Mr. McCarthy, 53, works behind three computer monitors on the dining room table of his home. Supported financially by his wife, a biotechnology executive, he spends 12 hours a day or more at his computer.That makes him sound like a conspiracy theorist, doesn’t it? Pounding away at mysterious algorithms, looking for patterns, until they eventually uncover a world-shattering secret that will, of course, make him fabulously wealthy? Assuming this is an accurate discovery, is it a big deal? Shakespeare already had his sources – Holinshed, Ovid, etc… – so what would change if we added a source to that list?
The New York Times this week has an interesting (?) story about a possible new source that Shakespeare may have consulted while writing. Dennis McCarthy and June Schlueter, who of course have a book coming out, used plagiarism detection software to spot similarities between Shakespeare’s work and “A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels” by George North. I guess my first reaction is….ok, yes? And? Perhaps that’s a bit on the defensive. You see the words “plagiarism” and “new source” and you immediately think that it’s going to be yet another authorship issue. That’s not the case here. They’re simply saying that they’ve uncovered (so they believe) another publication that Shakespeare would have used as reference material. If it turns out to be true, examples can be found in Richard III, Henry VI 2 and King Lear, among others. Neat. I think the authors’ case was severely undercut by the Times, however, with the inclusion of this paragraph: