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Common Core Standards: ELA

Grades 9-10

Reading RL.9-10.9

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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Example 1

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!"

Example 2

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 Questions

Here's an example of a quiz that could be used to test this standard.

  1. If you found each of the following things in two separate texts, which one would NOT be a clue that one author borrowed from another?

    Correct Answer:

    Both texts were released by the same publisher.

    Answer Explanation:

    (d) - Publishers handle a wide variety of works, often from authors who have never even heard of each other.

  2. Many children’s books present new twists on well-known fairy tales by borrowing the characters but changing the plot or perspective. Which of the following books MOST likely falls into this category?

    Correct Answer:

    A retelling of “The Three Little Pigs” from the wolf’s point of view.

    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - Borrows the characters and the basic plot, but shifts the perspective.

  3. Which of the following Greek myths was MOST likely the source for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet?

    Correct Answer:

    Two teenagers named Pyramus and Thisbe fall in love, and then kill themselves when they realize their families are old rivals and will never let them be together.

    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - This is basically the plot of Romeo and Juliet.

  4. Shakespeare also MOST likely uses the Greek myth identified in Question 3 in which of the following scenes from his other plays?

    Correct Answer:

    The journeymen in A Midsummer Night’s Dream put on a play about star-crossed lovers who commit suicide for the Greek court.

    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - The play is “Pyramus and Thisbe.”

  5. Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead contains many scenes in which the two main characters stand on an empty stage, discussing how human beings cannot control their own fates. This fact indicates that, in addition to borrowing from Hamlet, Stoppard MOST likely borrowed from which of the following plays?

    Correct Answer:

    Waiting for Godot, in which two men stand on an empty stage discussing life, death, and fate.

    Answer Explanation:

    (d) - This is the same basic plot and theme.

  6. A novelist writes a book about a brother and sister who get lost in the desert, and find their way back to the hotel by following the trail of parts that has fallen off of their aging car. If you wanted to know if the author had borrowed from the fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel,” which of the following is the LEAST effective way to find out?

    Correct Answer:

    Refer to a car repair guide to see if the car could really have fallen apart the way it does in the book.

    Answer Explanation:

    • (c) - Not foolproof, but if she’s done it once than she may do it again.
    • (e) - This will not tell you anything about whether the plot was borrowed from a prior source. *correct answer

  7. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia goes crazy after Hamlet dumps her and eventually kills herself by drowning. Which of the following works is MOST likely based on Ophelia’s story?

    Correct Answer:

    A short story called “The Diary of Ophelia,” which is about a young girl who explains to her diary how her boyfriend dumped her and she feels she can’t live without him.

    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - This would essentially be Ophelia’s story told from her point of view.

  8. One way to indicate that a character has certain qualities without actually saying the character has them is to:

    Correct Answer:

    Name the character after a well-known character from a fairy tale or myth who has the same qualities.

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - This is basically announcing it.
    • (b) - This is borrowing character traits without borrowing the plot, which can be very effective - J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books do this frequently. *correct answer

  9. You’ve written a best-selling novel, which everyone loves until one reviewer announces that you’ve obviously stolen the plot from the fairy tale “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.” Which of the following facts is the reviewer MOST likely going to use to support this accusation?

    Correct Answer:

    Your story is about a princess who runs away from her murderous stepmother, befriends a household of miners, and is put to sleep by a poisoned apple until a handsome prince finds the cure to wake her up.

    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - This is pretty much the same exact plot as “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.”

  10. You want to write a novel based on the life of England’s King Henry VIII and his six wives, but you want to set the novel in New York in 2011. Which of the following details are you LEAST likely to borrow?

    Correct Answer:

    Details about how people in Henry’s time heated their houses and what they ate.

    Answer Explanation:

    • (c) - If you’re moving the book to New York in 2011, you most likely don’t care about how things were done in London in 1525. *correct answer
    • (e) - Each of Henry’s three children - Mary, Elizabeth, and Edward - ruled England at some point after Henry’s death.

Quiz 2 Questions

Here'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.

  1. The First Night of Pygmalion draws on the play Pygmalion by:

    Correct Answer:

    using the play Pygmalion as the setting for The First Night of Pygmalion.

    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - The latter is set backstage at the former

  2. The First Night of Pygmalion draws on the myth of Pygmalion by:

    Correct Answer:

    using the same plot device of a man trying to “shape” a woman into his version of perfection

    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - In the myth, it’s a sculptor making a statue of the “perfect” woman; in the play, it’s the writer trying to make the female lead into the “perfect” actress.)

  3. How does Shaw change the myth of Pygmalion when he incorporates it into his play Pygmalion?

    Correct Answer:

    all of the above

  4. Which part of the Pygmalion myth does Shaw NOT change in his play Pygmalion?

    Correct Answer:

    he theme of a man “shaping” a woman into his idea of what a perfect woman should be

    Answer Explanation:

    (d) - both texts are about a man doing exactly this

  5. Both The First Night of Pygmalion and Pygmalion the play contain which of the following themes?

    Correct Answer:

    using language to make someone seem like what they’re not

    Answer Explanation:

    (b) - in addition to being a play about acting, The First Night of Pygmalion deals with the use of phrases like “not bloody likely”

  6. By having Eliza leave Professor Higgins at the end of Pygmalion, Shaw is doing what with the original Pygmalion myth?

    Correct Answer:

    interpreting a new ending in which Galatea, now a real person, can make her own decisions without Pygmalion telling her what to do

  7. You’re writing a short story based on the play Pygmalion, and you want to use an ending that shows the same basic change as the one you identified in Question 6. Which of the following is MOST likely to get that message across to the audience?

    Correct Answer:

    having Galatea dump Pygmalion and take off to become a famous photographer

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - this is the original ending of the myth, not the ending of the play, which makes (d) the better answer
    • (d) - this also shows her making her own decisions *correct answer

  8. Which of the following literary devices appears in the myth of Pygmalion, but not in either one of the plays based on the myth?

    Correct Answer:

    deus ex machina

    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - the gods solve Pygmalion’s problem in the myth by bringing Galatea to life, but there are no gods intervening for any reason in either of the plays

  9. The myth of Pygmalion would be more like Shaw’s play Pygmalion if:

    Correct Answer:

    the myth told us how Galatea felt about becoming a living human being

    Answer Explanation:

    (e) - We find out how Eliza Doolittle feels about the change Higgins puts her through, but not how Galatea feels about the change she goes through.

  10. While the two plays talk about how the women involved in the stories feel, the original myth does not. This MOST likely indicates which of the following changes happened between the writing of the myth and the writing of the plays?

    Correct Answer:

    Society became more likely to listen to and respect women’s opinions.

Aligned Resources