Shakespeare’s Sources

The books listed below are some of the sources used by William Shakespeare in the writing of his plays and poetry. Many of them are the actual editions that Shakespeare may have used; others are 17th century editions of books available to Shakespeare.  Please note that this is not a comprehensive list of Shakespeare’s source material! The titles listed are ones held by ZSR Special Collections. Other sources may be available to you in reprints or in electronic formats.

  • A mirour for magistrates: being a true chronicle historie of the vntimely falles of such vnfortunate princes and men of note as haue happened since the first entrance of Brute into this iland, vntill this our latter age. Baldwin, William, ca. 1518-1563?. PR2199 .M5 1610. London: Imprinted by Felix Kyngston, 1610. “Newly enlarged with a last part, called A Winter nights Vision, being an addition of such tragedies, especially famous, as are exempted in the former historie, with a poem annexed, called Englands Eliza.”
  • The workes of Geffray Chaucer newly printed. Chaucer, Geoffrey, d. 1400. PR1850 1551w. London: Robert Toye, ca. 1551
  • Acts and monuments of matters most special and memorable, happening in the church, with a universal historie of the same. Foxe, John, 1516-1587. BR1600 .F62 1641. London: Printed for the Company of Stationers, 1641.
  • Chroniques de France, d’Angleterre, d’Escoce, d’Espaigne, de Bretaigne, de Gascongne, de Flandres et lieux circunuoisins. Froissart, Jean, 1338?-1410?. D113 .F77 1514. Paris: Guillaume Eustace, [1514]
  • Hecatommithi: overo, Cento novelle. Giraldi, Giambattista Cinzio, 1504-1573. PQ4624 .H4 1574. Vinegia: Appresso Enea de Alaris, [1574]. Main source for Othello
  • Chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande. Holinshed, Raphael, d. 1580?. DA130 .H73 1577. London: Imprinted for Lucas Harrison, 1577.
  • The chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland. Holinshed, Raphael, d. 1580? ; Hooker, John, 1526?-1601, ed. DA130 .H732 1587. London, 1587. The second edition of Holinshed’s Chronicles, published in 1587, was likely the one used by Shakespeare.
  • The Famous Tragedy of the Rich Ievv of Malta. Marlowe, Christopher, 1564-1593. PR2666 .A1 1633. London: Printed by I.B. for Nicholas Vavasour, 1633
  • Palace of pleasure. Painter, William, 1540?-1594. PR2327 .A1 1566. London: Thomas Marshe, 1566?. Source for Romeo and Juliet, Timon of Athens, Edward III, All’s Well That Ends Well
  • Three comedies: The braggart soldier, The Brothers Manaechmus, The haunted house. Plautus, Titus Maccius; tras. Erich Segal. New York: Harper & Row, c1969. The brothers Menaechmus (Menaechmi) was the main source for Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors. Erich Segal, the translator of this edition, was author of the popular 1970s novel Love Story.
  • The lives of the noble Grecians and Romanes compared together by that graue learned philosopher and historiographer, Plutarke of Chaeronea. Plutarch; trans. Thomas North. DE7 .P55 1579. London: By Thomas Vautroullier and Iohn Wight, 1579. “Translated out of Greeke into French by Iames Amyot, Abbot of Bellozane, Bishop of Auxerre, one of the Kings priuy counsel, and great Amner of Fraunce, and out of French into Englishe by Thomas North.”
  • Ovid’s Metamorphosis Englished, mythologiz’d, and represented in figures. Sandys, George, 1578-1644. PA6522 .M2 S3 1632. Oxford: Iohn Lichfield, 1632.
  • The discoverie of witchcraft. Scot, Reginald, 1538?-1599. BF1565 .S4 1930. [London]: John Rodker, 1930. “The spelling … is that of the edition of 1584.”
  • The Faerie Qveene: disposed into twelue bookes, Fashioning XII. Morall vertues. Spenser, Edmund, 1552?-1599. PR2358 .A1 1596. London: Printed for VVilliam Ponsonbie, 1596.
  • The Bible, that is, the Holy Scriptures conteined in the Olde and New Testament. BS170 1599. London: By the Deputies of Christopher Barker, 1599. Known as the Geneva Bible, this translation was the most widely read English Bible of the 16th century.