Honors Program

Fine and Performing Arts Honors, Honors in English

Date of Award


Thesis Professor(s)

Robert Sawyer

Thesis Professor Department

Literature and Language

Thesis Reader(s)

Judith Slagle, Scott Contreras-Koterbay


In my thesis, I discuss and analyze William Shakespeare’s utilization and adaptation of source texts within three of his dramas: Henry IV, Part I, a history; Twelfth Night, a comedy; and Julius Caesar, a tragedy. By comparing Shakespeare’s adaption of sources to the contemporary United Kingdom intellectual property policies, it becomes possible for me to determine whether Shakespeare’s extensive and popular dramas would violate modern copyright law.

The first chapter, “Printing and Writing in the Early Modern Period,” discusses the development of proprietary interests among the Elizabethan people. I break down the individual components of the printing process in the early modern period and further consider how its creation affected writers and impacted the world at large. Additionally mentioned within this chapter are the United Kingdom’s initial attempts at regulating printed materials among publishers. The availability, pricing, and evolution of printed material is all discussed, as well as the imitative and collaborative writing process among Elizabethan dramatists and poets.

The second chapter, “An Introduction and Brief History of Intellectual Property and Copyright,” addresses the United Kingdom’s current legislation on borrowing and infringing upon creative works. After an introduction to key terms within the intellectual property field, I provide a brief history on the evolution of copyright within the United Kingdom. After a discussion on property protection and rights for literary, dramatic, and artistic works, I cite the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 as the key document from which I draw my conclusions on Shakespeare’s infringement of source texts within his plays.

Chapters three, four, and five, focus on the individual analyses of source texts used by Shakespeare within each of his selected plays. While Shakespeare did borrow from a multitude of source texts, I strive to analyze his utilization of content within only his most primary source texts. Each chapter begins with a brief synopsis of the play, characters, and major themes. After each introduction, I devote multiple pages of text to comparing and contrasting Shakespeare’s imitation and utilization of primary source texts within his own works. At the end of each chapter, I calculate the age of each source text as it relates to the public domain and intellectual property law.

Following chapter five, I use the combination of my analyses and personal understanding of copyright to render three separate verdicts on Shakespeare’s infringement of source materials within each of his plays. Alongside each verdict, I provide lawful reasoning for the individual outcome of each case. In the final pages, I draw a conclusion concerning Shakespeare’s infringement of source texts within his plays. It looks like one play clearly breaks the United Kingdom’s copyright laws, one play may or may not depending on further studies, and a third drama clearly does not constitute infringement. Furthermore, I offer a brief commentary on the reigning United Kingdom intellectual property laws based upon my analyses and verdicts.


East Tennessee State University

Document Type

Honors Thesis - Open Access

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.


Copyright by the authors.