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Shakespeare and the Constant Romans$
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Geoffrey Miles

Print publication date: 1996

Print ISBN-13: 9780198117711

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198117711.001.0001

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A Constancy Triptych: North’s Plutarch and the Roman Plays

A Constancy Triptych: North’s Plutarch and the Roman Plays

(p.110) 6 A Constancy Triptych: North’s Plutarch and the Roman Plays
Shakespeare and the Constant Romans

Miles Geoffrey

Oxford University Press

This chapter considers one indisputable source of the plays: Sir Thomas North's translation of Jacques Amyot's translation of Plutarch's Parallel Lives. In determining to what extent Shakespeare found his constant Romans in Plutarch, it suggests that one reason for his choice of Brutus, Antony, and Coriolanus as protagonists is that their Lives can be read as a kind of triptych on the theme of constancy. Plutarch, of course, did not design such a triptych: it is the Renaissance translators, Amyot and North, who make it into a central issue by using the words ‘constancy’ and ‘constant’ to translate a variety of Greek expressions. What emerges from the Lives, in North's translation, is an Aristotelian pattern of virtue as a mean between excess and defect: Brutus embodying the virtue of constancy, Antony its defect, inconstancy, and Coriolanus its excess, willful obstinacy.

Keywords:   Thomas North, Plutarch, Brutus, Anthony, Coriolanus, Parallel Lives, constancy triptych, Jacques Amyot

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