Why Wasn’t This Discovered Till Now?

The short answer is: 21st century digital technologies. Before the advent of literary databases, like Google Books and Early English Books Online, and new computer tools, like plagiarism software, this discovery could never have been made. In the past a scholar wanting to read certain books or manuscripts might have to pack a suitcase and renew her passport. Today, everyone with a computer has instantaneous access to the greatest libraries in the world, to their every room and bookshelf. More, we also have miraculous search-engines to aid us in our research. Not unlike Prospero’s fairy-servant Ariel in The Tempest, these supernatural assistants seem to conquer space and time to do our bidding. They will instantly retrieve any book or manuscript, from any century, even open up the old text to the right page and direct us to the exact passage and line that we need to read.

Searchable databases of sixteenth and seventeenth century texts not only helped reveal Thomas North as Nashe’s “English Seneca,” the original author of Hamlet, they also prompted the discovery of little-known records and other obscure references in rare works that also exposed North’s authorship of the plays. They permitted access to Elizabethan account-books establishing North as a playwright for Leicester’s Men, revealed important comments on North’s playwriting history from Tudor era writers and North-family descendants, located Shakespeare-related manuscripts from the North-family library as well as a travel diary written by North, providing important details of his journey throughout France and Italy. All this served to unveil North’s playwriting history. Then, plagiarism software uncovered the origins of hundreds of Shakespeare’s passages in North’s prose translations, showing how North based many of the most famous scenes and soliloquies in the plays on the foreign texts he had collected during his travels and then translated when he returned home.

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