Common Core Standards: ELA
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RL.9-10.9. Analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work (e.g., how Shakespeare treats a theme or topic from Ovid or the Bible or how a later author draws on a play by Shakespeare).
Just as there are no new literary devices or ways to arrange a story (see Question 5), there are no new stories. Yes, that’s right—we just said that. There weren’t even any new stories four hundred years ago, when Shakespeare was repackaging used goods for the amusement of King James’s court. The good news is that the “old” stories provide endless ways to rearrange their parts, plots, and themes so as to create new work. This Standard takes a closer look at how borrowing turns old news into new art.
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Using this Standard
- 1984 Teacher Pass
- A Raisin in the Sun Teacher Pass
- A Rose For Emily Teacher Pass
- Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Teacher Pass
- Animal Farm Teacher Pass
- Antigone Teacher Pass
- Beowulf Teacher Pass
- Brave New World Teacher Pass
- Death of a Salesman Teacher Pass
- Fahrenheit 451 Teacher Pass
- Fences Teacher Pass
- Frankenstein Teacher Pass
- Grapes Of Wrath Teacher Pass
- Great Expectations Teacher Pass
- Hamlet Teacher Pass
- Heart of Darkness Teacher Pass
- Julius Caesar Teacher Pass
- King Lear Teacher Pass
- Macbeth Teacher Pass
- Moby Dick Teacher Pass
- Narrative of Frederick Douglass Teacher Pass
- Oedipus the King Teacher Pass
- Of Mice and Men Teacher Pass
- One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Teacher Pass
- Romeo and Juliet Teacher Pass
- The Aeneid Teacher Pass
- The As I Lay Dying Teacher Pass
- The Bluest Eye Teacher Pass
- The Canterbury Tales General Prologue Teacher Pass
- The Canterbury Tales: The Miller's Tale Teacher Pass
- The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath's Prologue Teacher Pass
- The Cask of Amontillado Teacher Pass
- The Catch-22 Teacher Pass
- The Catcher in the Rye Teacher Pass
- The Crucible Teacher Pass
- The Great Gatsby Teacher Pass
- The House on Mango Street Teacher Pass
- The Iliad Teacher Pass
- The Lottery Teacher Pass
- The Metamorphosis Teacher Pass
- The Odyssey Teacher Pass
- The Old Man and the Sea Teacher Pass
- Their Eyes Were Watching God Teacher Pass
- Things Fall Apart Teacher Pass
- To Kill a Mockingbird Teacher Pass
- Twilight Teacher Pass
- Wide Sargasso Sea Teacher Pass
- Wuthering Heights Teacher Pass
Sample Questions for Use in Class
1. Shakespeare and Stoppard: Different Plays, Same Body Count
Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet in both obvious and not-so-obvious ways. Obviously, Stoppard borrows two of Shakespeare’s minor characters and gives them top billing. But the two plays also have similar themes – both dwell on the futility of human action and the inevitability of death. Have students compare the two passages below (or others from the plays, if you so choose), discussing how each deals with the ideas of death and action/ inaction:
To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.
Rosencrantz: Do you ever think of yourself as actually dead, lying in a box with the lid on it? Nor do I really. Silly to be depressed by it. I mean, one thinks of it like being alive in a box. One keeps forgetting to take into account that one is dead. Which should make all the difference. Shouldn't it? I mean, you’d never know you were in a box would you? It would be just like you were asleep in a box. Not that I’d like to sleep in a box, mind you. Not without any air. You'd wake up dead for a start and then where would you be? In a box. That's the bit I don't like, frankly. That’s why I don’t think of it. Because you'd be helpless wouldn't you? Stuffed in a box like that. I mean, you'd be in there forever. Even taking into account the fact that you're dead. It isn't a pleasant thought. Especially if you're dead, really. Ask yourself: if I asked you straight off I'm going to stuff you in this box now – would you rather to be alive or dead? Naturally you’d prefer to be alive. Life in a box is better than no life at all. I expect. You'd have a chance at least. You could lie there thinking, well, at least I’m not dead. In a minute, somebody’s going to bang on the lid and tell me to come out. (knocks) "Hey you! What's your name? Come out of there!"
