**Winner of the 2021 International Book Award in Narrative Non-Fiction**
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. Blanding 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.”
Journalist Blanding (The Map Thief) sheds light on the origin of Shakespeare's works in this lively account of independent scholar Dennis McCarthy, who believes the Bard's plays were inspired by now lost works written by Elizabethan courtier Thomas North. McCarthy began studying Hamlet in 2005 out of personal curiosity. A college dropout in his mid-40s, Blanding writes, McCarthy soon became a self-educated Shakespeare expert, self-publishing a book of his findings in 2011. Much of the evidence for his theory comes from his work comparing Shakespeare's texts to documents written by North using antiplagiarism software (such as his translations of Dial of Princes and the works of Plutarch), tracing their similarities to works including Hamlet and A Midsummer Night's Dream. Also, North's inside knowledge of a 1551 murder in Arden, specifically, points to plot points in Arden of Faversham, a play believed to be by Shakespeare. Much of the book is taken up with summarizing Elizabethan history to provide context for McCarthy's theories, but Blanding does a good job of capturing the eccentric 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.