I can't understand why people like Shakespeare's plays he literally stole all of the ideas from the Ancient Greek and Roman plays. I can't praise a lack of creativity.
- Shakespeare did occasionally borrow dramatic devices from Senecan tragedy and characters from Greek and Roman mythology, but the words and the ways he told the stories were his own. That’s what writers do. That’s how we develop a theatrical and literary vocabulary so we all know what we’re talking about when we say deus ex machina or peripeteia. Writers all use the same old stories and plot devices in new ways in new eras, because it’s not possible in a world with thousands and thousands of years of history for every idea to be totally and entirely new and original. Accusing Shakespeare of ‘stealing’ all his plays from Greek and Roman poets is like accusing Walt Disney of stealing fairy tales.
- Intellectual property didn’t exist in the early modern era. Playwrights and poets constantly stole and borrowed from each other. That was just the way their creative world worked. By using other poems and plays as source material Shakespeare was just participating in the intellectual conversation of his day and age. And even if intellectual property had existed in 1599, anything written by the Greeks or Romans would have been in the public domain anyway because it was written like a thousand years before.
- Shakespeare wrote literally dozens of plays that have nothing to do with Greek or Roman culture. (I would love to see the lost play of Sophocles that was the basis for The Merry Wives of Windsor.) Some of Shakespeare’s plays are purely of his own invention and many are loosely based on real historical events. In fact, there’s a whole category for those: they are called, imaginatively, ‘history plays,’ and are loosely based on the lives of real English monarchs. Even Macbeth and Hamlet and Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra are based (theoretically) on real people. And we still do this. Ever seen Lincoln or read Mary Renault or listened to Hamilton? Performing or reimagining history isn’t theft. Homer doesn’t have exclusive rights to the Trojan War. Sorry.
- Sometimes the brilliance of Shakespeare’s work lies in radically reinterpreting old material. King Lear is a great example. It’s based partly on Sidney’s Arcadia and partly on Gorboduc and partly on an earlier play called King Leir, but Shakespeare turned the sappy happy ending into gut-wrenching tragedy and the result is one of the greatest plays of all time. It is, indisputably, a work of genius, which I don’t think can be said of any of the source material.
- What we remember Shakespeare for most is his words. Shakespeare didn’t steal any of Troilus’s speeches from Chaucer. He didn’t steal Antony’s funeral speech from Plutarch. Here’s a speech from Macbeth, which is pretty uniquely Shakespeare’s and only so very loosely inspired by history:
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
If you can find a lack of creativity in that, I don’t know what to tell you, except that you’re missing out on the greatest English writer who has ever lived and probably will ever live and you’re doing it for the most foolish possible reason, which is basically that you’ve been grossly misinformed.