Shakespeare’s Narrative Sources: Italian Novellas and Their European Dissemination


Editorial Criteria

This archive offers diplomatic editions and normalized editions. The rationale is to allow a glimpse into the main features of early modern printed books as they circulated at the time with the editorial resources of scholarly digital editions allowing for textual and hypertextual navigation. Normalized editions will allow the reader an easier approach to the texts, while preserving the possibility of moving back and forth between different editions and intertexts.



Why should we normalize the text?

From Lukas Erne. 2008. Shakespeare’s Modern Collaborators. London: Continuum:

. . . Shakespeare’s early modern printed playbooks took their form partly through the agency of Shakespeare’s printers. Spelling and punctuation were considered the compositor’s responsibility, as is made clear in the first published manual of hand-press printing, Joseph Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises on the Whole Art of Printing (1683-84). This is further borne out by the rare instance of an extant manuscript that served as printer’s copy: in a short sample excerpt of forty-eight lines of Harington’s translation of Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso (1591), compositors changed the punctuation on twenty-one occasions and altered the spelling of 149 words. Occasionally, compositors also introduced changes which affect the meaning, and some of them did so on a surprising scale. When setting the type for Richard II for the First Folio, a compositor introduced no fewer than 155 such alterations, omissions, substitutions, transpositions, interpolations as well as additions. Shakespeare’s early modern printed playbooks can thus rightly be regarded as collaborations between the author, who chose and ordered the words, and his compositors, who determined the spelling and the punctuation, and occasionally even changed the words . . .What was familiar to Shakespeare’s contemporaries seems unfamiliar to us. What was modern spelling for Shakespeare’s contemporaries is no longer so today. Shakespeare’s original playbooks embed assumptions about performance that are distinctly early modern, not modern. In one sense, then, modern editions present the texts more nearly ‘as they appeared to Shakespeare’s contemporaries’ than facsimiles do. Early modern quartos and folios mean differently today than they did in Shakespeare’s day, which has rightly been called a powerful argument for a ‘modernized, translated, rewritten ‘Shakespeare’ [De Grazia and Stallybrass], for a fully edited Shakespeare, that is. (3, 6-7)


Should criteria be established?

From: Stanley Wells. 1984. Re-Editing Shakespeare for the Modern Reader. Oxford: Oxford University Press:

. . . I am not entirely happy with the concept of rules for editors. The editing of Shakespeare is a personal business, and it rouses personal passions. No book of rules, however detailed, will compel one editor to edit a play in the same way that someone else – such as the General Editor – would edit it, however rigorously the rules are worked out, and whatever subtle – or crude -range of persuasive techniques a General Editor may employ in the attempt to enforce them. (5)

With Stanley Wells’ proviso (1984, 5) in mind, a few general criteria have been adopted by the various editors:

A few general criteria


  • special symbols and superscript signs (& -> and; “ſ” -> s; ß -> ss; yor -> your; Matie -> Majesty), as well as complex graphemes (æ -> ae; œ -> oe);
  • i/j  and u/v (obiect -> object; vnkind -> unkind; selues-> selves); vv -> w (VVar-> War)
  • murther -> murder; receiueinge -> receiving; naturall -> natural; lordshippe -> lordship; mankynde -> mankind); obsolete forms including the following have been maintained:  shalt, doth, hath, declareth, taketh, oughtst, shoon, altogethers, narrowlier, understanded.
  • capital letter after period, names and personifications.
  • abbreviations: hon.ble -> honourable.
  • Roman type for personal and place names.
  • inverted commas for direct speech: “….”; single inverted commas within double inverted commas: “ … ‘…’…”: e.g.: “thus spoke the man. Come with me” ->“thus spoke the man: ‘Come with me’”; “Come with me (said the man), I will help you” -> “‘Come with me’, said the man, ‘I will help you’”;
  • question marks may have an exclamative function (? -> !);
  • more in general, albeit dependent on the hands of compositors as well as on the instability of early modern norms, may present a variety of possibilities.

