Exeunt! If thou dost protest too much over SPOILERS in this Game of Thrones and Shakespeare connections list!
About the headline: before you get all indignantly puffy-shirted, “stole” could also be translated as “borrow,” “lifted,” or “was inspired by" - and George R.R. Martin would be the first to tell you that Shakespeare borrowed, lifted, and was inspired by others himself. Martin is quite clear about the sources he used for A Song of Ice and Fire - and the show runners are not shy about sourcing, either.
You’ll get no argument out of them about things Game of Thrones took from Shakespeare: “Ideas are cheap. I have more ideas now than I could ever write up. To my mind, it's the execution that is all-important. I'm proud of my work, but I don't know if I'd ever claim it's enormously original. You look at Shakespeare, who borrowed all of his plots. In A Song of Ice and Fire, I take stuff from the Wars of the Roses and other fantasy things, and all these things work around in my head and somehow they jell into what I hope is uniquely my own,” Martin has said.
What’s on Martin’s shopping list? The Wall in the North was inspired by Hadrian’s Wall. Martin was greatly inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien, calling the author’s work “my great model.” And Martin drew heavily from the Wars of the Roses, three decades of wars between two houses within the same family. Martin has also taken inspiration from his own television writing, as well as popular and classic historical fiction, sci-fi, and fantasy.
But what about the Bard? What are some of the similarities between Game of Thrones and Shakespeare? Well, both authors love a mass killing at a gathering, tragic love affairs, misunderstood and flawed characters, and bitter ironic twists. Who doesn’t? Read on to see all the ways Martin and his show runners "borrowed" these things and more from William Shakespeare...
Falstaff - Robert Baratheon
Falstaff: A women-chasing drunkard and braggart who has varying means of access to power. The character appeared in three of Shakespeare’s plays: Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, as well as Henry V. Falstaff could be counted upon for humor and irreverence, as well as intense drama and deep sadness.
Robert Baratheon: A bastard-making, bed-hopping king who loves to laugh, flash his famous temper, and unevenly wields his power before making a messy exit.
Banquo - Eddard Stark
Banquo: The general fought alongside Macbeth and was his friend until Macbeth grew suspicious and paranoid, twisted by the prophecy of the witches. The witches also tell Banquo his sons will be kings. Macbeth grows to distrust Banquo and has him killed. Banquo returns as a ghost to haunt Macbeth.
Eddard: Ned is a childhood friend and trusted former soldier of King Robert Baratheon. Things begin to turn for Ned once he becomes Robert’s Hand. Robert begins to side against his friend, albeit reluctantly. After the king’s death, Ned is betrayed by Littlefinger and King Joffrey has him beheaded with his own sword, Ice. Ned appears to Bran and Rickon in the crypts of Winterfell after his death.
Iago - Littlefinger
Iago: As Othello’s trusted advisor, Iago schemes and plots to bring about Othello’s ruin through a series of manipulations, never directly killing anyone. Iago’s motivation for ruining Othello’s life is because he is slighted by not being promoted up the ranks and given his rightful place in the world.
Littlefinger: Petyr Baelish comes from humble beginnings and suffered injuries and a deep eternal emotional scarring at the hands of Brandon Stark over Catelyn Tully when they were young. Baelish has mastered the game to gain power and ruin any house or person he needs to in the process. His never-ending manipulation makes him dangerous, but many still underestimate him because they never see the literal or figurative blade in Littlefinger’s hand.
Portia - Margaery Tyrell
Portia: A clever and beautiful wealthy woman who knows how to maneuver through society and use the social standards to her advantage. In The Merchant of Venice, she’s at the mercy of her father’s ambitions and the law of the land, but manages to find something for herself along the way.
Margaery: She finds herself in the exact same position as Portia, being matched with different men. When she’s betrothed to Joffrey, Margaery finds a way to manipulate the marriage for the good of House Tyrell. She plays the game to a fault and is only thwarted by the overly confident High Sparrow, who doesn’t understand the depths of Cersei’s deceit.