Software commonly used to uncover cheating students has revealed that 11 of Shakespeare’s greatest plays may have been plagiarized from a 16th Century unpublished manuscript – ‘A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels’ by George North.
This week, it was reported that scholars Dennis McCarthy and June Schlueter found, using the plagiarism software, that Shakespeare not only used the same words from George North’s unpublished manuscript, but often used them in scenes about similar themes, and even the same historical characters. In [a] 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”, for example.
Dennis McCarthy and June Schlueter in an article revealed many more examples of places where the words of Shakespeare and North intersect, in some cases verbatim.
Even though plagiarism-detecting software was used to make this discovery, McCarthy and Schlueter point out that they are not accusing Shakespeare of plagiarism. Instead, they’re simply arguing that North’s writings were an inspiration for him.
Even before Dennis McCarthy and June Schlueter revelations, there have been earlier reports that Shakespeare borrowed plots, ideas, characters, themes, philosophies, and occasional passages from sources ranging from Plutarch’s Lives and Holinshed’s Chronicles to Montaigne’s Essays and plays by his contemporaries. He returned again and again to ancient Rome, finding inspiration in Ovid, Seneca, Plautus, and others.
Shakespeare’s inheritance also goes beyond the textual. When he began working in the London theater scene, its component parts were there waiting for him. There were already professional theater companies, outdoor amphitheaters, plays in five acts, iambic pentameter, and conventions surrounding comedies, tragedies, and history plays, all which he reportedly incorporated in his works – a lot of which would have required authorization or at the very least attribution by today’s standards..