They say there's nothing new under the sun. Whoever they are, it makes you wonder whether or not they're right.
A lot of what we (as a society) produce seems to be based on, inspired by or downright copies of, things that came before. I'm not just talking about things (for the sake of this discussion, I'm going to stick to artistic endeavours) that were created with the intention of retelling a familiar story, like Westside Story or She's the Man* - I'm talking about everything.
I would say the vast majority fiction, if we were to take away the stylistic aspects and change the characters' names to Protagonist, Antagonist, etc., would tell very similar stories. Which isn't to say those stories aren't compelling, but it calls the idea of originality into question.
Somewhere in this article, I've probably alluded to Shakespeare (and the Bible and maybe a hundred other things), without even knowing. Some things are so prolific that they become part of us, as if by osmosis, and can't possibly be avoided. We write them or say them out loud without any intention to do so. So is it even possible to be original?
I'm wondering if the similarities in the stories we tell exist because they follow a set format that limits us, like that Docx guy suggested, or if it's because we're unconsciously copying each other.
Or, do they exist because of common interest, because we like reading about badass men and damsels in distress, because we like the idea that enemies can become friends and lovers and that the underdog can win, because blood is literally our life force and therefore extremely important to us - do they exist because we're human?
Personally, I think there is plenty new under the sun. I'm a firm believer of originality in art and as far as I can see, it's still going strong.
*I couldn't think of another example off the top of my head, but this kind of leads me to believe that Shakespeare should be left alone... although, 10 Things I Hate About You was really good.