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How the Classics Made Shakespeare

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From one of our most eminent and accessible literary critics, a groundbreaking account of how the Greek and Roman classics forged Shakespeare's imagination Ben Jonson famously accused Shakespeare of having "small Latin and less Greek." But he was exaggerating. Shakespeare was steeped in the classics. Shaped by his grammar school education in Roman literature, history, and From one of our most eminent and accessible literary critics, a groundbreaking account of how the Greek and Roman classics forged Shakespeare's imagination Ben Jonson famously accused Shakespeare of having "small Latin and less Greek." But he was exaggerating. Shakespeare was steeped in the classics. Shaped by his grammar school education in Roman literature, history, and rhetoric, he moved to London, a city that modeled itself on ancient Rome. He worked in a theatrical profession that had inherited the conventions and forms of classical drama, and he read deeply in Ovid, Virgil, and Seneca. In a book of extraordinary range, acclaimed literary critic and biographer Jonathan Bate, one of the world's leading authorities on Shakespeare, offers groundbreaking insights into how, perhaps more than any other influence, the classics made Shakespeare the writer he became. Revealing in new depth the influence of Cicero and Horace on Shakespeare and finding new links between him and classical traditions, ranging from myths and magic to monuments and politics, Bate offers striking new readings of a wide array of the plays and poems. At the heart of the book is an argument that Shakespeare's supreme valuation of the force of imagination was honed by the classical tradition and designed as a defense of poetry and theater in a hostile world of emergent Puritanism. Rounded off with a fascinating account of how Shakespeare became our modern classic and has ended up playing much the same role for us as the Greek and Roman classics did for him, How the Classics Made Shakespeare combines stylistic brilliance, accessibility, and scholarship, demonstrating why Jonathan Bate is one of our most eminent and readable literary critics.


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From one of our most eminent and accessible literary critics, a groundbreaking account of how the Greek and Roman classics forged Shakespeare's imagination Ben Jonson famously accused Shakespeare of having "small Latin and less Greek." But he was exaggerating. Shakespeare was steeped in the classics. Shaped by his grammar school education in Roman literature, history, and From one of our most eminent and accessible literary critics, a groundbreaking account of how the Greek and Roman classics forged Shakespeare's imagination Ben Jonson famously accused Shakespeare of having "small Latin and less Greek." But he was exaggerating. Shakespeare was steeped in the classics. Shaped by his grammar school education in Roman literature, history, and rhetoric, he moved to London, a city that modeled itself on ancient Rome. He worked in a theatrical profession that had inherited the conventions and forms of classical drama, and he read deeply in Ovid, Virgil, and Seneca. In a book of extraordinary range, acclaimed literary critic and biographer Jonathan Bate, one of the world's leading authorities on Shakespeare, offers groundbreaking insights into how, perhaps more than any other influence, the classics made Shakespeare the writer he became. Revealing in new depth the influence of Cicero and Horace on Shakespeare and finding new links between him and classical traditions, ranging from myths and magic to monuments and politics, Bate offers striking new readings of a wide array of the plays and poems. At the heart of the book is an argument that Shakespeare's supreme valuation of the force of imagination was honed by the classical tradition and designed as a defense of poetry and theater in a hostile world of emergent Puritanism. Rounded off with a fascinating account of how Shakespeare became our modern classic and has ended up playing much the same role for us as the Greek and Roman classics did for him, How the Classics Made Shakespeare combines stylistic brilliance, accessibility, and scholarship, demonstrating why Jonathan Bate is one of our most eminent and readable literary critics.

49 review for How the Classics Made Shakespeare

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jacopo Quercia

    'How the Classics Made Shakespeare' is an eclectic analysis—Jonathan Bate describes it "an extended argument"—on the classical bedrock Shakespeare built his writing upon. Bate traces these influences from the ancients Shakespeare studied in his youth to the language his contemporaries used to eulogize him in his death. The result is an exhaustive study that tracks the shared DNA in the bard's work with Ovid, Cicero, Horace, Virgil, Plutarch, Seneca, Greek and Roman mythology, the supernatural, 'How the Classics Made Shakespeare' is an eclectic analysis—Jonathan Bate describes it "an extended argument"—on the classical bedrock Shakespeare built his writing upon. Bate traces these influences from the ancients Shakespeare studied in his youth to the language his contemporaries used to eulogize him in his death. The result is an exhaustive study that tracks the shared DNA in the bard's work with Ovid, Cicero, Horace, Virgil, Plutarch, Seneca, Greek and Roman mythology, the supernatural, and even the romanticized idea of fame that would ultimately cement Shakespeare legacy. Bate's writing is a captivating, surprisingly accessible study that covers more than two thousand years of history without overwhelming its reader. It's a refreshing look at the bard's formative years that does not dwell on old questions with unknowable answers. Bate's focus is the ancients—whom he quotes in Latin and English—and the undeniable imprint they left on Shakespeare's imagination. One particularly charming example Bate mentions can be found in The Merry Wives of Windsor, where "a Welsh schoolmaster ([Shakespeare] apparently had one himself) gives a Latin lesson to a bright but cheeky schoolboy named William." Another striking example involves the Latin reliefs that dotted buildings Shakespeare would have certainly walked past in London. The result is such a captivating glimpse into the bard's life and mind that my first thoughts after closing this book were: "how did anyone doubt his existence?" If the book has any fault, it is its lack of a clearly identified introduction and conclusion. While somewhat atypical, this should not deter students, teachers, or Shakespeare admirers from enjoying this book, which I should add is quite handsome and expertly formatted. I know few reviewers pay attention to such details, but I found them exceptional in this case. Its dust jacket feels as smooth as leather, its paper is thick, and its text is spaced in a way that I found easy on my eyes even after hours of reading. It's a welcome addition to any bookshelf, and I highly recommend it. 4.5 stars

  2. 4 out of 5

    Michael P.

