Much has been written in an attempt to explain the nature of the mind behind the great works of literature in the Shakespeare canon. It is usually acknowledged that the author possessed an incredible ability to analyse, understand and describe the unlimited variety of human personality and endeavour unequalled by any other English author. Shakespeare's dramatic works have such universal and ongoing appeal that he well deserves Jonson's plaudit that he was "a man for all time".
The most frequent of Shakespeare's literary allusions relate to classical literature and mythology, and it is widely accepted that he must have been an accomplished Latin scholar, as many of his sources were not available in the English language during Shakespeare's lifetime. In addition to Ovid in the Latin translation, Shakespeare's most popular sources appear to be the Bible, Plutarch and Holinshed.
His writings are permeated with classical phrases and allusions and the freedom with which he misquoted or paraphrased his sources, while boldly adapting them to his own purpose, indicates that he wrote largely from memory without constant reference to books.
Shakespeare did not flaunt his learning, but it was at the centre of his mind and culture so he could not avoid displaying it in his writing. Other major components of Shakespeare's knowledge relate to the law, aristocracy and the court, seamanship, military matters, psychology and medicine, country sports and pastimes, plant lore and folklore.
In addition to the possession of such a vast and impressive body of knowledge, the author also had at his command a remarkable and extensive vocabulary to express this knowledge, said to be far greater than that of any other writer in English. To put it in perspective: Milton was said to have a vocabulary of 7000 words; the New Testament employs...