Elizabethan prose literature is found immensely rich in translation works. Under the impact of the Renaissance, the Elizabethan authors, particularly prose writers, took much interest in the great classical works by different masters. One such translation work is Sir Thomas North‘s English version of Plutarch’s The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romanes, better known simply as The Lives which was translated into English in 1579. This is acknowledged as the most celebrated translation of the Tudor period.
Plutarch’s work contains the lives of some celebrated Greek and Roman leaders, including Julius Ceasar, Antony, Brutus, and so on. This is a quite powerful study of the characters and the political situations of the time and has remained a rich storehouse for knowledge in Greek and Roman political history.
North’s work was not translated directly from Plutarch. His immediate source was Jacques Amyot’s French version of Plutarch’s Parallel Lives. Naturally, he could not but deviate from his original source, according to the nature of the French translation. North, however, did not scrupulously follow Amyot, just as Amyot had not followed Plutarch. Moreover, he knew little of the classics to represent the classical matters with utmost fidelity.
Yet, North’s work is a great achievement. Written in dignified and clear prose, it presents the materials that prove to be immensely important for the subsequent Elizabethan authors. Many Elizabethan dramatists are found much indebted to North’s “The Lives”. This book was William Shakespeare’s chief source for his roman plays —Antony and Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Timon of Athens, and Coriolanus and had a great influence on Elizabethan prose.
Also read; John Lyly and his famous works