Introduction It has been generally acknowledged that William Shakespeare owes much to his ancient Greek and Roman predecessors; this is not only the obvious case of plays which treat ancient topics directly but also of a number of his tragedies and comedies that seemingly have no connection to works of ancient authors.
The roles of Plautus, Seneca, Ovid and Plutarch as the sources of inspiration for Shakespeare’s own work have been discussed and confirmed in a number of influential publications; there has, however, been comparatively little attention paid to Euripides, the youngest of the three great Greek tragedians, the other two being Aeschylus and Sophocles.
It is thus the major aim of this thesis to trace and inspect the impact of Euripides on Shakespeare’s plays. The reason for choosing Euripides as the focus of the work is not only the fact that he has been relatively neglected. More importantly, his influence, as remote and indirect it might be, is not negligible (as a matter of fact, it is more than clearly visible in some of Shakespeare’s texts), and it shall prove interesting to see in what ways they were influenced, and via whom or what Euripidean features got to Shakespeare.
Although the dissertation will include a number of references and examples from the primary sources, i. e. Euripides’ and Shakespeare’s dramas, its main focus will remain with the secondary sources as the basis for support and evidence of Euripides’ impact on Shakespeare.
In its first part, i.e. the first chapter of this dissertation, the thesis will give an overview of the cultural background of Elizabethan England in connection to the classics, and it will also comment on Shakespeare’s own classical education. The chapter will inspect the ways in which the legacy of the ancients influenced and enriched the education and literature of the Tudor period, and what the general feeling towards ancient learning was, and how it was connected to the self-perception of the English people. A part of the chapter will also be devoted to the role of humanism in rediscovering antiquity, how Renaissance authors, historians in particular, reacted to it, and how great was the importance of imitation. It will also discuss the use of ancient topics as commentaries on contemporary socio-political events. Finally, it will comment on Shakespeare’s knowledge of the classical world, his knowledge of Latin and his relationship to ancient literature.
The second, main part of this dissertation, consisting of the second, third and fourth chapter, will discuss those of Shakespeare’s works that were influenced by the writings of Euripides, dividing them chronologically and taking into account each play separately, with a particular focus on tracing the similarities and comparing the corresponding texts.
The second chapter will, first of all, focus on the relationship between Euripides’ and Shakespeare’s plays, and it will trace the general influence of the former. It will comment on Shakespeare’s knowledge of Latin as the language needed for understanding the translations from Greek, and how Shakespeare may have encountered such texts. The chapter will then discuss the possible ways in which Shakespeare was influenced by Greek tragedy. A commentary on those Roman authors who used Euripides as their model, and on the ways Shakespeare used them to get to Euripides will follow. The other part of the chapter will focus on the Euripidean features found in Titus Andronicus, one of Shakespeare’s early plays. It will comment on the story, and sources Shakespeare used, as well as on the ethical codes applied in the play. Finally, and most importantly, it will discuss and analyse the similarities between this play and its Euripidean counterpart.
The third chapter will discuss three pieces from Shakespeare’s middle era: Julius Caesar, Hamlet, andTroilus and Cressida. In its first part, it will focus on the tragedy of Julius Caesar. Its aim is to analyse the story and sources that Shakespeare used for writing the play. It will comment on the images and language employed in it, as well as on its characters, philosophy and historicity, and it will analyse the Euripidean features found in the play. The second part of the chapter will be devoted to the play of Hamlet.It will discuss the story, atmosphere and imagery used in the play, and it will analyse its sources, as well as the play’s closeness to Greek tragedy. It will comment on the ways in which the character of Hamlet is related to his counterpart in Greek tragedy. Finally, the third part of the third chapter will discuss the play Troilus and Cressida, focusing first on the plays story and imagery. It will then analyse the Euripidean features found in the play, as well as the play’s realism and modernity.
The fourth chapter will be devoted to The Winter’s Tale, written in the late period. First of all, it will discuss its story, sources and images used in the play, and it will then focus on analysing the features shared with its Euripidean model.
The texts of Shakespeare’s plays mentioned above will appear as the primary sources, together with the corresponding English versions of Euripides’ works. Among the main secondary sources one will find above all two influential publications by Charles Martindale, professor of Latin at the University of Bristol, Shakespeare and the Classics and Shakespeare and the Uses of Antiquity : An Introductory Essay, since they serve as a basis for both the background information and the specific topics discussed in the thesis, supplying a number of important, detailed information concerning each of the plays discussed.
One also has to acknowledge The Cambridge Companion to Shakespearean Tragedy, edited by Claire Elizabeth McEachern, and The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare's History Plays, edited by Michael Hattaway, as two important sources. These two collection of essays serve as priceless sources of both general information and concrete topics related to the classicism of Shakespeare’s plays. As other valuable secondary sources one may point out Harold C. Goddard’s Meaning of Shakespeare, supplying useful background information about the plays, J.A. Bryant’s article ""Julius Caesar" from a Euripidean Perspective" which is very helpful in the case of analysing the play of Julius Caesar, Louise Schleiner’s "Latinized Greek Drama in Shakespeare’s Writing of Hamlet", and Margaret Arnold’s article on Euripidean features in Troilus and Cressida, ""Monsters in Love's Train": Euripides and Shakespeare's "Troilus and Cressida"".