A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels
February 7, 2018 8:58 PM   Subscribe

 
While I read this article and enjoyed it, it's an interesting use of technology, there's something I find really irresistible about the form of the headline. It's like a mad lib, somehow.

FASHION software unveils NINETEEN new HAIRSTYLES for DOGS

CULINARY software unveils TANTALIZING new SAUCES for BURRITOS

INSECT software unveils UPSETTING new ANTENNAE for MOTHS
posted by Rinku at 9:37 PM on February 7 [69 favorites]


I'm never going to understand this multi-century long Victorian obsession with finding ways to discredit Shakespeare, the framing of this being another in a long line of weird articles and books supporting anti-Stratfordian theses.

It is pretty neat that they can establish that Shakespeare owned North's books though.
posted by pan at 9:45 PM on February 7 [13 favorites]


The article discusses rare words found in the source, apparently borrowed by Shakespeare because of their relative frequency:

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.
posted by Brian B. at 10:08 PM on February 7 [8 favorites]


I am just wondering how many more potential authors for Shakespeare's work we are going to need to find before we just resign ourselves to the fact he was actually a manifestation of an unconscious collective hive mind and a once in a planetary history occurance...
posted by Samizdata at 10:15 PM on February 7 [10 favorites]


I'm never going to understand this multi-century long Victorian obsession with finding ways to discredit Shakespeare

Why do you think that's what this is doing? It's a discovery (assuming it holds up under examination) of an important and previously unknown source, such as the ones that we already know Shakespeare used, not an attempt to attribute authorship to someone else.
posted by thelonius at 10:26 PM on February 7 [17 favorites]


Sir Francis Bacon, and original folios are the treasure buried on Oak Island. Am I close?
posted by zardoz at 10:28 PM on February 7 [5 favorites]


Am I close?
No!
posted by thelonius at 10:29 PM on February 7 [3 favorites]


LIFESTYLE MAGAZINE software unveils IMPLAUSIBLE new TIPS for PLEASING YOUR MAN

SURREALIST software unveils DISSOLVING new SNAIL SHELLS for THE VIRGIN MARY

POETRY software unveils UNTRADITIONAL new METAPHORS for MORTALITY

DENTISTRY software unveils STRANGELY PLEASING new SHAPES for TEETH

sorry, I just took a bath and that's all I was doing in there
posted by Rinku at 11:24 PM on February 7 [56 favorites]


Why do you think that's what this is doing? It's a discovery (assuming it holds up under examination) of an important and previously unknown source, such as the ones that we already know Shakespeare used, not an attempt to attribute authorship to someone else.

The discovery itself is cool. The framing in this article is click farming on the other pile of stupidity, as far as I can tell.
posted by pan at 11:24 PM on February 7 [7 favorites]


I can't decide if "upsetting moth antennae" or "strangely pleasing tooth shapes" will be my new sockpuppet name.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:43 PM on February 7 [13 favorites]


This one's not about authorship.

I like it! A sweet story.
posted by lokta at 11:52 PM on February 7 [3 favorites]


He uses a succession of words to make the argument, including “proportion,” “glass,” “feature,” “fair,” “deformed,” “world,” “shadow” and “nature.” In the opening soliloquy of Richard III (“Now is the winter of our discontent …”) the hunchbacked tyrant uses the same words in virtually the same order to come to the opposite conclusion: that since he is outwardly ugly, he will act the villain he appears to be.
“People don’t realize how rare these words actually are,” Mr. McCarthy said. “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.”


Weird. I had the exact same realization reading the introduction to Naked Lunch by William Burroughs. I was like wait, this sounds reeally familiar...Oh, it's the lyrics to I'm Waiting for My Man by the Velvet Underground. He even explains the 26 dollars...25 for the junk, a dollar for 'the works'.
posted by sexyrobot at 12:37 AM on February 8 [7 favorites]


It's weird how the story completely glosses over the fact that the similarities were noted in an auction catalog published in the 1920s. The 1927 auction catalogue in question specifically picked up on the similarities between North and Shakespeare's treatment of Jack Cade, much discussed in the article, as well as Owen Glendower.

The company in question was Myers & co, run at the time by its founder Albert Isaac Myers, though his daughter Winifred Myers joined him in the business in 1928 and was an expert in autograph manuscripts, so may have been the person who originally picked up on the similarities.

The correct title for the New York Times' article should be: Booksellers Unveiled a Source for 11 of Shakespeare's Plays in the 1920s.
posted by Kattullus at 12:44 AM on February 8 [35 favorites]


I guess the obvious question is, how do we know this manuscript isn't a hoax? It could even have been the 1927 booksellers who cooked it up and sold it with the tantalizing description that no one pursued until now.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 1:34 AM on February 8 [3 favorites]


> I'm never going to understand this multi-century long Victorian obsession with finding ways to discredit Shakespeare, the framing of this being another in a long line of weird articles and books supporting anti-Stratfordian theses.

