In Shakespeare's Shadow

A Rogue Scholar's Quest to Reveal the True Source Behind the World's Greatest Plays


By Michael Blanding

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The true story of a self-taught sleuth's quest to prove his eye-opening theory about the source of the world's most famous plays, taking readers inside the vibrant era of Elizabethan England as well as the contemporary scene of Shakespeare scholars and obsessives.

What if Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare . . . but someone else wrote him first? Acclaimed author of The Map Thief, Michael Blanding presents the twinning narratives of renegade scholar Dennis McCarthy and Elizabethan courtier Sir Thomas North. Unlike those who believe someone else secretly wrote Shakespeare, McCarthy argues that Shakespeare wrote the plays, but he adapted them from source plays written by North decades before.

In Shakespeare's Shadow alternates between the enigmatic life of North, the intrigues of the Tudor court, the rivalries of English Renaissance theater, and academic outsider McCarthy's attempts to air his provocative ideas in the clubby world of Shakespearean scholarship. Through it all, Blanding employs his keen journalistic eye to craft a captivating drama, upending our understanding of the beloved playwright and his "singular genius."

Winner of the 2021 International Book Award in Narrative Non-Fiction


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It was the greatest party of Elizabeth’s reign—nineteen days of gut-busting feasts, minstrel performances, bear-baiting, Italian acrobats, and jaw-dropping fireworks. All of it was designed for a single purpose: to woo a queen. When Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, planned the festivities at his estate of Kenilworth Castle in July 1575, he was getting desperate. After fifteen years of vying for Queen Elizabeth’s hand, he was no closer to a promise of marriage than when he’d begun.

The Kenilworth festival was his last-ditch attempt at winning the queen’s affections, and Leicester spared no expense to impress her, spending lavishly on new gardens, gifts, and performances. As the party raged, nobles and gentry from across the realm—as well as commoners from the countryside—guzzled forty barrels of beer and sixteen barrels of wine a day as they pursued wanton encounters in the surrounding woods and fields. Leicester kept his eyes on the queen, anxiously watching for signs that she was enjoying the elaborate masques and other entertainments he had dreamed up in her honor.

On several nights, Leicester unleashed firework displays created by an Italian pyrotechnician over a man-made lake that lapped against the western wall of the castle. The spectacles lasted for hours, including dazzling dragons, fighting dogs and cats, and rockets that seemed to shoot out of the water itself. A contemporary observer described them as a “blaze of burning darts, flying to and fro, leams of stars coruscant, streams and hail of fiery sparks” of such intensity “that the heavens thundered, the waters surged, the earth shook.”

Another night, the earl staged a giant water pageant as Elizabeth was making her way across a long bridge over the lake. An actor dressed as the sea-god Triton rode across the water to her on a mechanical mermaid. Sounding a trumpet in the shape of a whelk, he commanded the seas to still, shouting: “You waters wild, suppress your waves and keep you calm and plain!” After his speech, another actor dressed as the fabled Greek musician Arion serenaded her from atop a twenty-four-foot-long mechanical dolphin. Music emanated eerily from the dolphin’s belly, where an ensemble of musicians had been secreted inside.

There’s no record of how the queen received the performance—whether she stood stony-faced, or smiled and clapped with joy, or felt a rise of love in her heart for the man who had gone to such extravagant lengths to please her. But the moment has been immortalized, after a fashion, in William Shakespeare’s most beloved play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In one scene, Oberon, King of the Fairies, reminisces to his underling Puck while in a jealous fit over the Fairy Queen Titania. “Thou rememb’rest since once I sat upon a promontory, and heard a mermaid on a dolphin’s back uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath that the rude sea grew civil at her song, and certain stars shot madly from their spheres to hear the sea-maid’s music?” he says to Puck. “That very time I saw, but thou couldst not, flying between the cold moon and the earth Cupid, all armed. A certain aim he took at a fair vestal thronèd by the west, and loosed his love shaft smartly from his bow as it should pierce a hundred thousand hearts.”

