Conclusion The principal aim of this dissertation was to trace and discuss the influence of Euripides on Shakespeare’s plays, since, in spite of the fact that this has been largely neglected by literary theorists, its impact is of great importance, and significantly contributes to the nature of Shakespeare’s plays.
The first chapter presented the historical and cultural background of Elizabethan England in connection to the classics, and it also commented on Shakespeare’s own classical education. Thus, one may see that thanks to the movement of humanism and the culture of the Renaissance age, the works of ancient authors were rediscovered and reintroduced as a part of standard education in Tudor England. Writers would imitate the works of ancient authors, and try to reach their level; this seems to apply to Shakespeare as well. Even though, unlike many of his contemporaries, he did not receive university education, Shakespeare would use his knowledge of Latin and ancient culture when writing his plays.
The first aim of the second chapter was to inspect the ways in which Shakespeare used this knowledge, how he might have approached ancient texts, and what the basis of his relationship to Euripides was. One may presume that Shakespeare’s knowledge of Latin was good enough to enable him to read not only simple texts or poetry, but perhaps even Latin translations of Greek texts, although this seems relatively unlikely and cannot be proved. However, it seems to be quite certain that Shakespeare encountered some texts of ancient Greek plays, and most likely those written by Euripides, who was the most popular of the three Greek tragedians in the Renaissance age. However, it seems likely that Euripides served only as a secondary source to Shakespeare. He would approach him through Latin writings of Roman authors (Seneca, Plutarch, and Ovid) which contained Euripidean features, since the authors themselves drew inspiration for their works from Euripides’ texts.
The second part of the second chapter focused on Titus Andronicus, one of Shakespeare’s early plays. As indicated by secondary sources, the primary inspiration for the play’s plot seems to be the Ovidian tale of Philomel, while formally it resembles Senecan tragedy. However, as early as in this play one may encounter Euripidean influence – above all the resemblance to the story of Hecuba, queen of Troy, and the characteristics she shares with Titus. Therefore, Titus Andronicus seems to be Shakespeare’s first attempt to introduce Euripidean characters into his plays.
The third chapter discussed three plays from Shakespeare’s middle period – Julius Caesar, Hamlet, and Troilus and Cressida; it focused on the plots and characters of the dramas, and analysed the Euripidean features found in them. Therefore, one might see that not only that the plays belong to the same era, but they also share similarities concerning the characters in the dramas: they possess a number of features which are typical of the figures in Euripides’ plays, e.g. the diminished heroism of a title character, or the inevitable failure of a well-meaning personage.
The first play in focus is Julius Caesar. In spite of the fact that the story of the drama comes from Plutarch’s Lives, the play seems to be very Euripidean in its other aspects. The title character dies soon after the beginning of the play, but his personality underlines and influences the whole story and the actions of other characters. One may discover that Brutus, the actual main character of the play, possesses Euripidean qualities of a virtuous man who is forced to actions for which he was not intended; that is the murder of Caesar and the leading role in the Conspiracy.
The second play discussed in the third chapter is Hamlet. Hamlet is another personage that represents a Euripidean character. As one may presume, the figure of Hamlet was based on that of Aeschylus’ and Euripides’ Orestes – they both seek revenge and rely on their companion’s advice. However, unlike Orestes, Hamlet considers his steps carefully, since the murder he is to commit is not – as in Orestes’ case - inevitable fate but a very personal issue.
One may thus see the similarities between Hamlet and Brutus, as well as their Euripidean characteristics. They both feel the need to murder a head of state in order to preserve justice. However, neither of them is in his nature a murderer, and it is thus difficult for them to accept their duty. Finally, both Brutus and Hamlet die after they have performed the task, and a new order is installed in the country.
The last of Shakespeare’s middle plays discussed is Troilus and Cressida. Even though the play is set in ancient Troy, it is supposed to be one of Shakespeare’s most modern and realistic plays; it is again the influence of Euripides that makes it such. Although the characters found in the play are for the most part of mythical descent, they are all very anti-heroic, imperfect, and of human, Euripidean nature. Furthermore, the figures of Troilus and Cressida themselves seem to possess Euripidean features as well: they are young and idealistic but they both come to lose either their idealism, or their lives. Moreover, thanks to Shakespeare’s objective depiction of her personality, Cressida can be easily placed next to Euripides’ female characters. This objectivity seems to be common to Shakespeare and Euripides, and can be found throughout their dramas.
The last, fourth, chapter, focused on The Winter’s Tale, a play from Shakespeare’s late era. As opposed to the rest of Shakespeare’s late plays, The Winter’s Tale seems to bear a great amount of Euripidean characteristics. Moreover, these are not just individual features scattered throughout the play, but a major part of the storyline, and the play’s genre. The story appears to be a result of a synthesis of three different plotlines, one of them being Euripides’ Alcestis. The similarities between Alcestis and Shakespeare’s Hermione are striking: they both die due to their husbands’ selfishness, they are both revived and brought back onstage covered with a veil, and neither of them speaks. Equally important is the play’s genre transition from tragedy to comedy – thus resembling the Euripidean genre of romance. The Winter’s Tale seems to represent the peak of Shakespeare’s career, since in it he managed to come the closest to the ideal of Renaissance playwrights, Greek tragicomedy.
In conclusion, one may claim that all of the plays discussed carry a number of Euripidean features: they share plot similarities with Euripides’ own plays and bear general resemblance to Greek tragedy. Moreover, the characters of these plays are depicted in a realistic way and they possess Euripidean qualities such as humanity and idealism. These features contribute significantly to the nature of the dramas, as well as to that of the figures in the plays. Therefore, since it is possible to observe that this claim is supported by both primary and secondary sources, one may classify Euripides as one of Shakespeare’s important sources of inspiration.