It's mostly class prejudice, the assumption being that anybody capable of great literature could not possibly have come from the lower ranks. IIRC over the years people have also attempted to prove that Shakespeare wrote the plays attributed to him, but his ancestry involved people much more impressive than the historical records show.
posted by ardgedee at 3:21 AM on February 8 [6 favorites]


This sort of thing is my bag, baby--I did my thesis on authorship attribution by these sorts of methods, trying to find which parts of Titus Andronicus might have been collaboratively written with (or reworks of an earlier piece by) George Peele. (The general consensus, by the way, is that at least Act I is very, very Peele-ish.) It was a terrible thesis, and I'm glad it's buried in the deepest darkest depths of a library somewhere, but it gave me a lot of insight into and background in the subject.

This sort of stylistic analysis based on rare and/or parallel words isn't new--there's at least one article I can think of from 1948, for instance, that talks about "palliament" showing up only in Titus and in Peele's work, or a paper from 1996 talking about the relative frequencies of "brothers" versus "brethren" in the works of both Peele and Shakespeare. I'll admit that alarm bells starting going off in my head at "self-taught Shakespeare scholar", but there's precedent for what McCarthy's doing, at least.

I'm a little skeptical, though, mainly because I can't seem to find the actual North source online anywhere. (It doesn't seem to be on Early English Books Online, for instance.) I'd like to see the words McCarthy's basing his argument on in context and in order and then compare them with the plays myself. I'm a little more convinced by the grass-eating detail in 2 Henry VI, if it really is present in North and not attributable to any of Shakespeare's other sources. Does anyone know of a copy?
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 4:22 AM on February 8 [9 favorites]


TIMELY MONEY QUOTE Saves This CHEAP BASTARD from WASTING a Free NYT Article
posted by resurrexit at 4:32 AM on February 8 [13 favorites]


I thought it was generally well known that Shakespeare liberally adapted previously published stories, as did many other authors before the 20th century and a fair number of Europe's composers as well. Does it really matter that Shakespeare was modestly well-read in the "history" of his time?
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 4:33 AM on February 8


I can't speak for anyone else, but for me it matters because it's really fascinating to see what his influences and sources were. Like, for instance, there's this bit in Antony and Cleopatra:
The barge she sat in, like a burnish'd throne,
Burn'd on the water: the poop was beaten gold;
Purple the sails, and so perfumed that
The winds were love-sick with them; the oars were silver,
Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and made
The water which they beat to follow faster,
As amorous of their strokes. For her own person,
It beggar'd all description: she did lie
In her pavilion--cloth-of-gold of tissue--
O'er-picturing that Venus where we see
The fancy outwork nature: on each side her
Stood pretty dimpled boys, like smiling Cupids,
With divers-colour'd fans, whose wind did seem
To glow the delicate cheeks which they did cool,
And what they undid did.
...now compare that with Thomas North's translation of Plutarch's Lives:
"Therefore when she was sent unto by divers letters, both from Antonius himself and also from his friends, she made so light of it and mocked Antonius so much that she disdained to set forward otherwise but to take her barge in the river of Cydnus, the poop whereof was of gold, the sails of purple, and the oars of silver, which kept stroke in rowing after the sound of the music of flutes, howboys, cithernes, viols, and such other instruments as they played upon in the barge. And now for the person of herself: she was laid under a pavilion of cloth of gold of tissue, apparelled and attired like the goddess Venus commonly drawn in picture; and hard by her, on either hand of her, pretty fair boys apparelled as painters do set forth god Cupid, with little fans in their hands, with the which they fanned wind upon her.
Shakespeare used Plutarch as a source for several of his plays. We'll never know if he had his own dog-eared copy he picked up from the booksellers at St. Paul's, or if he would borrow one from somewhere. (Books were expensive back in his time, but he was pretty well-off by this point in his career.)

In any case, I like to imagine him sitting down and reading Plutarch's Life of Marcus Antonius (XXVI) for plot ideas, then getting to the barge passage and quietly muttering the Elizabethan/Jacobean equivalent of "Yoink" to himself.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 5:25 AM on February 8 [10 favorites]


What I meant was more along the lines of: Does Shakespeare's apparent literacy make him less of a playwright given the large volume of "adapted works" that are in the literary canon?
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 5:34 AM on February 8


> Greg_Ace:
"I can't decide if "upsetting moth antennae" or "strangely pleasing tooth shapes" will be my new sockpuppet name."

I vote tooth shapes.
posted by Samizdata at 5:38 AM on February 8 [2 favorites]


Moth Toothshape.

