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Who was on Shakespeare’s bookshelf? [infographic]

George Bernard Shaw once remarked on William Shakespeare’s “gift of telling a story (provided some one else told it to him first).” Shakespeare knew the works of many great writers, such as Raphael Holinshed, Ludovico Ariosto, and Geoffrey Chaucer. How did these men, and many others, influence Shakespeare and his work? The process of printing a book in the 16th century was demanding and expensive, and a printing house’s products were only available to a fraction of the English population. We explore the English Renaissance reading environment in the infographic below.

Download the infographic as a PDF or JPG.

Featured Image: “First Folio VA” by Andreas Praefcke. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Recent Comments

  1. Ted Bacino

    Books on Shakespeare’s shelf? Oh, please! He had none. Books were a person’s most prized (and expensive) possessions then. When Shakespeare died, he included in his will everything he owned, including clothes and kitchen utensils. He willed no books because he owned none. Read my novel “The Shakespeare Conspiracy,” and you’ll see why. The last third of the books explains. http://www.TheShakespeareConspiracy.com

  2. Richard M. Waugaman, M.D.

    All very a propos to the vexed and controversial matter of just who wrote the works of Shake-speare. Yes, that estimate of a 10% male literacy rate in 1500 casts some doubt on the circular assumption that the Stratford businessman Shakspere knew how to read and write. After all, people just assume he did, because of the traditional but questionable assumption that Shake-speare could not possibly have been a pen name.

    In terms of literary sources, the assumption that Shake-speare stole all his plots is strengthened by the belief that he could not have written the earlier source plays, such as the notorious “Ur-Hamlet.” But since the likely author was 14 years older than Shakspere of Stratford, these earlier anonymous source plays were probably his earlier versions.

    The Geneva translation of the Bible; Plutarch’s Lives; and the “Golding” translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses are among the top literary sources for Shake-speare. We have the Geneva Bible that belonged to Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford (1550-1604). Its underlinings offer a nearly precise match between the number of times Shake-speare echoes a given verse, and the likelihood that de Vere marked that same verse. We have a record of his purchase of Plutarch when he was 20. And he was living in the same home with his uncle Golding and may have collaborated with Golding on the translation of Ovid that Ezra Pound called the most beautiful poem in English.

  3. Shelly Maycock

    This issue of literacy level is one of the weakest aspects of the case for William of Stratford, because it rests on the unproved assumptions that Shakspere had sufficient education and access to books he has never been proven to even owned or be in a place to use. There is the problem that there is no undisputed evidence of him every writing anything. Sure he is somehow associated with the theatre in some vague ways. He was on the scene, but that does not make him the author. Browsing the bookstalls was not an option, as books were sold uncut. There is no proof that Shaks had access to any library.

    A more documented author, like Ben Jonson, had a library of 300+ books and we have those books, as well as many of those of other authors of the period. Where are all of Shakspere’s? Certainly not mentioned in his will. There are no records of purchases. On the other hand, we do have a documented courtly, classical, law-infused education and documented ownership of books closely associated with and owned by the leading alternate candidate, the Earl of Oxford. Also he was in a position to dedicate his works to other peers, when it would have been an affront to Southampton to be addressed in that manner by a commoner. Making it seem like Shakespeare did not remake his sources and have a developmental creative process is just part of the campaign to dumb down the Bard, to make an implausible myth seem more likely. Note that the quote about Latin and Greek starts with an “And.” They do not want readers to consider the first part of the sentence. This line of thinking is an insult to the minds of people who can tell that the works exhibit an extensive cultural immersion and a mastery of the classics.

  4. Shelly Maycock

    This issue of literacy level is one of the weakest aspects of the case for William of Stratford, because it rests on the unproved assumptions that Shakspere had sufficient education and access to books he has never been proven to even owned or be in a place to use. There is the problem that there is no undisputed evidence of him every writing anything. Sure he is somehow associated with the theatre in some vague ways. He was on the scene, but that does not make him the author. Browsing the bookstalls was not an option, as books were sold uncut. There is no proof that Shaks had access to any library.

    A more documented author, like Ben Jonson, had a library of 300+ books and we have those books, as well as many of those of other authors of the period. Where are all of Shakspere’s? Certainly not mentioned in his will. There are no records of purchases. On the other hand, we do have a documented courtly, classical, law-infused education and documented ownership of books closely associated with and owned by the leading alternate candidate, the Earl of Oxford. Also he was in a position to dedicate his works to other peers, when it would have been an affront to Southampton to be addressed in that manner by a commoner. Making it seem like Shakespeare did not remake his sources and have a developmental creative process is just part of the campaign to dumb down the Bard, to make an implausible myth seem more likely. Note that the quote about Latin and Greek starts with an “And.” They do not want readers to consider the first part of the sentence. This line of thinking is an insult to the minds of people who can tell that the works exhibit an extensive cultural immersion and a mastery of the classics

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