"A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels" by George North

February 2018
128 colour, 4 black and white illustrations
461 pages
24.6x18.6 cm
BISAC LIT004120, DRA010000

"A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels" by George North

A Newly Uncovered Manuscript Source for Shakespeare's Plays

Dennis McCarthy, June Schlueter

A new source for Shakespeare's plays, only recently uncovered, is investigated here with a full edition and facsimile of the text.
"New sources for Shakespeare do not turn up every day... This is a truly significant one that has not heretofore been studied or published. The list of passages now traced back to this source is impressive." - David Bevington, Professor Emeritus, University of Chicago

"A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels" is the only uniquely existent, unpublished manuscript that can be shown to have been a source for Shakespeare's plays. George North wrote the treatise in 1576 while at Kirtling Hall, the North family estate in Cambridgeshire. His manuscript, newly uncovered by the authors at the British Library, has many implications for our understanding of Shakespeare's plays. for example, not only does it bring clarity to the Fool's mysterious reference to Merlin in King Lear, but also upsets the prevailing opinion that Shakespeare invented the final hours of Jack Cade in 2 Henry VI. Linguistic and thematic correspondences between the North manuscript and Shakespeare's plays make it clear that the playwright borrowed from this document in other plays as well, including Richard III, 3 Henry VI, Henry V, King John, Macbeth, and Coriolanus. The opening chapters of the book investigate such connections; the volume also contains both a transcript and a facsimile of "A Brief Discourse", making this previously unknown document readily available.

DENNIS MCCARTHY is an independent scholar; JUNE SCHLUETER is Charles A. Dana Professor Emerita of English at Lafayette College, Easton, Pennsylvania.

New York Times article: "Plagiarism Software Unveils a New Source for 11 of Shakespeare's Plays"

Table of Contents

George North and the Kirtling Hall Manuscript
Uncovering Connections between North's "Discourse" and Shakespeare's Plays
The Final Hours of Jack Cade
The Fool, Merlin's Prophecy, and the Upside-Down World of King Lear
Political Monologues and a Glimpse of Coriolanus
Afterword: The Odds That the Parallels Are Coincidental
Transcript: "A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels"
Facsimile: "A brief discourse of rebellion and Rebells, wherin is showyd, ye treasur yt Traytors in ye execution of theyr treason, by tym attayne to"


"For years scholars have debated what inspired William Shakespeare's writings. Now, with the help of software typically used by professors to nab cheating students, two writers have discovered an unpublished manuscript they believe the Bard of Avon consulted to write King Lear, Macbeth, Richard III, Henry and seven other plays. The news has caused Shakespeareans to sit up and take notice. 'If it proves to be what they say it is, it is a once-in-a-generation - or several generations - find,' said Michael Witmore, director of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington." NEW YORK TIMES

In 1576, English diplomat George North wrote a treatise on rebellion that for almost 450 years went largely unnoticed. . . . McCarthy and Schlueter provide a thorough overview of the history and provenance of the manuscript, along with compelling explanations about how it influenced Shakespeare's plays. Most helpful is the inclusion of the entire North manuscript in an oversize and easy-to-read format. Highly recommended. CHOICE

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