June 20, 2018
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Using plagiarism software, NH scholar finds similarities between Shakespeare plays, earlier manuscript

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Portland man Kevin O'Leary, (left) playing the Fool, rehearses a scene with Charles Michael Howard, who plays the title role in Shakespeare's "King Lear," in Portland in this 2016 BDN file photo. New Hampshire's Dennis McCarthy used plagiarism software to find that the role of the Fool is strikingly similar to that of Merlin in a manuscript by the lesser known 16th century English diplomat George North.
By Max Sullivan, Portsmouth Herald

A self-taught Shakespeare scholar says he used plagiarism software to discover a new source manuscript for William Shakespeare’s plays, a discovery he said could make waves in the literary community.

Dennis McCarthy, who lives in North Hampton, New Hampshire, used the software WCopyfind, used in universities to discover student plagiarism, to find common language between Shakespeare’s plays and a manuscript from 1576 titled “A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels,” by George North, a lesser known 16th century English diplomat.

Shakespeare, McCarthy said, is not a plagiarist, but the software detected common word strings in North’s manuscript and Shakespeare’s plays like “Henry VI, Part 2” and “King Lear,” that fall into strikingly similar context. He believes that context deepens the connection beyond coincidence.

“There’s no question that it’s a source for the Shakespeare’s canon,” said McCarthy. “It’s clear again and again.”

The findings will be published in a book McCarthy co-wrote with June Schlueter titled “A Brief Discourse of Rebellion & Rebels by George North — A newly uncovered manuscript source of Shakespeare’s Plays,” which will be released next week. There are 11 other plays believed to be sourced from the North document including “Macbeth” and “Richard III.”

McCarthy said scholars have wondered why “Henry VI, Part 2” includes a scene depicting the death of historic rebel Jack Cade. In the context of Shakespeare’s play, he said, the scene has made little sense to scholars. Cade’s death was also in the North manuscript, though, and McCarthy said it was portrayed similarly to the way it was in Shakespeare’s play.

“Lots of scholars have wondered why this scene is in (‘Henry VI, Part 2’),” said McCarthy. “A lot of the events in this Shakespeare scene seem to be invented. Actually, they’re in the manuscript, and when you read the manuscript, you understand why Shakespeare wrote the death scene of Jack Cade.”

The Fool in “King Lear” has striking similarity to how North wrote about Merlin in his manuscript, according to McCarthy. He said Merlin in North’s writing prophesies of a world turned upside down in which the aristocracy is upended in a dystopian universe. The same themes, he said, were used by Shakespeare to create The Fool, who is given lines about different reversals in the aristocracy, from children suddenly ruling parents to students teaching tutors.

“Anyone who’s tried to guess why Shakespeare has written about… The Fool in ‘King Lear,’ all the scholars that have guessed and put forth hypotheses about the death scene and Jack Cade… they’re all going to be wrong,” said McCarthy, “They’re going to find out it’s all from this manuscript.”

McCarthy expects his work to face scrutiny and criticism, saying the Shakespeare community is “very conservative.” Source material for Shakespeare’s work has been known to the literary world since the 19th century, he said. He said he has received some positive feedback so far, but he admits, “All the generous stuff comes first. The rough stuff is going to come later.”

McCarthy anticipates scholars questioning how Shakespeare could have accessed the document, since it was in Cambridgeshire, not London where Shakespeare was based. He said he is yet to publish on that explanation. However, he said his findings regarding the North manuscript are tied to his research of how memes, or ideas that spread through cultures, travel and can be tracked geographically. He said the study of how memes have traveled is similar to the topic of his 2009 book, “Here Be Dragons,” which examines how genes spread across the earth.

McCarthy, a full-time researcher, never graduated college, saying he was “lucky to have graduated high school.” He said he has been driven “100 percent” by his own passion for research and publishing new ideas. He has been studying the source material for Shakespeare’s work for 12 years, first fostering a love of Shakespeare in high school. He said his new findings on Shakespeare’s source material discovery have left him “thrilled, very excited and very humbled.”

“I’m very happy,” said McCarthy. “This is nice to finally get a little credit, get a book out, and make some waves in the Shakespeare community.”

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