by Colin Thomas
That William Shakespeare was such an original. As if!
Using the open-source anti-plagiarism software WCopyfind, self-taught Shakespeare scholar Dennis McCarthy and English professor June Schlueter have unearthed evidence that the Bard of Avon drew inspiration for 11 of his plays—including King Lear, Macbeth, and Richard III—from an unpublished, handwritten essay, “A Brief Discourse of Rebellion,” which was composed in 1576 by George North. North was Queen Elizabeth’s ambassador to Sweden.
“Inspiration” is the key word here. No one is suggesting that Shakespeare actually plagiarized North’s work. But the argument that the manuscript influenced the playwright is compelling.
The New York Times points out, for instance, that in his essay, North runs through a list of dogs, from the patrician mastiff to the humble “trundle-tail,” to argue that, like dogs, humans exist in a natural hierarchy. In both King Lear and Macbeth, Shakespeare uses essentially the same list to make similar points. When McCarthy searched the database Early English Books Online, he discovered that virtually no other works contain similar lists, and that “trundle-tail” appears in only one other source before 1623.
North’s writing seems to have had more substantial impacts as well. As The Guardian notes, McCarthy and Schlueter “were able to trace more than 20 passages back to the essay, including Gloucester’s opening soliloquy in Richard III … the Fool’s Merlin prophecy in King Lear, and the events surrounding Jack Cade’s fatal fight with Alexander Iden in Henry VI.”
Shakespearean scholars have long agreed that Shakespeare was influenced by the chronicles of Holinshed and Hall and by Thomas North’s translation of Plutarch’s Lives. (George North and Thomas North were likely cousins.) Still, the discovery of George North’s essay could be momentous. Michael Witmore, director of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, says, “if it proves to be what they say it is, it is a once-in-a-generation—or several generations—find.”
Read more: McCarthy and Schlueter’s book on the subject, A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels by George North, which will be released on February 16.
Now that you’re all Shakespeared up, why not take this quiz from The Guardian? It’s multiple-choice. The challenge is to identify as many of Shakespeare’s plays as you can by their opening setting.
I guessed a lot, made one stupid mistake, and got seven out of 10.
In a sprawling interview in Vulture this Wednesday, music producer Quincy Jones said that Marlon Brando had sex with Richard Pryor. He also contended that the Oscar-winning actor bedded with James Baldwin and Marvin Gaye—and that the Beatles were terrible musicians.
On Friday, Pryor’s widow, Jennifer Lee Pryor confirmed that her husband, who was a groundbreaking stand-up comedian, had sex with Brando: “It was the ‘70s! Drugs were still good, especially Quaaludes. If you did enough cocaine, you’d fuck a radiator and send it flowers in the morning.”
Miko Brando, the actor’s oldest living son, denied the relationship in a statement to People: “The Marlon Brando family has heard the recent comments by Quincy Jones and we are disappointed that anyone would make such a wrongful comment about either Marlon Brando or Richard Pryor.”
Nonetheless, Jennifer Lee Pryor insists that her husband was open about his bisexuality with his friends and wouldn’t mind his interaction with Brando being made public. She claims that Pryor wrote extensively in his diaries about the sex with men, and she said she will release those diaries later this year.
Marlon Brando was public about his bisexuality. In his biography, The Only Contender, which was published in 1976, he says, “Homosexuality is so much in fashion it no longer makes news. Like a large number of men, I, too, have had homosexual experiences and I am not ashamed.”
Homosexuality still makes news, of course. And queer folk are still under threat—including from Donald Trump and Mike Pence—which is why it’s worth talking about queer lives, including those of gifted artists.
Edward Albee wrote groundbreaking work, including Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, in which a college professor and his wife savage a young couple who are new to the campus, and The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia, in which a man is in love with a farm animal.
In this two-minute clip, Will Eno (The Realistic Joneses) says that he admires the older writer’s “absolute fearlessness with respect to corners of the human heart and what you’re willing to take on without flinching and pursue to the end without flinching.”
Albee replies, “Why waste your time? It’s that simple. Why waste your time writing about stuff that you don’t care about?”
He also has some pithy things to say about commerce and art.
This week, I’ve got one sure thing for you and three promising openings.
Of the shows I’ve already seen, Ruined is the one to catch. It’s hard to talk about Lynn Nottage’s play without potentially discouraging you from seeing it. It’s about the violence perpetrated against women in the ongoing Congolese conflict and that content is harrowing. But somehow the honesty and urgency of Ruined make it elevating. And many of the cast members contribute exquisite work.
Today, I’m heading off to a radical faerie gathering at Breitenbush Hot Springs in Oregon. (Check out the links of you’re interested in knowing more about this particular queer subculture.) I will have a blast.
The downside is that I’m going to miss some important openings while I’m away, so here’s a quick preview of a trio of shows that I encourage you to consider.
In his interpretation of David French’s Salt-Water Moon, director Ravi Jain has stripped the sentimental trappings from the Newfoundland love story. The results, by all accounts, are transcendent. In his review in The Globe and Mail, J. Kelly Nestruck wrote: “On Thursday night, I saw Salt-Water Moon at Factory Theatre. On Friday morning, I woke up and the first thing I did was buy tickets to go see it again.”
Buy your tickets for Salt-Water Moon, which is on at the Gateway Theatre February 16 to 24.
Fun Home, the musical based on Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical comic book, is playing the Arts Club’s Granville Island Stage February 14 to March 10. (Tickets.) The central relationship is between a character based on Bechdel, who is lesbian, and her closeted gay father.
Broken Tailbone is Aguirre’s take on Latin American dancehalls. You will, I believe, be dancing.