For more than a century, those lines have been read as an allusion to Leicester, who shot a love arrow at his own vestal—England’s famous “Virgin Queen” Elizabeth—at a pageant complete with dolphin, mermaid, and fireworks. It’s less clear how Shakespeare, then a boy eleven years old, could have witnessed the spectacle; or why he would have included it in a play written around 1595, some twenty years after the event. In his book Will in the World, Harvard professor Stephen Greenblatt allows that “it is certainly conceivable” that Shakespeare’s father may have taken him from their home in Stratford-upon-Avon, fourteen miles away, to see the display. If so, then perhaps Shakespeare stood with his father upon a promontory overlooking the lake to catch a glimpse of the entertainments, and perhaps the sight made such an impression on him that he remembered it for the next two decades, and perhaps he found a moment to work it into a play performed before the queen to remind her of her youthful wooing by her favorite courtier.

Those are a lot of “perhapses.” It’s not the only explanation, however, for how the Kenilworth water pageant could have inspired Shakespeare’s comedy. The playwright could have heard a report from someone who attended, or read about it in a letter circulated after the event. Or there is another possibility: perhaps, another person wrote those lines—someone who attended the event as a guest and witnessed the pageant firsthand.


I FIRST HEARD the name Thomas North in October 2015. I had been invited to Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, to give a lecture about a book I’d written about a thief of rare maps. The weather was unseasonably warm, and the foliage was in full array, with a spectacular red maple lighting up the picture window of the library lecture hall. Afterward, the lecture’s sponsors, English professor emerita June Schlueter and her husband, Paul, a literature scholar, took me to a dinner reception. Over a pasta buffet they introduced me to a scholar named Dennis McCarthy, a confident fifty-three-year-old who looked a decade younger than his age. McCarthy had attended my lecture with his adult daughter, Nicole Galovski, and only later did I learn that the two positioned themselves around the last remaining seats so that I would sit next to one of them.

McCarthy immediately pulled me into conversation, asking me about my book and telling me about his own research. “I bet you are the only other person here who knows where the words ‘Hic Sunt Dracones’ come from,” he said. Of course, I replied—they’re on the Hunt-Lenox Globe at the New York Public Library. Translated “Here Be Dragons,” they are the words cartographers supposedly used to designate uncharted territory—but McCarthy had a different theory, speculating the words marked the location of giant lizards known as Komodo dragons. Here Be Dragons was also the name of his book on biogeography, he told me, and before long, we were spiritedly discussing maps and geography.

As the reception wound down, he invited me to continue talking over drinks with his daughter and her fiancé. It took me a half a second to decide. I was alone on a Thursday night in a small college town, and the thought of going back to my B&B was infinitely less appealing. I figured I could have a few drinks and continue an enjoyable conversation. I had no idea how this chance meeting would start me down a path to trace a literary mystery that I’d follow, along with McCarthy, for the next five years.

We headed to the College Hill Tavern, a bar with old sports memorabilia framed on the walls (GO LEOPARDS!) and students and locals drinking liquor from plastic cups. We sat at a chipped wooden high-top, straining to hear each other over the impromptu karaoke of nearby patrons. I don’t know whose idea it was to order martinis, but amid conversation of maps and Galovski’s impending wedding in the Azores, I was a bit foggy by the time McCarthy finally leaned across the table and told me he had a story for me.

“You know how Shakespeare used other sources to write his plays?” McCarthy asked over the din of amateur Bon Jovi. “Sure,” I replied, trying to remember anything about Shakespeare’s sources from my first-year college class. “Well, I found a source no one ever knew about before,” he said. This unknown manuscript, he continued, was a treatise by a sixteenth-century courtier named George North. The work, he claimed, influenced some of Shakespeare’s greatest plays, including Richard III, Macbeth, and King Lear.