Can't decide if Star Wars character or Dave Ryder nickname.
posted by Foosnark at 5:51 AM on February 8 [2 favorites]


"The news has caused Shakespeareans to sit up and take notice."

Instant image of room full of bespectacled scholars hunched over books, suddenly sitting erect in their chairs, heads swiveling like owls, all synchronized.

Can't quite place the soundtrack...
posted by slipthought at 6:05 AM on February 8 [7 favorites]


Given that Shakespeare is credited with inventing 1700 words it seems a worthwhile pursuit to dig for his influences as it gives us a clearer picture of the etymology of our language.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:42 AM on February 8


Burn'd on the water: the poop was beaten gold

#smokeonthewater #firstdraft
posted by zippy at 7:48 AM on February 8 [6 favorites]


I'm a little skeptical, though, mainly because I can't seem to find the actual North source online anywhere. (It doesn't seem to be on Early English Books Online, for instance.) I'd like to see the words McCarthy's basing his argument on in context and in order and then compare them with the plays myself. I'm a little more convinced by the grass-eating detail in 2 Henry VI, if it really is present in North and not attributable to any of Shakespeare's other sources. Does anyone know of a copy?

It's not in EEBO because the source document is an unpublished manuscript rather than a printed book, but I'd also like the author to have posted his data. DS Brewer are a reputable press, so the book will have been peer-reviewed.
posted by GeorgeBickham at 8:23 AM on February 8 [2 favorites]


Given that Shakespeare is credited with inventing 1700 words

More like he is given as the source of the earliest usage in print by the Oxford English Dictionary, who are busily updating their usages as more and more early printed and other sources come online. I think OED also accept manuscript sources as evidence these days. Shakespeare may well have invented some of those words, but it's likely in many cases that he was simply conveniently to hand as a reference for the OED editors, like the Bible.
posted by GeorgeBickham at 8:29 AM on February 8 [6 favorites]


It's not in EEBO because the source document is an unpublished manuscript rather than a printed book

Yeah, this is a factor that makes me quite skeptical--I would want the book to make a convincing case for how Shakespeare saw this manuscript before I would spend much time thinking about the linguistic arguments. (Which I'm also a bit skeptical of.) It's fairly uncontroversial that Shakespeare derived the essence of some plots from printed sources, but it's not like he could have popped into the British Library to look at this manuscript.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 8:56 AM on February 8


Also, it's a bit of a tangent, but Brian Vickers, the academic they mention in the article, is the person whose book got me started on this whole thing. When I lived in London, I used to hang out with him and his graduate assistant at Shakespeare seminars. He's also the one who introduced me to the person who supplied my corpora.

It's a small field. Of the people I cited in my thesis who were still alive when I was writing it, I'd say that I've met and had dinner/drinks with somewhere around half to two-thirds of them. I used to live in fear of a knock on the door in the middle of the night and opening the door to, say, Patrick Juola, who would tell me I know nothing of his work.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 10:33 AM on February 8 [5 favorites]


it's not like he could have popped into the British Library to look at this manuscript.

Um, well, presumably the manuscript was elsewhere prior to the British Library’s founding some three hundred and fifty years after Shakespeare’s death?
posted by Sys Rq at 10:33 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]


There was an interesting project using much the same technique to track which parts Shakespeare might have played during his time as an actor/playwright, by comparing the vocabulary of the plays he was known to be writing at any given time with the plays that were running at the Globe and Blackfriars. The results did sync up with the couple of parts that we know from semi-contemporary anecdotes that he played (Adam in As You Like It is the one I remember.)
posted by tavella at 10:57 AM on February 8


Shakespeare was real, but the rest of us are totally made up.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:33 AM on February 8 [5 favorites]


I'm never going to understand this multi-century long Victorian obsession with finding ways to discredit Shakespeare
I suppose you can discredit the particular individual(s) credited with Shakespeare's plays, but you cannot discredit "Shakespeare" as one of the cornerstones of Western literary traditions, the modern English language, and other sociocultural influences. Whether he copied everything wholesale from some dogeared volume of librettos or had a team of 20 secret writing partners, the plays are the thing.
posted by xyzzy at 3:35 PM on February 8 [2 favorites]


> What I meant was more along the lines of: Does Shakespeare's apparent literacy make him less of a playwright given the large volume of "adapted works" that are in the literary canon?