    I have written about this book in my "Talking Books Update" in SHAKESPEARE NEWSLETTER. I won't wrong my editor by writing more here..

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lindsay Hickman

    Much more of a text book instead of just a fun read for the Shakespeare fan, but still a good book nonetheless. I was a bit shocked at some of the far reaching assumptions made by the author in the first few chapters, but he seemed confident in his findings. This book could've been much shorter, the premise is figuring out exactly what classics of Literature, Philosophy, Language, and Science influenced Shakespeare. Within the first chapter the author clearly lines out about ten pieces of Much more of a text book instead of just a fun read for the Shakespeare fan, but still a good book nonetheless. I was a bit shocked at some of the far reaching assumptions made by the author in the first few chapters, but he seemed confident in his findings. This book could've been much shorter, the premise is figuring out exactly what classics of Literature, Philosophy, Language, and Science influenced Shakespeare. Within the first chapter the author clearly lines out about ten pieces of writing that he is certain influenced his writings and plays. I would've liked the book more had there been reasons behind them. Instead of just assumptions that yes of course Shakespeare knew Latin and therefore was highly versed in Aristotle and Socrates and that of course they influenced plays A, B, and C. Near the end of the book I really didn't appreciate the authors' leaps and basic stating that Shakespeare just took old Greek stories and remediated them into plays. (While I know many of the plays are not new ideas, his writing, language, rhetoric, and structure was something that was completely foreign before this time.)

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    Great stuff. This is exactly the type of book that makes Shakespeare more comprehensible—and more enjoyable. Jonathan Bates’s biography of Shakespeare (Soul of the Age: A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare) is probably the best I have ever read, so I really had no choice but to read this latest book. It is tremendous. For those of us who have only a passing familiarity with much of Shakespeare’s source material, the context Bates provides is like a tall drink of water. For those Great stuff. This is exactly the type of book that makes Shakespeare more comprehensible—and more enjoyable. Jonathan Bates’s biography of Shakespeare (Soul of the Age: A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare) is probably the best I have ever read, so I really had no choice but to read this latest book. It is tremendous. For those of us who have only a passing familiarity with much of Shakespeare’s source material, the context Bates provides is like a tall drink of water. For those interested in the subject, this book is a must-read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Robert W. Piedrahita

    An absorbing read! Gave me wonderful and inspired insights imipramine Anthony and Cleopatra, Winters Tale, and Hamlet. I had no idea how significant was Ovid’s, Virgil, Horace, and Seneca’s influence had upon Shakespeare and how highly respected Shakespeare was during his lifetime. Enthralled!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Hugh Coverly

    Bate demonstrates that Shakespeare read (in English translation) and was influenced by the classical writers Ovid, Horace and Virgil, among others. Ironically, by using the classical writers Shakespeare became a classical English writer.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Bob Croft

    Various essays

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mari

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sean Mannion

  11. 4 out of 5

    Gijs Limonard

  12. 5 out of 5

    Courtney Perry

  13. 4 out of 5

    Yulia Shtutina

  14. 5 out of 5

    Chris Tudor

  15. 4 out of 5

    Patricia

  16. 5 out of 5

    Max Nova

  17. 5 out of 5

    George

  18. 4 out of 5

    Mike Campbell

  19. 5 out of 5

    Pascal

  20. 5 out of 5

    Steve Walker

  21. 5 out of 5

    Edward Sullivan

  22. 4 out of 5

    Marianne

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sean

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    Kevin

  25. 5 out of 5

    Hestia

  26. 5 out of 5

    Chloe

  27. 5 out of 5

    Christian

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    Ron Stieger

  29. 5 out of 5

    Gazmend Kryeziu

  30. 5 out of 5

    Zach Mazlish

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    Michael Minar

  32. 4 out of 5

    Todd Sensing

  33. 5 out of 5

    Leslie Smith

  34. 4 out of 5

    Ruth Feathers

  35. 4 out of 5

    Laura

  36. 5 out of 5

    Ted Kinzer

  37. 4 out of 5

    Ima Paydar

  38. 5 out of 5

    Cindy Dircks

  39. 5 out of 5

    Erin Friesen

  40. 4 out of 5

    Jason Barrette

  41. 5 out of 5

    Curtis Chan

  42. 4 out of 5

    Jared

  43. 4 out of 5

    John

  44. 4 out of 5

    Mary

  45. 4 out of 5

    Carlos

  46. 5 out of 5

    Matt Radcliffe

  47. 4 out of 5

    Axel Johansson

  48. 4 out of 5

    Kyon

  49. 5 out of 5

    I.C. Robledo

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