But Shakespeare never even read the manuscript, McCarthy continued, as I struggled to follow his argument through a haze of classic rock and booze. Instead, George’s relative, Sir Thomas North, had used it to write his own plays. Oh, he is one of those, I thought to myself—a conspiracy theorist who thought Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare. But McCarthy hurriedly added that in fact he believed the Bard of Avon wrote every play attributed to him during his lifetime. He also believed, however, that Shakespeare had used these earlier plays by Thomas North for his ideas, his language, and even some of his most famous soliloquies. There was something about a murder involving North’s sister, and an affair Queen Elizabeth may or may not have had with North’s patron, the Earl of Leicester, and a tale of familial exile uncannily like Prospero’s story in The Tempest.

I didn’t believe any of it. Where are North’s plays now? I asked. “Lost,” McCarthy said—but so were most manuscripts written in the Elizabethan era. Why hadn’t anyone discovered this before? “Because no one had the right tools to do so,” he said, arguing excitedly that his computer-assisted techniques had the potential to finally solve the mystery of how—and why—Shakespeare’s plays were written. I vaguely knew about the conspiracy theories that Shakespeare was a fraud, and the plays were really written by the Earl of Oxford or someone else. But this was something different. McCarthy’s theory was more akin to saying Shakespeare plagiarized or collaborated with another writer. The theory seemed outlandish, but I liked McCarthy, and was somewhat amused by the lengths to which he’d gone to pitch me. I promised to look at whatever he sent me.


IN MORE THAN two decades as an investigative reporter, I’ve learned not to dismiss any story out of hand. Years ago, as a writer at Boston Magazine, I’d been contacted by a sixty-five-year-old man incarcerated for allegedly setting fire to his own store. The arson investigation turned out to be junk science, and he was freed after more than four years in prison. Soon after I wrote my article, the prosecution dropped attempts to retry him. More recently, I wrote an article for The New York Times about a rare copy of the first map to name America, which was expected to sell at Christie’s auction house for $1 million. A map dealer came to me claiming it was fake, printed in the twentieth century on four-hundred-year-old paper. The giveaway was a spot where the map had been printed over the centuries-old glue that had bound the paper into a book. I contacted Christie’s, which pulled the map from auction before my article even hit the newsstand.

So I wasn’t opposed to considering McCarthy’s theories—though I wasn’t inclined to believe them, either. When I finally dug into the document he sent me six months later, I was surprised to find a persuasive amount of evidence pointing to the use of the manuscript as a source for nearly a dozen of Shakespeare’s plays. I was intrigued enough to order McCarthy’s self-published book about Thomas North, titled North of Shakespeare, and meet with him again—this time at a table by the water in Newburyport, Massachusetts. I listened as he spelled out his theories in a torrent of words, as if he couldn’t get them all out fast enough.

McCarthy wasn’t a trained academic scholar himself, he admitted; in fact, he hadn’t even graduated from college. Yet, by that point he’d devoted more than a decade to his research on Shakespeare. Most of it was done at home through scouring the Internet and using open-source plagiarism software to compare the text of Shakespeare’s plays with the works of Thomas North—an Elizabethan writer who’d translated Plutarch’s Lives, a book well-known as the source for Shakespeare’s Roman plays. But McCarthy saw something more in him—over an exceptional fifty-year literary career, he claimed, North had written dozens of plays, which Shakespeare had reworked to create the greatest canon of works in English literature. Many of them, he said, were written on behalf of his patron, the Earl of Leicester, as part of his never-ending quest to woo Queen Elizabeth.

Despite a decade of trying, however, McCarthy had only gotten one Shakespearean scholar to believe him—June Schlueter, my own patron for the Lafayette lecture. Interested enough, I told him that I would consider writing about him on two conditions—one, that he publish his research with a reputable publisher; and, two, that he get at least two more scholars to take his ideas seriously. Over the next three years, he met both those conditions. In 2018, he and Schlueter published the George North manuscript with the British Library as A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels, showing how Shakespeare borrowed from it, and winning endorsements from two prominent scholars. I wrote about that book for The New York Times in February 2018 under the headline: “Plagiarism Software Unveils a New Source for 11 of Shakespeare’s Plays.”

