Joe Campbell: Shakespeare, 2002 (CC)
McCarthy’s innovation isn’t to contend that North actually wrote the plays that bear Shakespeare’s name; instead, he argues that Shakespeare wrote the plays by plagiarizing liberally from North’s earlier works, some of which were published and are now lost.
He employed an open-source plagiarism detection software called WCopyfind in order to compare the writings of Thomas North and Shakespeare, looking for identical word choices, combinations, and phrasings. The computer screen “came alive” with thousands of common phrases, Blanding writes. “I couldn’t believe it,” McCarthy told him. “It lights up all over the screen.”
Blanding dramatizes very effectively the thrill of this literary investigation, giving readers a revelation-by-revelation account of the developments in McCarthy’s thinking without ever drowning them in trivia. The book likewise does a virtuoso job of evoking both the realities of Shakespeare’s world and the twists and turns of the whole Shakespeare question.
If, in addition to his poems and translations, Thomas North wrote a raft of plays rooted in his own reading and experiences, and if Shakespeare then used those works to write his own plays, then “North by Shakespeare” – both McCarthy’s obscure original and this account by the bestselling journalist Blanding – is the most elegant proposed solution to the authorship question to appear in many decades.