Sorces of shakespeare's plays
back Othello Henry IV, Part I The Merchant of Venice

Shakespeare's sources

- By Vishal Agrawal

Othello was inspired from many sources, primary of them being Hecatommithi. Here is a summary of sources shakespeare has possibly taken inspiration from:

Name of The Source

Author Of The Source


Giovanni Battista Giraldi(Cinthio)

Histoires Tragiques


Naturalis Historia

Pliny the Elder

A Geographical History of Africa

Leo Africanus


Hecatommithi is a short story by Giraldi Cinthio's Hecatommithi of 1565/6 by the name of 'the seventh novella in the third decade'. Hecatommithi is accepted to be Shakespeare's main hotspot for Othello. In the Arden release of Othello, E.A.J. Honigmann makes an immediate correlation between Cinthio's work and Shakespeare's play by setting both writings next to each other to demonstrate the likeness between the two. In the New Cambridge Shakespeare Othello Norman Sanders demonstrates how Cinthio was a hotspot for various early present day plays, including Robert Greene's James the Fourth.

HHonigmann and Sanders support their statement about Shakespeare's source content with proof of particular subtle elements which indicate Shakespeare's commonality with Hecatommithi. For example, Othello incorporates unusual words and expressions which are utilized as a part of Cinthio's content and not in the French interpretation by G. Chappuys. Case of these include: "acerb" 'olestation', and 'ocular proof'. There is similarly confirmation to suggest that Shakespeare was also acquainted with the Chappuys' French version of the content, with the use of particular expressions: 'heart pierced', 'take out the work', and "touch" It is conceivable that there was a,now lost, English translation which utilized both the Italian and French as sources. This is especially likely given Lodowick Bryskett, a well-known interpreter, had translated many of Cinthio's works prior and then afterward Othello's composition. Honigmann along these lines argues that ''a translation of Cinthio's story of the Moor of Venice could have reached Shakespeare in manuscript'.

The majority of the characters and plot of Othello were taken from Cinthio. However there are numerous differences. For instance the start of Othello is an elaboration of a single line in Cinthio, specifying that Disdemona's family did not endorse of her match with the Moor. Shakespeare utilizes the primary demonstration to present Brabantio, Desdemona's upset father, and to show us Iago's control of Brabantio and Roderigo, a character who does not show up in Cinthio's. Another essential expansion is Othello's capacity of his utilization of stories about his voyages and deeds in seeking Desdemona. This highlights both Othello's strength and his delicate and melodious side, to which he will at last himself demonstrate vulnerable. Shakespeare's extension of Cinthio's brief prologue to the main characters along these lines sets the scene for the perplexing psychological drama that is to take after.

Shakespeare additionally changed subtle elements of Cinthio's plot. For example, in Cinthio the majority of the action takes place in Cyprus; and the Corporal ('capo di squadra' in Italian), who gets to be Cassio in Othello, recognises Disdemona's cloth and endeavors to return it to her. Also Shakespeare adjusts Cinthio's ending, in which the Ensign (who gets to be Iago in Othello) is the person who, with the Moor's assent, beats Disdemona to death. Shakespeare's characters are more complex than Cinthio's, and frequently at odds with themselves. For instance, while Cinthio's Ensign is inspired basically by baffled lust, Iago is angry and skeptical, asserting to favor increase to energy, but then, as the play goes on, carries on in a way that is both fanatical and uncontrolled.

Other sources

Other conceivable sources for Othello include an account of spouse murder inspired by desire, set amid the Turkish wars, from Belleforest's Histoires Tragiques (1561), showing up in English in Certaine Tragicall Discourses of Bandello, deciphered by Geoffrey Fenton (1567). Sources like these could have furnished Shakespeare with plot components; others he tapped into to improve the foundation and clear detail of Othello. Pliny the Elder's Naturalis Historia, in English called The historie of the world: Commonly called, the Natvrall historie of C. Plinivs Secundvs, translated into English by Philemon Holland, specialist in physicke (London: Islip, 1601), outfitted portrayals of the weird and mysterious spots Othello mentions, where 'cannibals that each other eat,/ The Anthropophagi, and men whose heads/ Do grow beneath their shoulders'.

