Influence of William Shakespeare on Melville’s Moby-Dick Essay

Influence of William Shakespeare on Melville’s Moby-Dick Essay

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In 1820 in the Edinburgh Review Sidney Smith said: “In the four quarters of the globe, who reads an American book?” (par. 4). That was the conventional idea concerning American Literature to the conservative British writers. But Melville proved this assumption of the British writers wrong not by arguing with them but by producing a huge work which in its quality is comparable to Shakespearean great tragedies.
Melville’s masterpiece Moby-Dick consists of thousands of references, but specially
references of Shakespeare are in abundance in this book. When Melville wrote this
novel, next to the Bible Shakespeare was in his mind because he wanted to prove the
superiority of American Nation as well as American Literature. The protagonist of the
novel, Captain Ahab, is comparable with Macbeth and Lear in many ways. Also the
setting of the novel and language of the novel are like those of Shakespeare’s plays. The construction of Ahab as the tragic hero-villain, his madness and blasphemous behaviour, the Shakespearean dramatic technique, the Shakespearean language and parallel scenes are the things which Melville borrows from Shakespeare. Though the portrayal of character and the construction of the novel are Shakespearean, the novel’s greatness lies in its originality.

Melville creates Ahab in the model of a Shakespearean tragic hero. Melville’s
conception of Ahab as a tragic character was made possible by this immersion in
Shakespearean tragedy. Shakespearean tragic heroes, for example Macbeth and Lear are
blinded by hubris or pride. They are tragic because of their error in judgment. Captain
Ahab also becomes tragic because of the error in judgment. Ahab’s misfortune is brought
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upon him not by vice and depravity but...


... middle of paper ...


...ck. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Limited, 2002.
Melville, Herman. “Hawthrone and His Mosses.” Moby-Dick. Ed. Harrison Hayford and
Hershel Parker. New York and London: Norton and Company, 1967. 535-551.
“Melville’s Moby-Dick.” Wow Essays.15 September 2008

Olson, Charles. “Ahab and His Fool.” Moby-Dick. Ed.Harrison Hayford and
Hershel Parker. New York and London: Norton and Company, 1967.648-651.
Shakespeare, William. King Lear. Surrey: Thomas Nelson and Son Ltd, 1997.
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
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Shakespeare, William. Othello. London: Penguin Books Limited, 1968.
Smith, Sidney. “Who Reads an American Book?” Great Epochs in American History.
15 (1820): pars. 4. 26 June 2008


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