Sleuth un­cov­ers Bard’s ‘re­bel­lion in­spi­ra­tion’

The Weekend Australian - - WORLD - THE TIMES

A 16th-cen­tury man­u­script hid­den in the Bri­tish Li­brary and de­coded us­ing pla­gia­rism soft­ware has been pin­pointed as a pre­vi­ously un­known source for Shake­speare’s plays.

A Brief Dis­course of Re­bel­lion & Rebels by Ge­orge North, a mi­nor fig­ure in Queen El­iz­a­beth’s court, is, ac­cord­ing to its find­ers and de­coders, the source of more than 20 pas­sages by the Bard.

They claim it in­spired Richard III’s vil­lain­ous de­ter­mi­na­tion and other char­ac­ters.

While Shake­speare was known to have bor­rowed from nu­mer­ous sources, schol­ars say such as Holin­shed’s Chron­i­cles, if the Dis­course is au­then­ti­cated it would be a once-in-sev­eral-gen­er­a­tions dis­cov­ery.

Den­nis McCarthy, who an­a­lysed the lin­guis­tic and the­matic sim­i­lar­i­ties, said he had no doubts Shake­speare had sought in­spi­ra­tion from the Dis­course. “For re­bel­lions, this was his go-to work,” he said. “It seems like this work was di­gested from the open­ing ded­i­ca­tion to the fi­nal pages.”

Shake­speare scholar James Shapiro said the claims im­plied a “rad­i­cal rewrit­ing of how Shake­speare wrote”. “The claim be­ing made is that spe­cific words (and in some cases, in some kind of or­der) stuck in his head over a dozen years later,” he said. “Un­til now, no scholar has ever claimed that Shake­speare ever kept re­call­ing a spe­cific source in this way. That is the re­mark­able claim that needs to be ex­plored, de­fended and ex­plained.”

Mr McCarthy said he had first seen a ref­er­ence to the Dis­course in a 1927 cat­a­logue of rare books that had a “tan­ta­lis­ing” de­scrip­tion about its par­al­lels with Shake­speare’s treat­ment of Jack Cade in Henry VI Part 2. He found the Dis­course in the Bri­tish Li­brary. He typed out the man­u­script, pre­pared the Early English Books On­line data­base, which has 60,000 early mod­ern English texts, and de­ployed pla­gia­rism soft­ware.

He said: “The Dis­course’s open­ing speech — look­ing in the mir­ror and see­ing your­self de­formed and how you should act ac­cord­ingly — is just like the open­ing mono­logue of Richard III.”


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