• North by Shakespeare

  • A Rogue Scholar's Quest for the Truth Behind the Bard's Work
  • By: Michael Blanding
  • Narrated by: Will Collyer
  • Length: 15 hrs and 25 mins
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (73 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

From the acclaimed author of The Map Thief comes the true story of a self-taught Shakespeare sleuth's quest to prove his eye-opening theory about the source of the English language's most famous plays.

A work of gripping nonfiction, North by Shakespeare presents the twinning narratives of rogue scholar Dennis McCarthy, called "the Steve Jobs of the Shakespeare community", and Sir Thomas North, an Elizabethan courtier whom McCarthy believes to be the undiscovered source for Shakespeare's plays.

For the last 15 years, Dennis McCarthy has obsessively pursued the true source of Shakespeare's works, with fascinating results. Using plagiarism software, he has found direct links between Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and other plays and Thomas North's published and unpublished writings - as well as Shakespearean plotlines seemingly lifted straight from North's colorful life.

McCarthy's wholly original conclusion is this: Shakespeare wrote the plays, but he adapted them from source plays written by North decades before - many of them penned on behalf of North's patron Robert Dudley, in his efforts to woo Queen Elizabeth. That bold theory answers many lingering questions about the Bard with compelling new evidence, including a newly unearthed journal of North's travels through France and Italy, filled with locations and details appearing in Shakespeare's plays.

North by Shakespeare alternates between the dramatic life of Thomas North, the intrigues of the Tudor court, the rivalries of English Renaissance theatre, and academic outsider Dennis McCarthy's attempts to air his provocative ideas in the clubby world of Shakespearean scholarship. Through it all, Blanding employs his keen journalistic eye to craft a highly readable drama, up-ending our understanding of the beloved playwright and his "singular genius".

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.  

©2021 Michael Blanding (P)2021 Hachette Books

What listeners say about North by Shakespeare

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    5 out of 5 stars

An exciting investigative adventure

Speaking as someone who has been passionate about the plays and poems of Shakespeare since my teens (30 years), and about as long equally engaged in the Shakespeare Authorship Question, this is truly a spellbinding book. I've read many books, essays, articles, watched many videos, documentaries, presentations, lectures on the SAQ, and changed my position on the various candidates over the decades, seeing the Stratfordian, Oxfordian, Marlovian cases, and others such as Neville's, Stanley's, and others, as having many good, persuasive arguments. There have been many brilliant people arguing for these candidates, Ros Barber and Peter Farey for Marlowe, Roger Stritmatter and Mark Anderson for Oxford, Brenda James and William Rubenstein for Henry Neville, Stephen Greenblatt and Anthony Burgess for the man from Stratford, John Raithel and James Greenstreet for William Stanley, and more. And yet, despite all of their arguments, it is hard to deny the strong possibility that what Dennis McCarthy has done with the brilliant help of his two collaborators, Michael Blanding (the author of this book) and June Schlueter (co-author of North's 1555 Travel Journal), just might have put forth a greater and more convincing argument than any previous Biographer of the Bard. In addition for the case that McCarthy makes for North's contribution, Blanding's writing in North by Shakespeare is absolutely spellbinding. Following two narratives that parallel each other - 1) McCarthy's journey to prove North's contribution to The Canon, including a very engaging narrative of their physical journey through Europe with McCarthy's daughter following with her documentary crew (a forthcoming doc that I am definitely looking forward to seeing), and 2) North's life and times. Blanding brilliantly goes back and forth between the two adventures of North's life in 16th century England and mainland Europe to McCarthy's journey of the last 15 years, the two narratives balancing and adding significance to each other in extremely engaging ways. As someone who has been open to changing my position when looking at new evidence and new arguments (unlike many in the debate, both Stratfordians and Anti-Stratfordians alike) and yet also continuing my deep enthusiasm in the SAQ, reading this book and listening to this Audible narration of it, I absolutely had a difficult time staying away from either, and have come away feeling that North was the true author of the Shakespeare Canon. Read the book or listen to this Audible production to find out why, along with checking out McCarthy's site on North and read the book by McCarthy and Schlueter about the 1555 Travel Journal by North. Take a look for yourself for North's case, the case for Marlowe, the case for Oxford, the case for Neville, the case for Stanley, the case for the Stratford man or anyone else, and come to your own conclusions. What is undeniable is that North has now become just as strong a candidate as any of them, if not more so. For I, after serious consideration, feel strongly that North (and unlike McCarthy, North alone, without the help of the Stratford man) was The True Bard. Enjoy and explore!

51 people found this helpful

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Ridiculous

This is one of the most asinine books I have ever read.

The author presents no evidence for McCarthy’s belief that North wrote plays or, even if he did write them, that Shakespeare was familiar with them.

