Two months ago I saw the movie Anonymous. Previously, I was unaware of a debate about Shakespeare's authorship, or the various conspiracy theories.
No real question of Shakespeare's authorship arose during his lifetime, not until nearly two centuries after his death. A writer, Delia Bacon proposed that Sir Francis Bacon her namesake authored all of Shakespeare's works. A Bacon proposing Bacon, hmm?
But why would an already famous author who continued to live after Shakespeare, and in fact was still alive in 1623 when Shakespeare's first folio was published posthumously, give another writer credit for his work, or not at least stake his own claim for posterity, if he wrote the work, before he died in 1626.
The other favorite was the Earl of Oxford. He died in 1604 before many of Shakespeare's plays were written and performed, and having read a number of his poems, other than one about a tennis game, the language, meter and style is totally different from Shakespeare. Unless he has written material of the same standard and quality of Shakespeare, and that could be demonstrated, I would not consider him a viable candidate, even if his life experiences fit the bill.
For example, Oxfordians claim he murdered a servant when he was 17, saying that he used this when writing Hamlet. However, the source story of Hamlet, by Saxo Grammaticus which predates De Vere by several hundred years relates the exact same incident used by Shakespeare in the play.
Another possibility was Christopher Marlowe, who, if you read his work, his style resembles Shakespeare, he did write both poems and plays, was a highly successful playwright, even born in the same year as Shakespeare, occasionally indistinguishable in quality from Shakespeare. Shakespeare used a line from Marlowe in As You Like It, 'whoever loves that loved not at first sight.' Unfortunately, he was murdered in 1593 in a knife fight, putting a premature end to a promising career.
Now Dennis McCarthy proposes Sir Thomas North as the person who wrote Shakespeare. Here is a viable and realistic candidate, not previously considered.
Writers acknowledge Shakespeare used North's translation of Plutarch's lives as a source for several of his plays, including Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, and Troilus and Cressida. In fact, passages used in Shakespeare's plays directly parallel passages in North's work, word for word with only minor amendments to convert from prose to verse, and minor style adjustments. So we can say with authority that Shakespeare wrote North, because the evidence is there. For example the events and turning points in Julius Caesar mirror exactly the events in North's translation. So, if the quality of North's writing was good enough to be used word for word, we can conclude that he did write to Shakespeare's standard. If Shakespeare wrote North, and was influenced by North's prose, could that mean that North wrote Shakespeare?
An article at Shakespeare online shows the word for word similarities with Antony and Cleopatra, showing some huge similarities. That writer does not go so far as to say North wrote the actual play. In these plays, the presence of North is huge. If someone said Julius Caesar was 30-40% North, I would not put much of an argument. Nevertheless the narrative style difference between a book which narrates events, and a play which sets scenes and characters with the stylised dialogue of Shakespeare present quite a contrast. For example the Ides of March, the soothsayer, Calpurnia's dream, Cinna the poet being killed by the crowd, Caesar being killed under Pompey's statue, Cassius dying by the same weapon with which he stabbed Caesar, and a ghostly apparition are common to book and play. The speech by Mark Anthony, is alluded to in the book, but not thematically developed into the masterpiece speech.
McCarthy had me believing his proposition for a while, and it was quite exciting. Only, when I verified with other sources did I start to have doubts. His investigation of EEBO books enabled him to compare language patterns and analogies between other North books, and the plays. Some of his sleuthing is very good, and it has led me to explore many works I was previously unaware of.
However, he makes a bolder authorship claim than other writers with a much thinner base of evidence.
For example, he says, North wrote Hamlet in 1589. His evidence: he claims the words 'to be or not to be' appear in North's translation of Dial(l) of Princes by Don Guevara of Marcus Aurelius, as does the expression 'sea of troubles.'
When I downloaded this book and searched it electronically neither reference appeared. There is some indication that Marcus Aurelius did use the term 'take arms against a sea of troubles,' somewhere in his works. But based on 8 words in a 32,000 word play would you conclude, that he wrote the entire play?
He claims the first bad quarto of Hamlet published in 1603 must have been Shakespeare. He claims the good quarto published in 1623, was written by North. According to a book by Stanley Wells the more likely explanation, the bad quarto was an unauthorised pirate copy that did not capture all the details of the play. Alternatively, Shakeespeare continuously tweaked the play. lf North had written a good quarto in 1589, why would Shakespeare write a bad quarto in 1603?
Based on this he makes a global claim about all of Shakespeare's work. North wrote Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, King Lear, Othello. Anything dubious attributed to Shakespeare was not written by North. North apparently was too brilliant to be associated with anything substandard.
McCarthy's semantics are careless at various points in the book. He repeatedly makes blanket statements such as 'when North wrote the Shakespeare canon', and then later which specific plays were North. He cites in his footnotes evidence such as lost plays by North. So, he proposes non evidence as evidence.
There are references by people of the time to an English Seneca, and a gentleman scholar, and he claims these refer to North. The Seneca reference could just as easily if not more likely have been Shakespeare, and was North the only gentleman scholar of that era?
He claims that Rosalinde in As you Like it, was based on North's daughter Elisa North (Nord). He claims North wrote the play, and that it parallels his experience of being disinherited by his brother from his father's estate. Yet, if you were disinherited from your family estate, and put into poverty would you write a light hearted romantic comedy about it? Please offer some proof for a daughter named Elisa. Most experts acknowledge that Shakespeare used Thomas Lodge's famous prose piece Rosalynde, as the basis for his play.
A famous philosopher said 'what the thinker thinks, the prover proves.' Once you get an idea in your head, ie North wrote Shakespeare, this idea will prove itself. In so doing, it can negate all ideas to the contrary, and make you go aha, that proves that he did. One has to be careful therefore to look at something from a series of perspectives, particularly if the evidence is strong enough, from primary sources, and provable to other people. Certainly, the fact Shakespeare used a serpent analogy in King Lear, and North used it in a book, can indicate many things but would not prove that he wrote the entire play.
Certainly, I am inclined to conclude from the book North must have known Shakespeare, and that the influence extended beyond Plutarch, and it is an interesting book to read to compare exact passages between the works of the two people.
I certainly recommend this book as a thought provoking read, and that you balance out your perspective by reading other books on this subject.
I think you will enjoy it, and I hope this was helpful.