From David Daniell. 1998. “Introduction.” In Julius Caesar, Arden Shakespeare Third Edition. London: Bloomsbury:

“While a few [punctuation marks] are wrong by any convention, obscuring the thought, no doubt coming from a compositor’s haste or habits, other slightly unfamiliar uses could be an effect that was Shakespeare’s own, and deliberate. Second, modern conventions of punctuation are more familiar from more recent prose, and do not relate to the unfamiliar world of Elizabethan verse, with its even more peculiar world of verse drama. True, Heminges and Condell inaugurated a text to be bought and read at home rather than making a performance: even so, we might pause before applying late-twenty-century-prose conventions to forceful address in sixteenth-century iambic pentameters. To illustrate: printers for several centuries used the colon for places where we should prefer a range of stops – full point, semicolon, comma or dash. It has been maintained that Compositor B liked, and over-used, colons: it may be so. Yet deep within the oratorical structure of Julius Caesar are several new techniques of expression which Shakespeare went on to develop, like short line, to which we should attend. One of these not commonly considered in the study of Shakespeare’s tragic craft is the use of colons. In Julius Caesar these are noticeably richer in the passages of higher rhetoric or feeling from Brutus, Cassius or Antony. A colon does not bring the thought to a full stop: there is a sense of carrying-over, or, better, of forward pressure.”  (130).


  • ſ -> s; & -> “et”; ß -> ss; odî -> odi; pazïenza -> pazienza; complex graphemes (æ -> ae; œ -> oe; ph -> f);
  • i / j: vltimo ->ultimo; uidi -> vidi; sajo -> saio; 
  • Et -> “et”;
  • perche -> perché; cosi -> così; statione -> stazione; habbia ->abbia; Giesu -> Gesù; charte -> carte; dishonore ->disonore; giemma ->gemma; oime -> ohimè; ogniuna -> ognuna; fù -> fu
  • obsolete forms are retained if recognisable (lagrime, giuoco, deggio, chieggia, chiudeno; pagaremo; volontade; virtute; iudicio; pensier);
  • da le -> dalle; su i -> sui; -> l’hora -> allora, unless they reflkect special linguistic uses or have a metrical function;
  • capit. -> capitano; B. -> Beato/a;
  • modern punctuation with exceptions depending on expressive values;
  • no h at the beginning or in the middle of a word (e.g. hora, talhora, luogho ecc.); ha, hanno, after ch’ (c’hanno, ch’hanno) -> ch’hanno, ch’ha;
  • dv (adviene) and pl (esemplo);
  • giudicio/giudizio, condicione/condizione;
  • single z for -ti-, -tti-, cti-, zzi-;
  • a posta, a punto, a pena, in vece, a bastanza, a dosso, da poi, di poi, gi-> mai, per che (= per cui), poi che (= after che: with temporal, not causal, meaning) etc.
  • benché, perché and similar subordinating conjunctions: one word if with concessive, causal, or adversative function;
  • apposta, appunto, ovvero, nemmeno etc.;
  • gl’uomini, una latra, alla antica, dello uomo, delli uomini etc.;
  • che > ch’è’; di > d’i (dei); tutte due > tutt’e due; e > e’;
  • variants of proper nouns may reflect linguistic fluidity and regional provenance .


  • ſ -> s; & -> et; ß -> ss;
  • u/v and i/j;
  • ou (conjunction) / où (relative pronoun); à (preposition) / a (verb); la (article) / là (adverb);
  • vowel with tilde -> vwel + m/n; q̃ -> que;
  • antiquitez -> antiquités; portoit -> portait; rencontrants -> se rencontrant;
  • veu -> vu; gaigner -> gagner; resouldre -> résoudre; obsolete forms including the following have been maintained: icelle, adonc;
  • 9 superscript -> ‘us’;
  • when the colon indicates a longer pause “: ->.”
  • : before direct speech;
  • lon -> l’on.

Criteria for textual segmentation (narrative texts):

Narrative texts have been segmented according to the following criteria:

  1. level of story (enunciated): change of topic;
  2. level of discourse (enunciation, utterance): this entails a foregrounding of different textual portions according to the narrator’s functions (metatextuality = the narrator talks about the text’s structure or its content; ideological function = comments; testimonial function etc.; metadiscursivity/metanarrativity = the narrator talks about his discursive/narrative act; interdiscursivity = the narrator quotes other discourses, e.g. proverbs, maxims, common sense etc.);
  3. dialogue embedded within the narrative: turn-taking

Criteria for textual segmentation (drama texts):

  1. significant turn-takings;
  2. significant changes of topic;
  3. significant deictic orientations marking situational changes;
  4. significant discursive changes depending on the use of the performatives.

