1. Iago’s Speech on He Who Robs Me of My Good Name

Thomas North would publish his first translation, The Dial of Princes, in 1557, seven years before Shakespeare was born. And we do not even complete its first page before we come across something that sounds suspiciously Shakespearean — specifically, a passage that reads much like Iago’s speech on the thief of reputation in Othello.

North’s Dial of PrincesShakespeare’s Othello
Oh, would to God there were no greater thieves in the world than those which rob the temporal goods of the rich, and that we did not wink continually at them which take away the good renown as well of the rich as of the poor. But we chastise the one, and dissemble with the other, which is evidently seen, how the thief that stealeth my neighbour’s gown is hanged forthwith, but he that robbeth me of my good name walketh still before my door. –General Prologue  (1-2)Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;
Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him
And makes me poor indeed. 3.3.168-74    
that stealeth my
but he that robbeth me of
my good name
who steals my
but he that filches from me
my good name / Robs me of

The similarities between the passages are pronounced. Both are emphasizing the differences between a thief of property and a thief of reputation, noting the latter does much more harm. Both begin analogously: North claims that good renown is more valuable than what is taken by those which rob the temporal goods; likewise, Iago emphasizes that Good name is more valuable than what is taken by one who steals my purse. North stresses that the material wealth is temporal, and Iago follows suit: ’tis something, nothing; / ’Twas mine, ’tis his. Both then group the phrases who steals my (that stealeth me), robs me of (robbeth me of), and the antithetical pairing, (en)richpoor.  The clincher is the similar nine-word line:

The Dial: But he that robbeth me of my good name

Othello: But he that filches from me my good name / Robs me of

While Iago substitutes filches from me for robbeth me of, he still says robs me of in the next three words. Thus, both passages juxtapose but he that, robs me of, and my good name.

A search for a juxtaposition of these phrases in Early English Books Online (EEBO), the gold-standard of databases for early modern English literature, confirms that the borrowing is unique. Indeed, even just a search for “but he that” within 10 words of “my good name” yields only North’s Dial and two versions of Shakespeare’s Othello.[1] It is an exclusive grouping used to express the same distinctive idea, and it includes numerous other echoes as well.

Figure shows the results of an EEBO search for all works that place “but he that” within 10 words of “my good name.”

No one else used this language in any known 16th- or 17th-century texts except North and Shakespeare. Google and Google Books also confirm that Shakespeare was following North.

[1] EEBO’s Boolean operators NEAR and PRE allow one to check for a particular word or phrase that is near or precedes another particular word or phrase. The default size of the grouping is four words, but this can be changed by adding a slash and number to the operator. So NEAR/10 searches for a word or phrase within 10 words of another word or phrase. Placing word-strings in quotes allows one to search for that specific phrase. Placing word-strings in quotes and curly brackets [e.g., “{but he that}” NEAR/10 “{my good name}”] searches for those phrases and includes possible variations in spelling for each word — an important factor in checking 16th and 17th century works. All such searches for “but he that” near “my good name” yields only North’s Dial and Shakespeare’s Othello. As indicated in the figure, the tragedy also appeared in the 1623 collection, Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies, more commonly known today as the First Folio.

Other relevant passages in The Dial express a similar idea: “the noble hearts ought little to esteem the increase of their riches, and ought greatly to esteem the perpetuity of their good name” (243); “they should less hurt the master of the house, to ransack and spoil his house, and all that he had in it, than to take from him his honor and good name. …For to conclude, it were less evil to play and lose their money than to rob and spoil his neighbor of his good name.” (115)

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