The “Cymbeline” Discovery

As seen in the Observer:

Outline of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline Found in Thomas North’s Marginal Notes


Researchers have discovered a book at Harvard University that provides compelling evidence that Shakespeare’s Cymbeline is an adaptation of an earlier play by the Elizabethan courtier and writer Sir Thomas North. The book, a 1533 edition of Fabyan’s Chronicle, contains copious notes in North’s hand relating to Shakespeare’s late tragicomedy, including background, characters, and language that provide an outline for one of the main plots of the play. In one case, North’s unique spelling and phrasing are repeated in Cymbeline but appear in no other known source. Shakespeare’s play dates to 1609–1610, but North likely wrote the original version some six or seven years earlier. North’s last known publication—and the last reference to him alive—occurred in 1603, the year he turned 68, and he is presumed to have died not long after.

Investigative reporter Michael Blanding discovered the book, which has been analyzed by independent researcher Dennis McCarthy with the help of June Schlueter, professor emerita at Lafayette College and former editor of Shakespeare Bulletin. In addition to providing a striking example of an outline for a Shakespeare play, North’s marginalia help interpret previously obscure references and plot elements in Cymbeline, adding new understanding to and appreciation for one of Shakespeare’s more mysterious plays…

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Supplemental Material

Sirthomasnorth.com now lists hundreds of Shakespearean lines and passages that derive from all four of North’s translations, not just his Plutarch’s Lives, and appear in essentially every play of the Shakespeare canon, not just the Roman plays. They confirm that no one has taken more from an earlier writer than Shakespeare has from North, and it is not even close. But it is the discoveries of Shakespearean material in North’s unpublished writings – including his travel journal, the marginal notes in Fabyan, and still other examples that will be revealed in future papers—that help expose the true basis of this obligation. They confirm that Shakespeare was not obsessively pilfering North’s prose; rather he was adapting North’s plays….

–“Outline of SHakespeare’s Cymbeline in North’s Marginalia”

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