The sixteenth-century struggle between Christian Europe and the Ottoman Empire gave the foundation to Othello. One conceivable source was Richard Knolles, who in The Generall Historie of the Turkes (1603), related the endeavors of the Venetians to guard the affluent and "charming" island of Cyprus against the "gallies" and "galliots" of the Turkish armada. The Battle of Lepanto, in 1571, between the 'Holy League', of which Venice was a part, and the Ottoman armada, in which the Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes fought for the Christian organization together, was deified in poetry by James VI and I in 1585. The poem was republished in His Maiesties poeticall practices at empty Houres (Edinburgh: Robert Walde-Graue, 1591), annexing a French translation by Du Bartas. James included rousing portrayals of fight : 'Whill time a Turk with arrow doth,/ Shoot through a Christians arme,/ A Christian with a Pike dooth pearce/ The hand that did the harme' (Lepanto, ll. 716-19). This reviews Othello's memory of destroying a 'turbanned Turk' who 'beat a Venetian' amid a fight . Shakespeare's knowledge of the wars would have been advanced by sources like these, and his wide reading lent liveliness and verisimilitude to the setting of his play.

Primary References


Shakespeare's sources

- By Gyanesh

Three sources were particularly important for the creation of Henry IV, Part 1.

Shakespeare used many sources for Henry IV, part 1. Some of them have been discussed below.

Name of The Source

Author Of The Source

The Third Volume of Chronicles (1587)

Raphael Holinshed

The First Fowre Bookes of the Ciuile Warres between the Two Houses of Lancaster and Yorke (1595)

Samuel Daniel

The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth (1598)


The Prince

Niccolo Machiavelli

Shakespeare used Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (2nd edition, 1587) for the events in the play and relied heavily upon it, particularly the revolt by the Percy family in 1402-1403, as well as his principal characters. Daniel's work, as well as Holinshed's, provided the historical core of the play. The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth was probably performed from the late 1580s. Shakespeare apparently drew on its mix of history and comedy, and it may have inspired his tavern scenes between Prince Hal and Falstaff, as well as his development of the Prince's character from a dissolute youth to a responsible soldier. Shakespeare also incorporated Niccolo Machiavelli's work, The Prince. There is some sort of commonality theme-wise which is reflected in Shakespeare's history plays: One who has the wisdom to guide his people in hour of need and accepts the responsibility to give importance to society's welfare before his desires is the true ruler as opposed to one who acquired the throne by succession.

Shakespeare tells us that, after Bolingbroke has seized the crown, he feels it necessary to voyage to the Holy Land to wash the blood off his guilty hands (Richard II,

But Holinshed reports that Henry went on a crusade only during the final year of his reign, and there is no mention of why Henry decides to leave, other than to destroy the infidels. While it is obvious that Henry feels remorse for his actions, it is not likely that this is the sole motivation for his sojourn abroad. His true reason for leaving is better seen in his speech which opens Henry IV, Part I:

So shaken as we are, so wan with care,

Find we a time for frighted peace to pant,

And breathe short-winded accents of new broils

To be commenc'd in stronds afar remote.

No more the thirsty entrance of this soil

Shall daub her lips with her own children's blood . . .

Those opposed eyes/Which like the meteors of a troubled heaven,

. . . Did lately meet in the intestine shock

And furious close of civil butchery,

Shall now in mutual well-beseeming ranks

March all one way . . .(I.i.1-15)

Henry repents for seizing the kingdom by ordering the murder of king Richard, but his method of suffering is by all accounts excessively charged politically for blame, making it impossible to be the primary purpose behind his act.Henry is utilizing the crusade as a path to "to busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels"(Henry IV, Part II, IV.v.213). "The crusade will serve . . . to calm the political passions which he has himself exploited . . ."(Derek Traversi, Shakespeare: From Richard II to Henry V [Stanford: 1957], p.51), and it might serve as the foundation for a strong reign. In this instance, the association to Machiavelli is striking:

Nothing enables a ruler to gain more prestige than undertaking great campaigns . . . In our own times Ferdinand of Aragon, the present King of Spain is a notable example. . . . This man attacked Granada at the beginning of his reign, and this campaign laid the foundations of his state. First of all, he began the campaign . . . when he was not afraid of being opposed: he kept the minds of the barons of Castile occupied with that war . . and, meanwhile, he was acquiring prestige. . . .Moreover, he continued to make use of religion, resorting to a cruel and apparently pious policy of . . . hunting down the Moors . . . he [also] attacked Africa; he invaded Italy; and recently he has attacked France.(Machiavelli, p.77)