The word ‘significant’ here refers to the relevance of the single instances to the overall action and the main topics. For instance:

  1. turn-taking: in order to suggest segmentation the single turn should mark a divide in respect to the previous ones, thus affecting the unfolding of the action and articulate it into a before and an after;
  2. topic change: for a change to be relevant it must be clearly marked out and perceived as such by the characters;
  3. deictic orientation: this is particularly relevant in terms of actorial performance and proxemics; it may be less relevant in relation to the overall action or the topic. ‘This book’ and ‘that book’ define the speaker’s position in space but may not change the overall action or affect the main topic;
  1. discursive orientation pivoting on performatives: performatives have a strong impact on the action but their relevance to the overall situation depends on the discursive context and the speaker’s intention: ‘give me that book’ and ‘would you please fetch me that book’ show different attitudes and interpersonal relations, and this may, or may not, affect the overall action.

General Criteria for the Identification of ‘Sources’

Source: Any text which shares semantic units at the level of plot, characters, themes, motifs etc., as well as stylistic features referable to genetic relations. Depending on the degree of textual proximity and plot similarity, we have identified a few main narrative sources as opposed to more generally definable hypotexts. The same type of transtextuality or textual transcendence (see Genette 1997) has also been considered from the other end of the spectrum, i.e. hypertextuality

Gérard Genette, Palimpsests (1982), University of Nebraska Press, 1997 (5-9)

By hypertextuality I mean any relationship uniting a text B (which I shall call the hypertext) to an earlier text A (I shall, of course, call it hypotext), upon which it is grafted in a manner that is not that of commentary.

Analogues: Any text whose features may offer similarities perceivable by the reader/spectator in terms of use of conventions and configurations. ‘Analogue’, then, posits the vaguest of relations between text and source. It is a source from which nothing flows, a tradition not handed over, an invisible background, a stationary origin, a still influence, an unclaimed heritage, a silent echo, an absent subtext and context. Perhaps St John the Evangelist originally wrote, ‘In the beginning was the analogue.’ (Miola 2003 (1988), 324.)

Any text circulating cultural discourses, identifiable by the reader/spectator as relevant. 


A web page has been set up for each series of ‘sources’ of Shakespeare’s plays containing selected passages from the main sources for comparison.

Selected References (sources and intertextuality/interdiscursivity)

Avezzù, Guido (2015b). “Classical Paradigms of Tragic Choice in Civic Stories of Love and Death”. In Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, and Civic Life. The Boundaries of Civic Space, edited by Silvia Bigliazzi and Lisanna Calvi, 45-65 New York: Routledge.

Belsey, Catherine. 2015. “The Elephant’s Graveyard Revisited: Shakespeare at Work in Antony and CleopatraRomeo and Juliet and All’s Well that Ends Well.” Shakespeare Survey. Shakespeare, Origins and Originality, ed. Peter Holland, 68: 62-72.

Bigliazzi, Silvia. 2018 “Romeo Before Romeo: Notes on Shakespeare Source Study”, Memoria di Shakespeare.: 13-39.

Britton, Dennis Austin and Melissa Walter eds. 2018. Rethinking Shakespeare Source Study. Audiences, Authors, and Digital Technologies. New York and London: Routledge.

Bullough, Geoffrey. 1957-1975. Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, vols 8. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul / New York: Columbia University Press.

Burrow, Colin. 2013. Shakespeare and Classical Antiquity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Colin Burrow. 2018. “Shakespeare’s Authorities.” In Shakespeare and Authority: Citations, Conceptions, and Constructions, edited by K. Halsey and A. Vine, 55-78. London: Palgrave.