2. Unintentional Borrowing
Even though there are no new stories, storytellers can end up borrowing from previous stories without knowing it because the sheer number of tales is so vast that no one can possibly be expected to know them all. Have students compare and contrast the two summaries below. What’s the same, and what’s different? How do these similarities and differences shed new light on both the old tale and the new one?
8 C.E.: Philomela Weaves a Tale
In Metamorphoses, the Roman writer Ovid tells the tale of Tereus and Philomela. Tereus is a strapping young soldier married to Philomela’s sister, Procne - but he’s still got the hots for Philomela. When Philomela tells him to get lost, Tereus assaults her, then cuts out her tongue so she can’t tell her sister what he did. Undaunted, Philomela weaves a tapestry showing the assault, then presents it to her sister. (We’re never told what Procne thinks of this fabulous “gift”.)
2008 C.E.: A Story in Pictures
In 2008, police in Los Angeles, California, arrested a 24-year-old man on suspicion of drug charges. While they were taking his booking photos, they noticed that he had an elaborate scene tattooed across his chest and shoulders. On closer inspection, the police discovered that it was a scene that exactly matched the scene of an unsolved liquor store murder that had happened a few years before - right down to the name of the liquor store, which appeared in the tattooed version. The tattoo’s owner later confessed that he had committed the murder, then had the event made into a tattoo. Needless to say, no one but the man’s prison mates are likely to see him show off his story for a long time.
Quiz 1 QuestionsHere's an example of a quiz that could be used to test this standard.
Quiz 2 QuestionsHere's an example of a quiz that could be used to test this standard.
Questions 1-10 are based on the following information:
One classic Greek myth is the story of Pygmalion. Pygmalion was a sculptor who didn’t love much of anything except carving things out of stone all day long. That is, he didn’t love much of anything until he started carving a lovely lady out of marble, whom he named Galatea. The more he carved, the more he fell in love with the lady he was carving, until the statue was finally finished and Pygmalion was so madly in love with it that he stared at it all day long. Taking pity on him lest he waste away to nothing, the gods turned Galatea-the-statue into Galatea-the-woman so that Pygmalion could marry her and maybe even start eating and sleeping again instead of staring at her all the time. (We’re not told how Galatea felt about this arrangement.)
In 1913, George Bernard Shaw wrote Pygmalion, a play based on the myth. In the play, linguist and English gentleman Henry Higgins makes a bet with his friend that he can pick a lower-class flower seller at random off the street, teach her to speak “proper” English, and dupe all his upper-class friends into thinking she’s a duchess instead of a poor person. To do this, Higgins enlists a flower girl named Eliza Doolittle, gives her several speech and etiquette lessons, and then successfully passes her off as an upper-class lady at a local ball, making a rich young man fall in love with her.
Eliza, however, is furious that Higgins has only been “helping” her in order to win a bet and that, now that she has all these upper-class manners, her friends at home laugh at her. They get into a fight and she storms out, only coming back later to tell Higgins off and announce that she’s going to marry the rich young man with the crush on her, which for some reason Higgins thinks is hilarious - probably to conceal the fact that he’s in love with the upper-class lady he “created,” but not the lower-class flower girl she started as.
In 1972, Richard Huggett wrote the play The First Night of Pygmalion. The play focuses on the events backstage at the very first production of Shaw’s play. The three main characters are Shaw, Mrs. Campbell (who plays Eliza) and Herbert Beerbohm Tree (who plays Higgins). The play is mostly about the fight the three have over what the characters would and wouldn’t say on stage, including the infamous line “not bloody likely,” which Shaw, Campbell, and Tree each have a passionate reason for leaving in the play or taking out. As far as we know, no one falls in love with anyone, but the play does deal to some extent with Shaw’s belief that he can turn Mrs. Campbell, who has never been a particularly good actress, into one of the best on stage by shaping her to fit Eliza’s role.
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