Shakespeare’s Books

Authored by: Michael Ursell , Melissa Yinger

The Routledge Research Companion to Shakespeare and Classical Literature

Print publication date:  April  2017
Online publication date:  March  2017

Print ISBN: 9781472417404
eBook ISBN: 9781315613550
Adobe ISBN: 9781317041689


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Michel de Montaigne, bibliophile, skeptic, and classicist, described his reading habits in the essay “Of Books” thus: “I do not search and toss over books but for an honester recreation to please, and pastime to delight my self: or if I study, I only endeavor to find out the knowledge that teacheth … me how to die well and how to live well.” 1 Montaigne’s seemingly relaxed approach to his studies has something in common with the way Shakespeare is imagined to have made use of classical books: like Montaigne, Shakespeare’s reading of the classics often seems idiosyncratic and informal, balancing pleasure and instruction, but with the scales tipped slightly in favor of the former. Unlike Montaigne, however, Shakespeare almost certainly did not write at a desk in a personal library encircled by over 1,000 books, glancing occasionally at sententiae carved and painted onto the beams. Partly because no material traces of Shakespeare’s library remain, it was once common for readers to imagine him writing without recourse to any books at all. 2

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