Did Shakespeare Rip off Sir Thomas North? Rogue Scholar’s Theory Says It’s a Possibility

Investigative journalist Michael Blanding details these theories in his new book, "North by Shakespeare: A Rogue Scholar’s Quest for the Truth Behind the Bard's Work.”

For over 100 years, people have questioned whether William Shakespeare actually wrote the plays that bear his name. Now, a controversial new theory about Shakespeare’s authorship has been floated by a self-taught scholar named Dennis McCarthy. After using plagiarism software, McCarthy has suggested that Shakespeare borrowed heavily from a man named Sir Thomas North.

Investigative journalist Michael Blanding details McCarthy’s findings in his new book. And he spoke with Inside Edition Digital about his discoveries. 

“There's always been this question in people's minds about how Shakespeare could have written the plays, and if in fact maybe somebody else wrote them instead,” Blanding said. That’s why he’s researched and wrote the book, “North by Shakespeare: A Rogue Scholar’s Quest for the Truth Behind the Bard's Work.”

So did Shakespeare write his own plays? According to Michael, this question, and subsequent theories that seek to show he didn’t, comes up often. “Because when you look at the biography of Shakespeare, it just does not match up with the experience that someone would need to write these amazing works that talk about going to war, and going to court, and all of the intrigue and factions at court, and traveling in Italy," Blanding said.

“What we know about Shakespeare is that for all we know, he didn't even go to college. He didn't go to university. Lived most of his life in Stratford-upon-Avon in London, never traveled outside of England.”

Several years ago, Blanding met a man named Dennis McCarthy. He had a whole new theory about Shakespeare that suggested his plays were based on other plays written by another writer.

“He has been researching Shakespeare using computer software for the past 15 years," Blanding said of McCarthy. "He's come to the conclusion that while Shakespeare wrote all of the plays that are attributed to him, he actually based them on the work of this other writer by the name of Sir Thomas North.

“He has found just hundreds and hundreds of passages in which it seems like Shakespeare used phrases and passages from Thomas North's writings in order to write the plays," Blanding continued. "Then on top of that, there's all these elements from Thomas North's really colorful, really amazing life that's also reflected in the plays. You put together the life and the works, and it is just a one-to-one correspondence for about 50 years of all these plays that seem like they're drawn from the life and work of this other writer.”

Blanding pointed out that, as expected, the mainstream Shakespeare community is very skeptical about these findings. “You think that scholarships should be about taking ideas and looking at them seriously and testing them. But people get really set in their ways.”

“I think it's really a shame that people aren't willing to look at it more closely and see if there are parts of it, at least, they may be able to agree with," he said. 

But even though there is the possibility that Shakespeare did borrow from someone else’s work, it still doesn’t take away from his legacy.

“To think that someone else may have originated these works really gives us new insight into them," Blanding said. "Personally, I just find that really exciting, and I find that it actually enriches the plays and makes you think about them in new and different ways, rather than taking anything away from Shakespeare himself or the plays.”

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