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George North: Meet the 16th-century ambassador who software says inspired Shakespeare

George North: Meet the 16th-century ambassador who software says inspired Shakespeare

Two writers ran the works of William Shakespeare through open-source plagiarism-detecting software, WCopyfind, and made an interesting discovery. The Bard himself may have been “inspired” by a 16th-century ambassador named George North.

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According to the New York Times, two writers—Dennis McCarthy (described as “the Steve Jobs of the Shakespeare community”) and June Schlueter–discovered an unpublished manuscript they believe Shakespeare consulted to write King Lear, Macbeth, Richard III, Henry V, and seven other plays. The manuscript, titled “A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels,” was written in the late 1500s by George North, whom the Times describes as “a minor figure in the court of Queen Elizabeth, who served as an ambassador to Sweden.”

The software picked out common words and phrases between North’s manuscript and Shakespeare’s plays. In their forthcoming book, the writers argue 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.”

The literary detectives discovered North’s influence, thanks in part to investigations into Shakespeare’s other influence: Thomas North, who translated Plutarch’s Lives. Back in 1576, George North, who was most likely a cousin of Thomas, was living at Kirtling Hall near Cambridge, England, when he wrote his manuscript–at the same time Thomas North was there possibly working on his translation of Plutarch. George North’s manuscript is “a diatribe against rebels,” according to the Times, where he argued that all rebellions against a monarch are unjust and doomed to fail. (Sounds like a fun guy to have at parties.)

While Shakespeare may have been inspired by Plutarch’s work and North’s manuscript, the writers aren’t accusing him of plagiarizing those works, so don’t try to use this as a defense of plagiarism, kids.

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