WHAT IT IS
Plagiarism software, WCopyfind, matched language from an unpublished piece by writer, George North, to several famous pieces of William Shakespeare.1
North's “A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels” was written in the late 1500's, while pieces in question were written after 1600.2
This finding suggests Shakespeare may have copied, collaborated, or been influenced by North.
The three witches in Macbeth are almost identical to the three "Fates" featured in Greek mythology.
The six words used for dogs (the mastiff, the cur, and the “trundle-tail") originate from North's "A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels."7
WHY IT MATTERS
“If it proves to be what they say it is, it is a once-in-a-generation — or several generations — find,” says Michael Witmore, director of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. 9
North focused on the dangers of rebelling against a king. This is the same theme found in over 20 of Shakespeare’s passages. 11
It is nearly impossible that the findings of WCopyfind are wrong. The odds "would be like hitting a national lottery twice in a row."12
This isn't new
Questions and findings began at the start of 19th century. It is a known fact that Shakespeare "referenced" many sources for all of his works.
Among some Shakespeare experts, The Tempest, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Twelfth Night are considered his only original pieces of work.13
HE WAS INSPIRED
Scholars McCarthy and Schlueter believe that Shakespeare did not plagiarize, but used “A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels” as inspiration for the philosophy of the 11 plays.14
Tech isn't perfect
Plagiarism software is extremely sensitive and can detect many "false positives,"15 such as:
- Common phrasing: There are many common phrases in the English language in which usage is unavoidable and truly a coincidence.
- Non-verbatim: Plagiarism software cannot detect copied ideas or themes.
Still one of the greats
Regardless of referencing other published works, Shakespeare's plays are still considered some of the greatest of all time.
THINGS TO THINK ABOUT
- Artists are typically influenced by other artists. How does this impact "stealing" claims?
- Are there any original thoughts left?
- Should teachers be required to tell students of this finding before reading the plays?
- Deep dive: Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare - Volume I