No, not at all, and that's not what this discovery is intending to insinuate. This isn't a "gotcha" about Shakespeare in any way (despite the clickbaity headline), it's just an interesting new bit of scholarship about Shakespeare's writing.
posted by desuetude at 11:05 AM on February 9 [1 favorite]


> not an attempt to attribute authorship to someone else

In fact that's exactly what it is. The book's co-author, Dennis McCarthy, is also the author of North of Shakespeare: The True Story of the Secret Genius Who Wrote the World's Greatest Body of Literature, in which he argues that the plays were actually written by Sir Thomas North. I haven't seen this new book, but it seems to be another attempt to prop up the North authorship theory by arguing that George North's manuscript is a major source for the plays.
posted by verstegan at 12:08 PM on February 9 [3 favorites]


verstegan: The book's co-author, Dennis McCarthy, is also the author of North of Shakespeare: The True Story of the Secret Genius Who Wrote the World's Greatest Body of Literature, in which he argues that the plays were actually written by Sir Thomas North.

Oh. Oh no. That's another thing that the New York Times should've mentioned.
posted by Kattullus at 1:05 PM on February 9 [6 favorites]


Oh. Oh, nooooooooo. Turns out McCarthy comments at length in the reviews at that Amazon link, and it's all stuff like this:
We now know Shakespeare wrote mediocre plays and inferior staged adaptations of North's masterworks because these were the dramas that were unambiguously attributed to him while he was alive and up until 1620. And all other allusions from the time, like comments from literary insiders, reconfirm this documented evidence.

We know Thomas North was the true author of the original masterpieces because numerous plays and pamphlets of the era identify him as such and describe North's relationship with Shakespeare in detail.
I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that this new book of his isn't that good.

Oh, and apparently my "self-taught Shakespeare scholar" alarm system is still calibrated just fine.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 2:09 PM on February 9 [7 favorites]


Interesting! But The New York Times is in error to refer to the Myers & Co. catalogue of 1927 as an "auction" catalog, revealing a lack of knowledge of the role of this type of publication in the book trade. The cost was £180, a high price reflecting the manuscript's rarity and identified scholarly importance. Note, too, that there are 50 examples of Shakespeariana in the catalog, obviously a topic of particular interest to Myers and its customers. That apparently no Shakespeare scholar has consulted the manuscript since The British Library's purchase is its own mystery.
posted by Scram at 5:05 AM on February 11 [3 favorites]


What is it with McCarthys?
posted by Sys Rq at 12:38 PM on February 11


North seems a particularly wacky choice given he died nearly a decade before the last plays were written, but logic has never been a strong point of the Shakespeare authorship conspiracists.
posted by tavella at 8:38 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


You get the same thing with the Oxford people. They usually try to get around it by saying that oh, he of course wrote the plays earlier in his life, but they were kept in storage and only brought out for performance and publication years later. It's dumb. It is the dumbest thing.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 1:11 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]


> In fact that's exactly what it is. The book's co-author, Dennis McCarthy, is also the author of North of Shakespeare: The True Story of the Secret Genius Who Wrote the World's Greatest Body of Literature, in which he argues that the plays were actually written by Sir Thomas North.

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh fuck. Why didn't the NYT mention this? Ugh.
posted by desuetude at 6:46 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


I have just never, never gotten it. Because you don't need any fancy education to write Shakespeare's plays. You just need to be bright and know how to read, and we know he would have gotten a perfectly decent grammar school education in Stratford. A keen observer of human nature, a guy who went drinking with sailors and law clerks but knew how to clean himself up to flatter his noble patrons... and of course the laws of the time mean that any player had to make friends among the high and mighty because you had to have a noble patron to perform. And if I'm looking for someone who understood both both high and low, I'm going to look low, because for one it's just an indulgent hobby and for the other it can be fundamental to making a living, and sometimes even keeping your life.

And the works? Sure, some of them are undoubtedly labored over works of genius, but some of the them are clearly knocked together at the last minute with a fan-favorite character, like Merry Wives. When the chief clown changed, Shakespeare changed his comic parts to suit the new man, he wasn't writing abstract stuff for immortality in his gentleman's library, he was writing what would sell and keep his company going. Towards the end of his life, you get not-so-great collaborations with the hot new author, and man, as a fan of SF&F I'm sure familiar with *that*.

The Shakespeare we know is the Shakespeare I'd expect... yet still, so many many people are desperate to make him a nobleman. Not even just upper-class people who you'd expect, but working actors from humble backgrounds like Derek Jacobi. It's just embarrassing.
posted by tavella at 8:52 AM on February 12 [6 favorites]


In fact, to me it's the beautiful tension between the artist and the businessman that *makes* Shakespeare. He clearly had high literary ambitions, no one would write the Sonnets and circulate them who did not, and he wrote plays of great beauty and art. Yet he was also a businessman and a player, who understood what would work on stage and not just sound beautiful, what would make the groundlings laugh and cry and keep the audiences coming back again and again. Without each side, I don't think the work would been able to be reborn across so many times and places.
posted by tavella at 1:00 PM on February 12 [4 favorites]


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