Both my article and McCarthy’s book were well-received—though mostly by people sniggering about the fact that Shakespeare was a plagiarist. But this was only a small part of the story. McCarthy had yet to reveal his larger theory—that while Shakespeare used George North as a source for some of his plays, he relied on Thomas North as a source for nearly all of his works, and that he wasn’t using prose works, but plays. As unorthodox as McCarthy’s ideas were, I thought that they at least deserved an airing.

Then again, orthodox ideas become orthodox for a reason—they’ve been analyzed, challenged, and defended by generations of scholars and stood the test of time. A whole industry has been built around Shakespeare scholarship, with thousands of books, articles, classes, and professors all arguing on behalf of the authorship of the plays by William of Stratford-upon-Avon. What kind of new evidence would it take for a scholar who has built a career around that Shakespeare to consider an alternative point of view? And how would they treat the person who espouses it? As I watched McCarthy struggle to get anyone in the Shakespeare community to listen to him, I started conceiving of another project, a book that would investigate and test his theories, but also examine how knowledge gets created, and what it takes to change established ways of thinking.


WE MAY WANT to believe in the idea of Shakespeare as a solitary genius—the Bard of Avon, the Soul of the Age. While even mainstream scholars now believe he had at least some help in writing many of his plays, they’ve held fast to the belief that the bulk of the language and inspiration behind them was Shakespeare’s and Shakespeare’s alone. Yet for centuries, mysteries about William Shakespeare have gone unexplained, such as how a glover’s son from Stratford could have had the intimate knowledge of Italy—a country he almost certainly never visited—or how he could have absorbed the experience of going to war, or used complex legal jargon, or read source material in French, Italian, Latin, and Greek.

Some of the reasons proposed to explain those mysteries are just as unsatisfying, relying on secret conspiracies in which an aristocrat such as the Earl of Oxford or Sir Francis Bacon actually wrote the plays, which Shakespeare then passed off under his own name. Besides the elitism implied by the idea that only a nobleman could have written such sublime works, such theories suffer from the obvious question of how, in the competitive world of Elizabethan theater, such a secret could have been held for so long. McCarthy’s contention, that Shakespeare borrowed his material from Thomas North—a gentleman and scholar who moved in the uppermost levels of Queen Elizabeth’s court—provides an intriguing and wholly original solution, in which the playwright could have legitimately put his own name on his rewritten plays, at the same time borrowing their essence from someone who fit all of the requirements for writing them. In addition to being a translator, North was a lawyer, soldier, diplomat, and courtier—a sixteenth-century Zelig who participated in some of the most crucial events of the age, and brushed shoulders with the brightest minds of the Renaissance. Understanding his inspirations and motivations, McCarthy contends, reveals hidden meanings and unfolds new depths of emotion in the familiar stories of Shakespeare’s dramas. He even, I would come to find, developed an explanation for why Thomas North might have sold his plays to Shakespeare to adapt for the public stage. Over the next two years, I continued my conversation with McCarthy begun in that Pennsylvania bar. We traveled together through England, France, and Italy to retrace Thomas North’s footsteps. Along the way, I began conducting my own research in overseas archives, teaching myself English secretary hand script to read old documents in an effort to prove or disprove McCarthy’s audacious theories. As I considered how and why Thomas North might have written the plays that he did, I began to glimpse a new story that could answer age-old questions about Shakespeare and his works—if it could be believed.

Chapter One

This Blood Condemns

The more I sound his name the more he bleeds.

This blood condemns me, and in gushing forth

Speaks as it falls and asks me why I did it.

Arden of Faversham


Dennis McCarthy steps out of a car on a chilly November morning into the streets of a village in southeastern England. “We’re in Faversham!” he says wonderingly, as if he can’t quite believe it. He’d been reading about this town for the better part of a decade, focusing on a brutal incident that happened here more than 450 years ago—and yet he’d never been here before now. “Are you here about the murder?” a middle-aged woman with glasses asks, noticing us staring at a house across the street.