As per Machiavellian doctrine,the classical Machiavellian ruler is Henry whose endeavor to wage a crusade is absolute brilliance . The above text may present Henry's abilities but the reality is that no scene in the play represents Henry's political acumen superiorly than when he meets his son , Hal , in Henry IV Part 1. Holinshed provides the foundation for this scene. He mentions that the tales of Hal which Henry heard "brought no small suspicion into the kings head, least his son would presume to usurp the crown . . ."(Holinshed, p.154). Shakespeare, expanding upon this chronicled compromise, incorporates a discourse by Henry who depicts how he raised himself to power:

Opinion, that did help me to the crown,

Had still kept loyal to possession,

And left me in reputeless banishment,

A fellow of no mark nor likelihood.

By being seldom seen, I could not stir

But like a comet I was wondered at;

That men would tell their children 'This is he.'

Others would say, 'Where? Which is Bolingbroke?'

And then I stole all courtesy from heaven,

And dressed myself in such humility

That I did pluck allegiance from men's hearts . . .(III.ii.42-52 ).

The skipping king, he ambled up and down,

With shallow jesters, and rash bavin wits,

Soon kindled, and soon burnt, carded his state,

Mingled his royalty with cap'ring fools . . .

Enfeoff'd himself to popularity [low company] . . .

So when he had occasion to be seen . . .

. . . seen, but with such eyes

As sick and blunted with community,

Afford no extra gaze,

Such as is bent on sun-like majesty,

When it shines seldom in admiring eyes . . .(III.ii.60-78)

The key motivation behind why Henry's political capacities are crucial to administer effectively is given in the above section. Because of his yearning to keep the support of the basic individuals, Henry will perform any activity, and expect any persona. It doesn't make a difference if he is questionable due to his insincerity , its all about passing on the right notion to the general population , as long as he appears "merciful, trustworthy, upright, humane, and devout"(Machiavelli, p.63). He is able to make sense and give importance to the fact that "the common people are impressed by appearances . . . [and that] everywhere the common people are the vast majority and the few are isolated when the majority and the government are at one." (Machiavelli, p.63).His political refinement, i.e. his attention to the need of the general population's backing, will lead him to settle on choices in light of what will advantage the state and the normal men and ladies, dissimilar to Richard, "the skipping ruler", who chooses not to see to the necessities and needs of his subjects, and over and again settles on silly choices taking into account jealousy, avarice, and gullibility.

The differentiation between the qualities of a decent versus an awful ruler, delineated in The Prince, can apply specifically to Richard II and Henry IV as displayed in the tetralogy: "one is considered . . . effeminate and weak, another indomitable and spirited; one affable, another haughty; one lascivious, another moderate; one serious, another frivolous . . . "(Machiavelli, p.55).One thing to note,As Lily B. Campbell points out, in Holinshed's Chronicles, after Henry acquires the throne, he seems to lose his political savvy, and incurs the wrath of many subjects:

But yet to speake a truth, by his proceedings, after he had attained to the crowne, what with such taxes, tallages, subsidies, and exactions as he was constreined to charge the people with . . . [the people] did sundrie times rebell against him, he wan himself more hatred . . . than had been possible for him to haue weeded out and removed . . . "(Holinshed, p.157).

In Henry IV, Part I, however, Shakespeare does not explicitly mentions that Henry has lost his rapport with the common people, or his political sophistication. In the play a handful of his nobles rebel, but it because they are power hungry, not on account of Henry being an insufficient ruler. . Moreover, while the play does not mention any of the political mistakes Henry makes in Holinshed's Chronicles, there are several instances in the play that support the claim that Henry has not lost his abilities as a competent and intelligent leader. In the play, Shakespeare gives more emphasis on Henry's role in crushing the rebellion at the end of Henry IV, Part I than does his sources. In Holinshed, Henry is whisked away by the Earl of March, who "perciuing [Hotspur's] purpose, withdrew the king from that side of the field"(Holinshed, p.146) so that he would be safe. In any case, in the dramatization, Henry IV is at the front, in order, and prepared to battle close by his child Hal. Henry IV has the last word in Henry IV, Part I, guaranteeing us that he himself will see to it that the revolutionaries are enslaved.:

Myself and you, son Harry, will towards Wales,

To fight with Glendower and the Earl of March.

Rebellion in this land shall loose his sway,

Meeting the check of such another day,

And since this business so fair is done,

Let us not leave till all our own be won. (Henry IV, Part I, V.iv.39-44)

Henry's mastery of the Machiavellian rules on successful leadership is what would enable him to be the consummate monarch if it were not for his illegitimacy.

