New Exhibit: Shakespeare’s Sources

Libraries, museums, and theatres around the world are joining together this year to commemorate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death on April 23, 1616. DePaul Special Collections and Archives joins in this celebration by presenting fourteen texts which directly informed or inspired some of Shakespeare’s most remembered works. The Shakespeare’s Sources exhibit explores texts that range from the histories and chronicles that Shakespeare mined for details on the lives of men like Henry IV, Richard III, and Julius Caesar to the verses of epic poems which echo throughout his plays.

Copperplate engraving of the death of Pyramus and Thisbe from book four of Ovid’s Metamorphosis .SpC. 873.01 O96M
Copperplate engraving of the death of Pyramus and Thisbe from the Fourth Book of Ovid’s Metamorphosis. SpC. 873.01 O96M

The exhibit builds on DePaul’s collection of early modern imprints and displays three new additions to the library’s collection. The recently acquired Raphael Holinshed’s The Description of Scotland (1587) is well-known to be the same edition used by Shakespeare while writing Macbeth and allows viewers gain a deeper understanding into the formation of the tragic hero. Similarly, the newly purchased 1583 edition of John Foxe’s Actes and Monuments (commonly known as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs) is also the same edition used by Shakespeare as a source for some of his historical plays and gruesomely illustrates the execution of Sir John Oldcastle, who Shakespeare transformed into the buffoonish character of Falstaff. Finally, Giovanni Battista Giraldi’s Hecatommithi, which includes a story about a Moor whose contentious betrothal to a Venetian lady named Disdemona ends in tragedy, is without a doubt the principal source of Shakespeare’s Othello.

The Martyrdom of Sir John Oldcastle from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. SpC. 272.0922 F795a1583 v.1
The Martyrdom of Sir John Oldcastle from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. SpC. 272.0922 F795a1583 v.1

By taking a closer look at the intertextuality of Shakespeare’s works we see that he did not create in a vacuum; rather he borrowed imagery, dialogue, and plots from works that were likely familiar to his literate audiences. The books on display help to contextualize Shakespeare within his period and give us unique insight into his creative process.

Shakespeare’s Sources is on display now through June 2016 in the John T. Richardson Library, room 314. Visit anytime during Special Collections and Archives open hours of 9am-5pm Monday through Friday.

To learn more about the exhibit or Shakespeare related collections at DePaul, contact Special Collections and Archives at 773-325-7864, or archives@depaul.edu.

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