The argument, if you can call it that, is based on supposition, wishful thinking, and the cherry picking of random phrases in North’s writings. The only thing that comes close to a serious analysis involves the use of plagiarism software, but the technology is unproven and the results presented here are useless because there are no plays by North to compare to the plays attributed to Shakespeare. McCarthy relies on the writings by North that Shakespeare is known to have read, and then McCarthy makes up imaginary plays.

McCarthy accuses academics of refusing to consider certain ideas because those ideas challenge the status quo. The truth is that academics, like sensible people generally, care about whether or not what they believe is true. Knowledge advances through the use of sound logic, rigorous methodology, and the accumulation of substantiated evidence. It does not advance because some “rogue scholar” has a fanciful hunch, because even if the hunch is correct, it still must be proven.

In the end the book is an example of confirmation bias. McCarthy is certain that he is correct, and therefore he sees affirmation of his belief everywhere. The vague clues and coincidences he finds in the writings of North and Shakespeare are weak evidence. Weak evidence is still weak regardless of how much of it there is (and McCarthy doesn’t really offer that much). The time to believe something is after you are presented with convincing evidence and arguments, not before.

The performance was fine, although he mispronounces several of the names of Shakespeare’s characters.

6 people found this helpful

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Okay, fine. Now what?

If you're interested in the internecine squabbles of Shakespeareans, broken down into the Stratfordians and anti-Stratfordians, this may be the book for you. Yet problems abound. First of all, while I may have been interested in the story of Mr. North, I certainly wasn't prepared for the travails of the author and Dennis McCarthy, the main proponent of the North story. A chapter maybe could have sufficed, not the extensive coverage it received. Secondly, the author presumes he's teaching the reader/listener that Shakespeare would have adapted many existing stories anyway. As far as I know, that's fairly common knowledge. But most troubling is that it just becomes dreadfully dull. At one point, I'm willing to concede everything, just to realize that I don't really care who gets credit. I suppose signature is important for scholarship, and that's probably where it belongs. There's no real objective airing of information, as the author belying his preface, pretty much has his view set.
And the narrator... no major problems, but let's just say Samuel Pepys may be rolling in his grave, though. I'm going to check out some of my Arkangel performances, and enjoy them, regardless of the author.

1 person found this helpful

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Just ok

I don't review often, but I think it important for this book because it isn't what I thought it would be. It follows a researcher with a novel view of who wrote Shakespeare's plays. It's not just the argument - it's like a documentary of the researcher's life and quest to legitimise his theory to the wider community.

Nothing wrong with that, but I find it distracting to the actual meat of the book.

It's very interesting, but I *am* slogging along to get through it. I wish there was a way to fast forward around all the bits about the gent's theory being repeatedly rejected by the establishment. I care about the theory itself and am only continuing through because *that* interests me...and for the moment I'm still deciding what I'm going to read after this. If a compelling crosses my desk in the meantime, though, I'll not finish this one.

1 person found this helpful

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Giving Context to Shakespeare's Work

This analysis of Thomas North's writings & the connections to Shakespeare's plays was intriguing. Equally interesting was the shifting back & forth to histiorical events & happenings in the court of Queen Elizabeth. Having done archival research for an historical documentary, I experienced the joy of the treasure hunt along with the author & McCarthy as potential pieces in the puzzle were found & new data was triangulation. Cudos for their persistence & gratitude for widening understanding of Shakespeare's sources & the times in which he & Thomas North lived $ created.

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Pretty good

I have a hard time understanding shakespere. The old english is tough for me to process and I’ve only studied a couple plays in school. So not a huge fan. So interesting to hear a story about Shakespeare’s story. It seems to be a compelling argument of North’s strong influence (at a minimum) on Shakespeare’s (?) plays. A good story but for someone who doesn’t know the plays there was too much minutia for my likings. I suspect fans of the plays or Tudor England would get more from it. I enjoyed learning about Elizabethan England and that period of history with the intrigue. Good not great for my taste. A nice perspective and view on the plays and the times. I’m more interested to read the plays now.

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Fascinating read (listen)

Great book. Lots of things to think about. The story and information was well laid out. Kept me interested the whole time.

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This is a great story about collaboration

If you take nothing else away from this book it opens up the possibility for collaboration. If you think about the Renaissance idea of the lonely genius creating masterpiece after masterpiece and contrast that with the reality of staging an actual theater production, where actors might make suggestions for possible edits to the dialogue, It’s not difficult to imagine that there could have been other collaborators. And that William Shakespeare, not unlike Lin-Manuel Miranda just happened to be brilliant at putting everything into memorable poetry with an emphasis on the psychology of his characters. I don’t think this book takes anything away from Shakespeare, but rather it might be a roadmap for the creation of new masterpieces in our time.
I would read this book in the spirit of Elizabeth Gilbert‘s “Big Magic”
enjoy

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Awesome

Made a believer out of me. Good history lesson as well. Interesting fellow. Like to hear about other projects. Expresses my feelings about entrenched academics, scientists and ideas. Knowledge is littered with amateurs and outsiders making incredible discoveries because the are not
encumbered by orthodoxy.