While Shaw called Heartbreak House his King Lear, highlighting the play's Shakespearean connections, a number of classical literary sources also inform the play's structure. His master metaphor of England as a ship draws deeply on the classical trope of the ship of state, which originated in Greek lyric (Alcaeus, Theognis, but also Aeschylus) and was most notably instantiated in Plato's Republic 6.488a–489c. Into this seafaring design he has woven much epic, particularly through multiple avatars of Odysseus: Captain Shotover escaped from a Circe-like wife and returned home, Hector Hushabye with Iliadic name but Odyssean talent for lying and self-fabrication, even Boss Mangan and Billy Dunn as manqué storytellers. Further entangling the plot are the multiple nostoi (returns home) of Shotover, Ariadne, and Billy, along with the metaphorical nostos of Ellie—and the nostalgia for a lost England.

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