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Imitation: Shakespeare is the King of Compliments

We’ve all heard the saying by Charles Caleb Colton: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that’s the case, then Shakespeare is the king of compliments. His plays have lived on for over 400 years, but most of the ideas, story lines and characters were not his own, they were imitations of others:

  • Romeo and Juliet was an Italian folk tale, passed down through generations until it was put into a poem form by Arthur Brooks. Shakespeare played down the morality a bit, and upped the romance, and boom, created a winner.
  • Hamlet was originally a Scandinavian legend. Around 1589, years before Shakespeare wrote the play we know today, there was a different Hamlet being performed on the English stage. The theater going public were well acquainted with the character of Hamlet before Shakespeare presented his own version.
  • Julius Caesar was a well know historical figure, of course, but academia agrees that Shakespeare based his play on Plutarch’s Lives of Noble Grecians and Romans.


The list goes on and on, and although not many of Shakespeare’s stories were original, his ability to craft lines that resonate deeply with people’s humanness – be it love, despair, hope, revenge or fear—is what has kept him at the top of the list of respected playwrights for generations.

So, why is this important? In today’s world we stress originality; kids are taught to be inventive, to think outside of the box, to do something different. Sometimes, however, we can be creative (brilliant, even) by taking ideas that already exist and putting our own spin on it (imitation). Good stories live on and on, and are recycled over and over again. Encourage your kids to take a story they enjoy and mix it up! Put it in play form or rewrite it from a different character’s perspective. Make it into a song or an interpretive dance.

Urge your kids to be more like Shakespeare: take a good idea and run with it.  Heck, Disney did imitation… who can tell me what play The Lion King was based off of?

Thanks for the stories, Shakespeare!


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By Khara Oliver

first fell in love with Shakespeare in 8th grade after reading Hamlet, and she has been an avid fan ever since. She studied Shakespeare’s works in Stratford-upon-Avon, and graduated with a degree in English from UCLA. Khara is lucky to have a terrific career and a charmed life on the Central Coast of CA, but what she cherishes most is time spent with her husband and children. She is delighted to have this chance to help kids foster their own appreciation of Shakespeare in a way that is educational, entertaining, and most importantly, fun!

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