperance and Knows the Cause of Thunder.”

31. Theseus’s Ravishings, Marriages, and the Mysterious God Who Secretly Helped Him in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

Plutarch’s Lives begins with a chapter on “The Life of Theseus,” the fabled King of Athens, describing the various legends associated with him, including his vicious habit of raping and then wedding women. Theseus also famously escaped the minotaur’s labyrinth when the Princess of Crete, Ariadne, had fallen in love with him watching him wrestleContinue reading “31. Theseus’s Ravishings, Marriages, and the Mysterious God Who Secretly Helped Him in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream””

30. Morocco’s Story of Hercules Playing Dice for a Woman in “The Merchant of Venice”

In The Merchant of Venice, Morocco paraphrases a story from Plutarch’s Lives about Hercules playing dice to win a woman. The prose passage appears in “The Life of Romulus,” not in one of the chapters used for the Roman plays. Scholars for a long time were confused about the origin of Morocco’s story, till E.Continue reading “30. Morocco’s Story of Hercules Playing Dice for a Woman in “The Merchant of Venice””

29. The Fable of the Eagle and the Beetle; And the Art of the Court in Cymbeline

In 3.3. of Cymbeline, Belarius has been unjustly banished by the King, and, in an act of revenge, kidnapped the King’s two sons and raised them as his own in the safety of a remote mountain cave. The playwright has clearly designed the scene on a fable in The Moral Philosophy of Doni of theContinue reading “29. The Fable of the Eagle and the Beetle; And the Art of the Court in Cymbeline”

Leave a Reply