“Do you know about the murder?” McCarthy turns the question around, and she replies as if the killing happened last week, rather than in February 1551. “Oh yes, the blood was red and thick, and the snow was white as they dragged the body through the field.” We’re standing now outside of the scene of the crime—a white Tudor cottage with dark half-timber framing, filled in with white daub-and-wattle. Once, the home was attached to the gatehouse of the mighty Faversham Abbey. While that structure was already gone by the time of the murder, Abbey Street is still arguably the best-preserved medieval street in Britain, with England’s oldest brewery at one end, and Arden’s House, named after the town’s most notorious former resident, at the other.

It was a messy killing. Thomas Arden, Faversham’s one-time mayor, was sitting down to play at tables—a game similar to backgammon—with a tailor by the name of Thomas Mosby. The contest was fraught, since Arden was well aware that Mosby was having an affair with his wife. As they played, Mosby made a move and said, “Now, I may take you.” At that signal, a man named “Black Will” suddenly burst out of a closet behind Arden and attempted to strangle him with a towel. When Arden failed to succumb, Mosby struck him on the side of the head with a fourteen-pound pressing iron, knocking him out.

Even that wasn’t enough to do Arden in, however. As the murderers dragged him into a small office off the parlor, he began to groan again, and Black Will slashed him across the face with a dagger. Finally, he came out to tell Arden’s wife, Alice, that the deed had been done. She rushed into the room with her own knife, furiously stabbing her husband seven or eight times in the chest as his blood gushed onto the floor.

The crime was an instant scandal. Not only had a woman risen up against her own husband, but Alice and Mosby had enlisted a crew of other townspeople, including Arden’s own servants, in the killing. The betrayal was so great that twenty-five years later Holinshed’s Chronicles, the definitive history of England, took a break from recounting the exploits of kings, queens, and nobles to detail the household crime for five full pages. Another fifteen years later, in 1592, the murder was immortalized in an anonymous play titled The Lamentable and True Tragedie of M. Arden of Feversham in Kent.

Commonly known as Arden of Faversham, the play is an early Elizabethan masterpiece, which kicked off a new genre of “domestic tragedy” concerned with workaday calamities rather than royal misfortunes. The author of that play, however, has always remained a mystery, with some scholars arguing fiercely for Thomas Kyd, author of later revenge tragedies, and others championing Christopher Marlowe, who grew up in nearby Canterbury. For the past half-century, however, many have increasingly believed it to be the first published play by the world’s greatest dramatist: William Shakespeare.

It’s that theory that’s brought us here on this blustery day in 2018. Not only does McCarthy think that Shakespeare wrote the 1592 play, but he also believes it holds the key to a deeper secret about Shakespeare’s works. Among Alice’s relatives who would have been devastated by the crime was her fifteen-year-old half brother, Thomas North. He would later go on to become a translator and was famous in his lifetime for his translation of Plutarch’s Lives, the Greek philosopher Plutarch’s book of biographies and undoubted source for Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. But McCarthy believes Shakespeare’s debt to North is far greater—the translator, he contends, wrote a play about his own family’s tragedy decades earlier, which Shakespeare later used to write his own play.


I FOLLOW MCCARTHY around the front of Arden’s House, where a single red rose hangs off a trellis. He is sporting a white button-up shirt with the collar open and an olive-colored wool coat. At fifty-six years old, he has a square jaw and full head of dark hair, only slightly thinning in the corners. On his face is an almost permanent smirk, as if he is about to disprove, or at least question, anything at any moment.

Behind McCarthy follows his daughter, Nicole Galovski, a lanky thirty-two-year-old with blond corkscrew curls. A documentary filmmaker whose work has aired on Showtime, HBO, and Netflix, she is dressed the part in a black windbreaker and skinny jeans. With her is Bahareh Hosseini, a diminutive Iranian filmmaker carrying a heavy camera on her shoulder. For the past several years, Galovski and a rotating roster of camerapersons have been following her father around on his quixotic quest to prove Thomas North is the key to understanding Shakespeare’s canon.

