Did Shakespeare influence your writing

Plagiarism software reveals what inspired William Shakespeare

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He left the world no less than 39 dramas, 154 sonnets, several epic poems and a number of question marks: Who William Shakespeare really was, whether he is actually the author of all works that are ascribed to him, and what literary influences he was under, has been since Centuries of research. The fact that his biography shows 18 "lost years" about which not the slightest is known, despite numerous surviving documents, contributes to wild speculation to this day.

Now the literary crime thriller about the famous poet is entering the next round: Two scholars from the USA claim to have discovered a new source that inspired Shakespeare when writing some of his most important works. A treatise by the English diplomat George North is said to have influenced text passages in eleven pieces , below Richard III, Henry V, Henry VI, King Lear and Macbeth.

In her book to be published these days A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels by George North: A Newly Uncovered Manuscript Source for Shakespeare's Plays Dennis McCarthy and the retired literary scholar June Schlueter from Lafayette College in Easton present their discovery - and the long journey to get there.

Literary detective work

It began in 2006 when McCarthy studied Thomas North, whose Plutarch translations Shakespeare is known to consult for his classical historical dramas. In a 1927 auction catalog, McCarthy found promising reference to a previously unpublished manuscript by a suspected cousin of Thomas North named George North.

As the New York Times reports, Schlueter and McCarthy searched for the document, which was probably written around 1576, for more than a year before they finally found it in the holdings of the British Library. North argues in this essay why insurrections against monarchs are unjust and doomed. The researchers quickly found passages in it that were reminiscent of Shakespeare's works.

Extensive analyzes with plagiarism software then brought a number of similarities to light. For example, the use of rather unusual expressions or identical phrases and word sequences in similar contexts would indicate that Shakespeare must have known North's treatise well - the researchers emphasize that there are clear parallels, but not plagiarism in the narrower sense.

Comprehensive analysis

According to the authors, the influence on the description of the English rebel Jack Cade in Shakespeare is particularly evident Henry VI., where details of his macabre demise, which was previously thought to be an invention of the poet, coincide with explanations in North's text. McCarthy and Schlueter consider it very unlikely that both authors were influenced by a third source: Using the software in a database, they compared corresponding phrases with millions of book pages from the years 1473 to 1700.

"New sources for Shakespeare don't pop up every day, which is a really significant find," commented David Bevington of the University of Chicago on the publication. "The list of passages that can be traced is impressive."

The use of plagiarism software for questions relating to the history of literature is not new; in the case of Shakespeare too, such a program led to a revelation years ago: In 2009 researchers reported that Shakespeare co-authored the play alongside the playwright Thomas Kyd Edward III. should have been. And it can be safely assumed that the last act of Shakespeare research has not yet opened. But, to use the poet's words: "Every thing has its time." (David Rennert, February 14, 2018)