01 March 2019

Another source for Shakespeare's writing

As reported by the New York Times:
For years scholars have debated what inspired William Shakespeare’s writings. Now, with the help of software typically used by professors to nab cheating students, two writers have discovered an unpublished manuscript they believe the Bard of Avon consulted to write “King Lear,” “Macbeth,” “Richard III,” “Henry V” and seven other plays.

The news has caused Shakespeareans to sit up and take notice. “If it proves to be what they say it is, it is a once-in-a-generation — or several generations — find,” said Michael Witmore, director of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington.

The findings were made by Dennis McCarthy and June Schlueter, who describe them in a book to be published next week by the academic press D. S. Brewer and the British Library. The authors are not suggesting that Shakespeare plagiarized but rather that he read and was inspired by a manuscript titled “A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels,” written in the late 1500s by George North, a minor figure in the court of Queen Elizabeth, who served as an ambassador to Sweden...

The book contends that Shakespeare not only uses the same words as North, but often uses them in scenes about similar themes, and even the same historical characters. In another passage, North uses six terms for dogs, from the noble mastiff to the lowly cur and “trundle-tail,” to argue that just as dogs exist in a natural hierarchy, so do humans. Shakespeare uses essentially the same list of dogs to make similar points in “King Lear” and “Macbeth.”..

In 1576, North was living at Kirtling Hall near Cambridge, England, the estate of Baron Roger North. It was here, Mr. McCarthy says, that he wrote his manuscript, at the same time Thomas North was there possibly working on his translation of Plutarch.

The manuscript is a diatribe against rebels, arguing that all rebellions against a monarch are unjust and doomed to fail. While Shakespeare had a more ambiguous position on rebellion, Mr. McCarthy said he clearly mined North’s treatise for themes and characters.
I think it's essential to note that George North's writings were not published and thus would not have been available to Shakespeare from a public library.  This was a handwritten manuscript

kept in an aristocratic household of someone in Queen Elizabeth's court.  It's hard to imagine the manuscript getting into the hands of a Stratfordian son of a glovemaker and farmer's daughter.  It would not, however, have been inaccessible to Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.


  1. Perhaps tangential, but I found this interesting: "In another passage, North uses six terms for dogs, from the noble mastiff to the lowly cur and “trundle-tail,” to argue that just as dogs exist in a natural hierarchy, so do humans...The manuscript is a diatribe against rebels, arguing that all rebellions against a monarch are unjust and doomed to fail." This seems awfully like the same reasoning used by alt-right scholars such as Jordan Peterson, who uses lobsters to argue that hierarchies are natural and beneficial, and that the "radical Left" who opposes such things are only sewing "chaos." And much of the HBD/hereditarian-types like to use dog breeds as proof that some "races" are cognitively superior to others. Quite interesting that this type of thinking was already in existence in the English upper class in the 1500s!

    Does this actually provide evidence for the Oxfordian theory? The article doesn't mention it as far as I can tell. Have others ran with that idea?

    BTW, here are the lines from Macbeth (Act III, Scene 1):

    Macbeth: Ay, in the catalogue ye go for men;
    As hounds and greyhounds, mongrels, spaniels, curs,
    Shoughs, water-rugs and demi-wolves, are clept
    All by the name of dogs: the valued file
    Distinguishes the swift, the slow, the subtle,
    The housekeeper, the hunter, every one
    According to the gift which bounteous nature
    Hath in him closed; whereby he does receive
    Particular addition. from the bill
    That writes them all alike: and so of men.
    Now, if you have a station in the file,
    Not i' the worst rank of manhood, say 't;
    And I will put that business in your bosoms,
    Whose execution takes your enemy off,
    Grapples you to the heart and love of us,
    Who wear our health but sickly in his life,
    Which in his death were perfect.

    1. This doesn't IMO provide any direct evidence for the Oxfordian theory. For years I was a member of the Shakespeare-Oxford Society, but I'm off the roll now and don't get the newsletters. If you check their websites you may find some relevant discussion.

      Personally I'm convinced that Edward de Vere wrote the bulk of the Shakespeare corpus, but I'm not going to argue with the Stratfordians. It's like arguing with Trump supporters.

  2. "It's like arguing with Trump supporters."
    Funny you put it that way. I have been saying the same thing about the Oxfordians.

    1. As a Viking/Gopher fan living in Packer/Badger territory, I've learned to coexist with people of polar opposite views. :-)

  3. I have no idea whether de Vere is the true Shakespeare, but the idea that Shakespeare, as he is known, is the author of the plays attributed to him, has always been a shaky concept in my mind.


    1. Lurker, this is a topic that has vexed generations of people. There are an inordinate number of books and scholarly papers written on the subject, and proponents of different opinions have disagreements that range from humorous and polite to vicious. Your local library will likely have a couple books on "Shakespeare authorship", but an easy way to start looking into the controversy is with the Wikipedia page -


      It is reasonably objective.

      I have file-folders-full of material supporting Oxford, but don't want to clog the blog with it. I'll post something a couple times a year just to pull the chains of the Stratfordians. :-)


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