Even though the current tenants know we are coming, they don’t know we’re bringing a film crew. McCarthy seems anxious. “I’ll just ask if they mind us filming them,” he says. “No, Dad,” Galovski breaks in, exasperated. “Don’t ask them—let me handle it.” Around the back of the house is a slick patio leading to an ancient-looking door with an iron knocker. McCarthy knocks, and the door opens to a cheerful woman in a fuchsia athletic top, who introduces herself as Irene Redman. “I’m just off to Pilates at the moment,” she says, passing us off to her husband, Chris, a financial analyst whose white shirt bulges beneath a red tie and suspenders. “Do you mind if I film?” Galovski asks casually, as the camera rolls.

“No, no, that’s all right,” Redman says gamely as he invites us in. “Well, what I can do is show you around, and just sort of talk through the—” he pauses “—Arden story,” saying the words as if not quite sure how to refer to the event. The house is divided into two parts, he explains, showing us a low-ceilinged kitchen with worm-eaten beams and exposed stone walls that were originally part of the abbey’s gatehouse. The other part, he says, was built by Thomas Arden himself. There, the ceilings are higher and the walls covered in white plaster, some of which is original to the building. “After the Arden thing, this house fell into disrepair gradually,” Redman says, leading into a foyer with a dining table and PlayStation controllers and soccer balls strewn around the floor. “In the 1950s, this whole street was going to be knocked down because it was a complete slum—and this was a brothel.” Instead, local residents put together a plan to save the street, restoring the homes to their former Tudor glory.

To the left is an office with an Oriental rug and computer desk. “Is this where the murder took place?” McCarthy asks finally. “Well, I thought you were going to get round to that,” Redman says with a laugh. Historians aren’t exactly sure which room was the parlor where Arden and Mosby sat playing that night, he explains. But “people generally accept that it was probably this room,” says Redman, motioning toward the office. We all gaze silently into it for a moment, imagining the violent events of nearly five centuries ago.




