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.
Shylock laments that his daughter has eloped with a Christian, saying that he would rather have his daughter marry a descendant of Barabbas, the thief who was pardoned in Jesus’ stead, than a (spiritual) descendant of Jesus.
On this page you can see also the reason the quartos are not considered the definitive texts of the plays: the speech of Portia, saving Gratiano from having the pound of flesh carved from him on the technicality that Shylock could not remove any blood, is repeated. This quarto is believed to have been printed directly from a ‘fair copy’ of Shakespeare’s ‘foul papers’: a hand-copied but tidied-up version of Shakespeare’s working draft of the play. The repetition you see here may be the result of Shakespeare rewriting Portia’s speech--the author in action.
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.