Shakespearean scholars have been debating for centuries about whether William Shakespeare was a rip-off artist or not, and whether the true "inspiration" for his works can be traced back to one of his contemporaries.
And now thanks to the research done by two Shakesepearean scholars and an open-source plagiarism software called WCopyfind we may be one step closer to solving the mystery.
Dennis McCarthy and June Schlueter ran Shakespeare's plays through WCopyfind and discovered a connection to an unpublished manuscript from the 16th century called "A Brief Discourse Of Rebellions and Rebels" by George North, a minor figure in the court of Queen Elizabeth:
Mr. McCarthy used decidedly modern techniques to marshal his evidence, employing WCopyfind, an open-source plagiarism software, which picked out common words and phrases in the manuscript and the plays.
In the dedication to his manuscript, for example, North urges those who might see themselves as ugly to strive to be inwardly beautiful, to defy nature. He uses a succession of words to make the argument, including “proportion,” “glass,” “feature,” “fair,” “deformed,” “world,” “shadow” and “nature.” In the opening soliloquy of Richard III (“Now is the winter of our discontent …”) the hunchbacked tyrant uses the same words in virtually the same order to come to the opposite conclusion: that since he is outwardly ugly, he will act the villain he appears to be.
“People don’t realize how rare these words actually are,” Mr. McCarthy said. “And he keeps hitting word after word. It’s like a lottery ticket. It’s easy to get one number out of six, but not to get every number.”
Rather than straight up ripping off George's book scholars believe the book must have been an endless source of inspiration for the Bard of Avon, something which he consulted often while writing his plays:
“It’s a source that he keeps coming back to,” said Mr. McCarthy, a self-taught Shakespeare scholar, during a recent interview at his home in North Hampton, N.H. “It affects the language, it shapes the scenes and it, to a certain extent, really even influences the philosophy of the plays.”
In reviewing the book before it was published, David Bevington, professor emeritus in the humanities at the University of Chicago and editor of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (7th Edition),” called it “a revelation” for the sheer number of correlations with the plays, eclipsed only by the chronicles of Holinshed and Hall and Plutarch’s “Lives.”
Martin Meisel, professor of dramatic literature emeritus at Columbia University, said in another review that the book is “impressively argued.” He added that there is no question the manuscript “must have been somewhere in the background mix of Shakespeare’s mental landscape” while writing the plays.