  • “Did an amateur American sleuth discover a startling new source for Shakespeare’s works? Investigative journalist Michael Blanding journeys across space and time to piece together fascinating evidence that will absolutely transform our interpretation of the classics. North by Shakespeare is a rollicking good tale of detective work, in which an outsider battles the establishment for the soul of the world’s most revered playwright.”—Rachel Slade, author of Into the Raging Sea
  • “A dizzyingly complex story, expertly woven together, that takes readers deep into the overlapping worlds of Shakespeare studies, Elizabethan history, and contemporary literary analysis.”—Toby Lester, author of The Fourth Part of the World and Da Vinci’s Ghost
  • “Michael Blanding tackles the perennial question of who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays, following the work of an unlikely scholar who dissects the Bard’s language with technological tools that earlier generations had no access to. This compelling take on the age-old quest to understand the foundations of the world’s greatest literature isn’t only a great detective story, it also raises important epistemological questions about how we know what we know in the first place.”—Scott Carney, author of What Doesn’t Kill Us
  • “Michael Blanding takes us on a fascinating, eye-opening journey to unlock the centuries-old mysteries surrounding Shakespearean genius, offering fresh insights into Elizabethan history along the way. This captivating book does for English lit what The Da Vinci Code did for the Holy Grail.”—Neil Swidey, author of Trapped Under the Sea and The Assist
  • “Once again, Michael Blanding proves himself both a brilliantly dogged reporter and a masterful storyteller. In investigating the scholar who is himself investigating the true source of Shakespeare’s plays, [Blanding] creates one heck of a double, and doubly suspenseful, detective story. Rich with sumptuous historical details and discoveries that ripple through the deepest fault lines of literature, North by Shakespeare is a page-turner that will utterly upend what you think you know about the classics.”—Alex Marzano-Lesnevich, author of The Fact of a Body
  • "Part exposition, part narrative, Blanding’s book provides honest insights into the motivations, methods, frustrations, and reverie of scholars grappling with the incomplete record of history, and a revealing picture of what is at stake in scholarly debates about the answers to historical puzzles. Whether or not readers are fully swayed by McCarthy’s arguments about the extent of North’s literary endeavors or his role in shaping Shakespeare’s work, Blanding’s presentation of his quest to build these arguments is both entertaining and provocative."—Laurie Johnson, Professor of English and Cultural Studies, University of Southern Queensland, and President, Australian and New Zealand Shakespeare Association
  • “A fascinating detective jaunt through history—all the better for the depth of its scholarship.”—Fred Melamed, Actor and Founding Member, Shakespeare & Co.
  • “For readers who love the Bard… this expands our understanding of how the most iconic plays ever written possibly came into existence….The dramatic lives of both men are cleverly illustrated by journalist Michael Blanding, who creates a tense, readable book exploring a bold theory….This fascinating book adds to the narrative behind Shakespeare and presents evidence that may change the way readers see the works forever.”—San Francisco Book Review
  • “Blanding dramatizes very effectively the thrill of this literary investigation, giving readers a revelation-by-revelation account of the developments in McCarthy’s thinking without ever drowning them in trivia. The book likewise does a virtuoso job of evoking both the realities of Shakespeare’s world and the twists and turns of the whole Shakespeare question….The most elegant proposed solution to the authorship question to appear in many decades. 
    “North by Shakespeare gives a curiously invigorating glimpse of that jobbing, hustling Shakespeare….Does [it] finally settle the Shakespeare authorship question?….[T]his isn’t some silly conspiracy theory. Orthodox scholars who simply ignore it do so at the peril of their reputations.”—Christian Science Monitor
  • "Even the doubtful will enjoy this look into scholarly obsession."—Parade
  • "Entertaining...Blanding’s energetic narrative traces McCarthy’s search for more of North’s writings and his use of plagiarism software to provide evidence for their influence on Shakespeare....Highly enjoyable...almost as much fun as sitting in a theater."—BookPage
  • “Lively….Blanding does a good job of capturing the eccentric [Dennis] McCarthy and his passion to get to the bottom of this particular rabbit hole. Shakespeare fans and readers who enjoy the thrill of a good bibliographic treasure hunt will want to check this out.”—Publishers Weekly
  • “Bardolators will want to read this book.”—Library Journal
  • “[Michael] Blanding dives into the ongoing debates over the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays with a lively profile of freelance writer Dennis McCarthy, who has mounted considerable evidence that Shakespeare drew heavily on the works of English translator, lawyer, diplomat, and writer Thomas North…. [A] brisk recounting of North’s life and turbulent times…. An entertaining look at a literary iconoclast."—Kirkus Reviews
  • “Fascinating….[a] look at the entertainment industry [in Elizabethan] time and…how in many ways…it is not so different than what we see happens today with artists and creatives….A great history and a great book.”—Blog Talk Radio
  • "North by Shakespeare alternates between the enigmatic life of Thomas North, the intrigues of the Tudor court, the rivalries of English Renaissance theater, and academic outsider Dennis McCarthy's attempts to air his provocative ideas in the clubby world of Shakespearean scholarship. Through it all, Blanding employs his keen journalistic eye to craft a captivating drama, upending our understanding of the beloved playwright and his ‘singular genius.’ An inherently fascinating and wonderfully iconoclastic study of meticulously detailed and original scholarship… an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition.”—Midwest Book Review
  • "This lively narrative [is]… a vibrant, thoroughly enjoyable read.”—Fine Books magazine
  • North by Shakespeare: A Rogue Scholar’s Quest for the Truth Behind the Bard’s Work, is a wildly entertaining read that illuminates a forgotten figure in British history and brings the political intrigue of sixteenth century England to rip-roaring life.”—Public Libraries Online

On Sale
Mar 30, 2021
Page Count
368 pages
Hachette Books

Michael Blanding

About the Author

Michael Blanding is a Boston-based investigative journalist, whose work has appeared in The New York Times, WIRED, Slate, The Boston Globe Magazine, Boston magazine, and other publications. He is author of The Map Thief: The Gripping Story of an Esteemed Rare-Map Dealer Who Made Millions Stealing Priceless Maps (2014), which was a New York Times bestseller and an NPR Book of the Year; and The Coke Machine: The Dirty Truth Behind the World's Favorite Soft Drink (2010). A former writing fellow at Brandeis University and The Harvard Kennedy School, he has taught feature writing at Tufts University, Emerson College, and GrubStreet Writers.

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