Plutarch; trans. by Thomas North
London: T. Vautroullier and J. Wight, 1579
[S.L.] I [Plutarch - 1579] fol.
Except for Holinshed’s Chronicles, Shakespeare’s single major source may well be the Greek biographer and historian Plutarch’s Parallel Lives of the Ancient Greeks and Romans, in the version translated into English in 1579 by Sir Thomas North, from the third edition of Jacques Amyot’s French translation of the work (1574). Not only is North’s Plutarch the main source for Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus, but Timon of Athens is based on a short digression in Plutarch. Shakespeare makes North his own, for examples synthesising material from three different Lives in Julius Caesar. Of the non-Roman plays, the Life of Theseus provides the figure of Theseus, some character names, and other details in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the relationship between Brutus and Portia in the Life of Brutus leaves its mark on Portia in The Merchant of Venice. More subtly, Shakespeare develops the concern with interiority that starts with Brutus in Julius Caesar in the tragedies of Hamlet and Macbeth.