Primary References

  • Mabillard, Amanda. Shakespeare's Sources for 1 Henry IV. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. <>

Shakespeare's sources

- By Zamin Ali

There are many possible sources for Shakespeare's Play The Merchant Of Venice. Some of the major contributors to the sources for this play are as follows

Name of The Source

Author Of The Source

Date of Publication

Il Pecorone

Ser Giovanni Fiorentino



Anthony Munday


The Orator

Le Silvain, translated by Lazarus Pyott,


Gesta Romanorum

R. Robinson


The Jew of Malta

Christopher Marlowe

first performed about 1589 but not published until 1633

II Pecorone: It is a collection of 50 short stories one of which has almost the same plot as Merchant Of Venice. II Pecorone was written only in Italian and no English translated versions were available at that time and so it is possible that Shakespeare read it in Italian or he must have asked it to be translated for him to someone he knew.

The story in II Pecorone can summarized as follows:

Ansaldo the merchant of Venice borrows money to give his 'godson' Giannetto, who says he wants to try his luck at sea. The Jew demands a pound of flesh if the bond is not repaid on time.

Without telling his godfather, Gianetto woos 'the Lady of Belmonte' using Ansaldo's money. She is a ruthless widow who cheats her lovers by drugging them, but agrees to marry Giannetto on his third attempt.

Completely forgetting about the bond, Gianetto comes back to Venice to find the Jew calling for his pound of flesh. But Gianetto's wife has secretly disguised herself as a lawyer, and she foils the Jew's plans by insisting that he sheds no drop of blood beyond the pound he asked for. The wife, in the guise of a lawyer, asks Giannetto for his ring in payment and then accuses him of giving it to his mistress. Finally, the confusion is resolved and the couple is reconciled happily.

The plot is to similar too Merchant Of Venice with few changes.


Shakespeare's debt to Zelauto includes the doubling of suitors, the addition of a daughter for the usurer, the use of two women disguised as attorneys, and a son in- law who will inherit the usurer's possessions. Two differences from Zelauto have not deterred critics from drawing these parallels, the fact that in Zelauto the usurer is a Christian rather than Jew and that the bond involves eyes rather than a pound of flesh. Further, like Merchant, the judge in Zelautouses a plea for mercy that relies, like Portia's, on a religious argument.

The Orator:

Shylock's arguments in the play Merchant of Venice have been borrowed from this great piece of work. In Orator, a Christian merchant owed a Jew nine hundred crowns, which he found himself to pay within three months or to give him a pound of hi flesh. The time being passed the Jew refused the money and stood upon the bond. The ordinary judge of the place appointed him to cut a pound of merchant's flesh and if he cut more or less, his own head should be smitten of. The Jew appealed this sentence to the chief justice; and the discourse in action is made up of Jew's argument and the Christian's answer which provided Shakespeare's source.(Works of Shakespeare: Merchant of Venice, All is Well )

Gesta Romanorum :

The tale of caskets forms part of a collection called the Gesta Romanorum first written in Latin in the 13th and 14th centuries, and a selection of the stories was printed in English (c. 1577 and 1595) by Richard Robinson. Shakespeare's used this story in to eliminate suitors for Portia. The story in Gesta Romanorum tells of a young girl who must prove her love for the emperor's son by choosing from three vessels made of gold, silver and lead. When the lady chooses lead she is rewarded with gold, jewels and a husband. It is striking that Shakespeare gives the choice to three men rather than a woman, but he preserves many elements of the 'Caskets' tale.

The Jew Of Malta:

There was a strong rivalry and rich literary exchange between Marlowe and Shakespeare. Most critics agree that Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice (c. 1596-97) was influenced by The Jew of Malta. Both playwrights make controversial use the figure of the Jew to raise moral questions about mercantile culture and to expose the tensions surrounding notions of justice and mercy.

More specifically, Shakespeare seems to have been inspired by Abigail's elopement with a Christian, when creating his own Jessica-Shylock plot. There are striking verbal echoes between Barabas's lament , 'O my girle, / My gold, my fortune, my felicity' (Jew of Malta, 2.1.50-51) and Shylock's reported cry: 'My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter! (2.8.15). Shakespeare's seems to have inspired to develop Shylock's character after reading the Jew Of Malta.

Primary References