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Shakespeare as Writer

Shakespeare was, first and foremost, a writer. His influences have been researched carefully by generations of scholars attempting to understand his work, and they have discovered many of the resources  he drew on during his research and writing processes. Haverford's Special Collections contains copies of some of these works.

This English translation of the Bible, known as the Geneva Bible because most of the work was done by English exiles in Geneva, Switzerland, was the translation Shakespeare referred to while he was writing his plays. On this page you can see the gospel of Mark, 23:13-25, which tells the story of Pontius Pilate, the Roman king of Judea, at the trial of Jesus. Saying that he has “found no fault” with Jesus, he tries to give Jesus the traditional Passover pardon, in which one person sentenced to death is pardoned. However, the crowd forces Pilate to pardon Barabbas, a thief sentenced to death, instead. It is these events that Shylock references in the Merchant of Venice, below.

This edition of Richard II is important because it contains the entirety of Act IV, in which Richard surrenders his crown to Henry IV after being defeated. Considered dangerous when it was written--Elizabeth I was aging and, like Richard, had no obvious heirs, leading to fears of instability when she died--the first several quartos of Richard II lack this single long scene. Later, after the successful transfer of power from Elizabeth to James I, these fears dissipated, and the scene was permitted.

Many of Shakespeare’s history plays are based on this work, Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, a history of the British Isles. For example, this page references the loss of power of Richard II, which begins the cycle of the four history plays of Richard II, Henry IV part I, Henry IV part II, and Henry V. This cycle of plays established Shakespeare as one of the most important writers of his age.

Shakespeare as Writer