Two writers have discovered a likely source of inspiration for eleven Shakespeare plays, including Macbeth, by using anti-plagiarism software.
Using software “typically used by professors to nab cheating students,” two writers, Dennis McCarthy and June Schlueter, believe they have discovered the source of inspiration for eleven Shakespeare plays, including Macbeth, Richard III, Henry V, and King Lear.
McCarthy and Schlueter used open source anti-plagiarism software “WCopyfind” to find the source of inspiration, “which picked out common words and phrases in the manuscript and the plays.”
According to the New York Times, “The authors are not suggesting that Shakespeare plagiarized but rather that he read and was inspired by a manuscript titled ‘A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels,’ written in the late 1500s by George North, a minor figure in the court of Queen Elizabeth, who served as an ambassador to Sweden.”
“To make sure North and Shakespeare weren’t using common sources, Mr. McCarthy ran phrases through the database Early English Books Online, which contains 17 million pages from nearly every work published in English between 1473 and 1700,” they explained. “He found that almost no other works contained the same words in passages of the same length. Some words are especially rare; ‘trundle-tail’ appears in only one other work before 1623.”
McCarthy claimed North’s book is “a source that he [Shakespeare] keeps coming back to,” adding, “It affects the language, it shapes the scenes and it, to a certain extent, really even influences the philosophy of the plays.”
“People don’t realize how rare these words actually are,” he continued, in reference to specific words that both Shakespeare and North used. “And he keeps hitting word after word. It’s like a lottery ticket. It’s easy to get one number out of six, but not to get every number.”
The discovery could be major, according to the Folger Shakespeare Library’s director, Michael Witmore, who proclaimed, “If it proves to be what they say it is, it is a once-in-a-generation — or several generations — find.”