Clare, Janet. 2014. Shakespeare’s Stage Traffic: Imitation, Borrowing and Competition in Renaissance Theatre.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Clubb, Louise George. 1989. Italian Drama in Shakespeare’s Time. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Drakakis, John. 2018a. “Afterword.” In Rethinking Shakespeare Source Study. Audiences, Authors, and Digital Technologies, edited by Dennis Austin Britton and Melissa Walter, n.p. New York and London: Routledge.

Drakakis, John 2018b. “Inside the Elephant’s Graveyard: Revising Geoffrey Bullough’s Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare.” In Shakespeare and Authority: Citations, Conceptions, and Constructions, edited by K. Halsey and A. Vine, 55-78. London: Palgrave.

Genette, Gérard 1997. Palimpsests (1982). Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press.

Gillespie, Stuart. 2004. Shakespeare’s Books: A Dictionary of Shakespeare’s Sources. London & New Brunswick, NJ: The Athlone Press.

Greene, Thomas M. 1982. The Light in Troy. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Greenblatt, Stephen. 1985. “Shakespeare and the Exorcists.” In Shakespeare and the Question of Theory, edited by Patricia Parker and Geoffrey Hartman, 163-86. New York and London: Methuen.

Lynch, Stephen. 1998. Shakespearean Intertextuality: Studies in Select Sources and Plays. Westport, CT: Greenland.

Maguire, Laurie ed. 2008. How to Do Things with Shakespeare. New Approaches, New Essays. Malden, Oxford, Victoria: Blackwell Publishing.

Maguire Laurie and Emma Smith. 2015. “What is a Source? Or, How Shakespeare Read his Marlowe.” Shakespeare Survey. Shakespeare, Origins and Originality, ed. Peter Holland, 68:5-31.

Marrapodi, Michele. 2000. Shakespeare and Intertextuality. The Transition of Cultures Between Italy and England in the Early Modern Period. Roma: Bulzoni.

Marrapodi, Michele ed. 2004. Shakespeare, Italy, and Intertextuality. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Marrapodi, Michele ed. 2016. Italian Culture in the Drama of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries. London and New York: Routledge.

Marrapodi, Michele ed. 2014. Shakespeare and the Italian Renaissance. Appropriation, Transformation, Opposition. London and New York: Routledge.

Marrapodi, Michele ed. 2017. Shakespeare and the Visual Arts. The Italian Influence. London and New York: Routledge.

Marrapodi, Michele ed. 2019. The Routledge Research Companion to Anglo-Italian Renaissance Literature and Culture. London and New York: Routledge.

Martindale, Charles and Michelle. 1990. Shakespeare and the Uses of Antiquity. An Introductory Essay. London and New York: Routledge.

Miola, Robert S.  1988. “Shakespeare and His Sources: Observations on the Critical History of Julius Caesar.” In The Cambridge Shakespeare Library, edited. by Catherine M. Alexander, 322-8. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Miola, Robert S. 2004. “Seven Types of Intertextuality.” in Shakespeare, Italy, and Intertextuality, edited by Michele Marrapodi, 13-25. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Muir, Kenneth. 1954. “Pyramus and Thisbe: A Study in Shakespeare’s Method.” Shakespeare Quarterly 5: 141-53.

Muir, Kenneth. 1977. The Sources of Shakespeare’s Plays. London and New York: Routledge.

Nigri, Lucia. 2014. “Intertestualità in scena.” In Critica e letteratura. Studi di anglistica, edited by Silvia Bigliazzi and Flavio Gregori, 121-31. Pisa: ETS.

Segre, Cesare. 1984. “Intertestualità e interdiscorsività nel romanzo e nella poesia.” In Id., Teatro e romanzo, 102-18 Torino: Einaudi.

Serpieri, Alessandro, Aldo Celli, Serena Cenni, Claudia Corti, Keir Elam, Giovanna Mochi, Marcella Quadri, Susan Payne. 1988. Nel laboratorio di Shakespeare: dalle fonti ai drammi, vols 4: vol. 1, Il quadro teorico. Parma: Pratiche Editrice.

Walter, Melissa and Sarah Klann. 2018. “Shakespeare Source Study in the Early Twenty‐First Century: A Resurrection?”Literature Compass 15: e12486 (DOI: 10.1111/lic3.12486).