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Scouting the Northern trail

Dennis McCarthy, subject of North by Shakespeare by Michael Blandings

In his book North by Shakespeare: a Rogue Scholars Quest for the Truth behind the Bard's Work (Hachette Books, March 30, 2021) Dennis McCarthy’s biographer, Michael Blanding lends his journalistic skill and authorial brilliance to creating a work capable of focusing public attention on the travesty of the Stratfordian attribution of Shakespeare’s work.

Blanding chronicles the travail of McCarthy's delivery of Sir Thomas North (1535-ca1604) as the original author of Shakespeare's plays. In the process, Blandings' book brings to public attention three important Shakespeare authorship criticisms that anti-Strats have always known were Stratfordian deal-breakers:

  • The Stratfordian-centered dating of the plays is wrong.
  • The plays are based on erudite understanding of multiple classical sources inaccessible to the Stratfordian candidate.
  • The success of the Stratfordian candidate is based on tradition, not evidence -- which is paltry in the extreme.

The great Samuel Schoenbaum says Shakespeare’s first biographer, writing almost a century after his death, is a liar. In fact, notorious liars have made great Shakespeare biographers from the early days of Stratfordian confabulation e.g. William Henry Ireland and John Payne Collier.

Were it not for David Garrick’s commercially driven 1769 Shakespeare Jubilee set in the hometown of an entirely arbitrarily chosen Shaxper, we might have been freed from the tyranny of tradition and religious devotion to Stratford-upon-Avon and it’s Sixteenth Century inhabitants.

In his Northern thesis, McCarthy’s skirts the Stratfordian boundaries by positing Thomas North as originator of plays later sold to Shaxper of Stratford.  We wondered why McCarthy involves the Stratfordian candidate at all given:

  • the evidence for Stratfordian participations is questionable.
  • the dumb-bard scenario could be ascribed to any candidate and does not particularly favor Thomas North,
  • the scenario is unsupported by hard evidence,
  • and, in any case, is completely unnecessary to ascribing Shakespeare's work to North.

So, we asked Dennis McCarthy.

Oberon: Why involve the Stratfordian candidate in your theory when evidence for Stratfordian participation is non-existent? Why not follow the northern trail to its true destination, for good or ill — who wrote Shakespeare?

Dennis McCarthy replies:

I really do feel passionately about this — because I believe it would help anti-Stratfordians finally win the argument once and for all! 


Okay, there are something called 'bad quartos' that were published while Shakespeare was alive. These are weaker staged adaptations of plays like Hamlet, Henry V, Romeo and Juliet, 1, 2 Henry VI -- all of them with Shakespeare's name on the title pages (or attributed to Shakespeare). Shakespeare's name is also on differently-styled, weaker apocryphal plays like Locrine, Yorkshire Tragedy, London Prodigal, etc. Now, whoever wrote the original masterpieces did not also write these brief, inferior, less literary adaptations or the apocryphal plays. Who did? In my view (and others), it's simple and obvious: William Shakespeare.

What is more, there are numerous (likely over ten) contemporary allusions to Shakespeare, describing him as a plagiarizing, stage-adapter, who writes uneducated lines, and is getting too much credit for the work of other writers. These comments are all correct too.


Now, as some have recently argued -- including Sabrina Feldman and John Lavendoski -- this is a lay-down, winning hand for anti-Stratfordians. This is game over or 'gin' as I like to say.


All they have to do is accept this extensive documentation. All they have to do is accept the veracity of these title pages proving Shakespeare wrote inferior work and accept the contemporary comments attacking Shakespeare; and then they have proved Shakespeare did not write the original masterpieces. All they have to do is lay these cards down, and it is game over, anti-Stratfordians win the whole pot.

Alas, many refuse to.

Why? Well, since some anti-Stratfordians have committed to the extreme idea that Shakespeare was illiterate, they cannot even accept that Shakespeare adapted plays for the stage, some of them mediocre. 

So in my view, and in the view of others, this is why they have lost the debate for the last 100 years. They repeatedly throw in a lay-down winning hand.


We are really glad to understand why McCarthy clings to Shaxper from Stratford as North’s pillager; but, I don’t find his argument convincing — in part, because:

  • Arguments for Shaxper’s illiteracy are not solely based on his signatures.
  • The bad quartos have always been accepted as bastardized, but have not led to questions about Shaxper’s legitimacy in the past.
  • This dumb-Bard scenario is just as much supposition-based as scenarios for any Shakespeare candidate, including the one from Stratford.

We can’t imagine that anyone would consider this argument a lay-down hand in support of an alternate candidate —  whoever they might be. We would be curious to know how far North might travel sans-Stratfordian saddlebags stuffed with mulberry-wood icons.


North by Shakespeare: a Rogue Scholars Quest for the Truth behind the Bard's Work (Hachette, 2021) by Michael Blanding

Sir Thomas North: the original author of Shakespeare's plays website by Dennis McCarthy

Thomas North's 1555 Travel Journal: From Italy to Shakespeare (Fairleigh Dickenson U. Press, 2021) by Dennis McCarthy and June Schlueter,

"Sir Thomas North as a Shakespeare Authorship Candidate by Michael Blanding" YouTube video from Shakespeare Authorship Roundtable (May 2021),

"Proof for Sir Thomas North (Shakespeare Authorship) by Dennis McCarthy" YouTube video from Shakespeare Authorship Roundtable (May 2021),

"Plagiarism software unveils a new source for 11 of Shakespeare's plays" by Michael Blandings, NYT (Feb. 7, 2018),

"How a college dropout in New Hampshire found a Shakespeare secret all the PhDs missed" by Michael Blandings, Boston Globe (Mar 19, 2021),

"Blanding, North by Shakespeare reviewed by Michael Hyde" Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship Newsletter, Spring 2021,

"But Mad North-northwest: Michael Blanding interview", Don't Quill the Messenger podcast May 12, 2021,

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