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Leicester Special Collections

Montaigne

Montaigne's Essays

Front page of an English translation of Montaigne's Essays. 1811.

Shakespeare would have had access to a wide range of publications provided by the busy and prolific world of London printers, from pamphlets to Italian novellas to the translation of influential books published across the Channel. Among them, was certainly an edition of the Essays written by the French philosopher and essayist Michel de Montaigne.

Scholars have identified numerous instances in Shakespeare’s work where there are clear direct echoes of Montaigne’s words and ideas. However, influences of one writer on another are never easy to establish and are very often contested. More important than identifying direct references is to recognize the habits of mind and thinking that unite Montaigne and Shakespeare.

Both share the ability to create works that draw on a wide range of reading and observation, on systematic thinking, and on creative use of quotation and references. Above all, they both believed that there was a profound link between language and identity. Montaigne would demonstrate this in his own heavily autobiographical writing; Shakespeare would embody this concept in the lines he gave to his characters.