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The true story of a self-taught Shakespeare 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. Acclaimed author of The Map Thief, Michael Blanding presents the twinning narratives of renegade sc The true story of a self-taught Shakespeare 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. Acclaimed author of The Map Thief, Michael Blanding presents the twinning narratives of renegade scholar Dennis McCarthy, called “the Steve Jobs of the Shakespeare community,” and Sir Thomas North, an Elizabethan courtier whom McCarthy believes to be the undiscovered source for Shakespeare’s plays. For the last fifteen years, McCarthy has obsessively pursued the true origins of Shakespeare’s works. Using plagiarism software, he has found direct links between Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and other plays and North’s published and unpublished writings—as well as Shakespearean plotlines seemingly lifted straight from North’s colorful life. Unlike those who believe someone else secretly wrote Shakespeare, McCarthy’s wholly original conclusion is this: Shakespeare wrote the plays, but he adapted them from source plays written by North decades before. Many of them, he believes, were penned on behalf of North’s patron Robert Dudley, in his efforts to woo Queen Elizabeth. That bold theory addresses many lingering mysteries about the Bard with compelling new evidence, including a newly discovered journal of North’s travels through France and Italy, filled with locations and details appearing in Shakespeare’s plays. 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.”


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The true story of a self-taught Shakespeare 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. Acclaimed author of The Map Thief, Michael Blanding presents the twinning narratives of renegade sc The true story of a self-taught Shakespeare 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. Acclaimed author of The Map Thief, Michael Blanding presents the twinning narratives of renegade scholar Dennis McCarthy, called “the Steve Jobs of the Shakespeare community,” and Sir Thomas North, an Elizabethan courtier whom McCarthy believes to be the undiscovered source for Shakespeare’s plays. For the last fifteen years, McCarthy has obsessively pursued the true origins of Shakespeare’s works. Using plagiarism software, he has found direct links between Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and other plays and North’s published and unpublished writings—as well as Shakespearean plotlines seemingly lifted straight from North’s colorful life. Unlike those who believe someone else secretly wrote Shakespeare, McCarthy’s wholly original conclusion is this: Shakespeare wrote the plays, but he adapted them from source plays written by North decades before. Many of them, he believes, were penned on behalf of North’s patron Robert Dudley, in his efforts to woo Queen Elizabeth. That bold theory addresses many lingering mysteries about the Bard with compelling new evidence, including a newly discovered journal of North’s travels through France and Italy, filled with locations and details appearing in Shakespeare’s plays. 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.”

30 review for North by Shakespeare: A Rogue Scholar's Quest for the Truth Behind the Bard's Work

  1. 5 out of 5

    Steph

    The topic this book presents is one that is immediately intriguing and perhaps less well-known among the average reader. But it quickly becomes a ridiculous notion: the idea Thomas North wrote at least some of the plays attributed to Shakespeare, including several published in the First Folio, which McCarthy claims were not even adapted by Shakespeare but ARE North’s plays, though McCarthy provides no concrete evidence. Some issues with the book: -the number one issue is simply that McCarthy claim The topic this book presents is one that is immediately intriguing and perhaps less well-known among the average reader. But it quickly becomes a ridiculous notion: the idea Thomas North wrote at least some of the plays attributed to Shakespeare, including several published in the First Folio, which McCarthy claims were not even adapted by Shakespeare but ARE North’s plays, though McCarthy provides no concrete evidence. Some issues with the book: -the number one issue is simply that McCarthy claims North wrote many of the plays Shakespeare used to write his own—yet none of North’s supposed plays exist. McCarthy’s entire basis for his argument literally doesn’t exist. -the piling on of praise for McCarthy as a non-traditional scholar who seemingly managed to get published in multiple fields with little to no formal education in them. I don’t take issue with his ability to get published but it does raise the question of if someone who was Black or a woman would be able to get published as easily as McCarthy. -Time spent giving biographical details regarding McCarthy’s children with various women across multiple states seemed pointless. Use of the phrase “testicular fortitude” in reference to the researcher slaps of misogyny. -Factual inaccuracies: in the third chapter, the author notes that Mary was the only child Katherine of Aragon gave birth to which isn’t true—Mary was the only surviving child of that marriage, but Katherine birthed more. -another factual inaccuracy: claims that Caesar dies at the end of Act II...in the actual play, Caesar dies in Act III, scene i. Another factual inaccuracy: claims Shakespeare was the oldest of 6 children. Shakespeare had 2 elder sisters who died before his birth, then 5 siblings born after him, one who died at age 8. The book jumps from one topic to another, no clear thread linking them. There’s little to no supporting research for many claims made; it mostly reads as a piece written trying to force the narrative of North rather than as a topic which has been thoroughly researched and questioned. This book would have benefited from consultation with more early modern scholars who could have provided some insights, even on a very basic level, which would have tightened the writing and historical information included, some of which comes across as poorly researched or simply naive. Even with the few scholars interviewed, it seems either Blanding or McCarthy (or perhaps both) elected not to listen to reason. Overall, this book seems to be far-reaching in its attempt to credit another for the works of Shakespeare. It’s essentially pointless, and should not have been published. Update: I had to block McCarthy on Twitter because he would not leave me alone, though I never tagged him in any of my tweets about this book. Copy provided by NetGalley.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    Blanding presents a Tudor-era academic mystery that will forever change the way I look at Shakespeare. An amateur scholar named Dennis McCarthy theorizes that Shakespeare plagiarized a gentleman named Thomas North. According to McCarthy, North was responsible for penning the plays we attribute to The Bard and Blanding’s book outlines why McCarthy reached these conclusions. McCarthy himself is a fascinating character. Though he has no formal education, he is a thorough researcher and obsessive pol Blanding presents a Tudor-era academic mystery that will forever change the way I look at Shakespeare. An amateur scholar named Dennis McCarthy theorizes that Shakespeare plagiarized a gentleman named Thomas North. According to McCarthy, North was responsible for penning the plays we attribute to The Bard and Blanding’s book outlines why McCarthy reached these conclusions. McCarthy himself is a fascinating character. Though he has no formal education, he is a thorough researcher and obsessive polymath. When he stumbled upon clues that Shakespeare’s plays were actually authored by North, he tumbled down the rabbit hole of Shakespeare scholarship and North’s family history. “All [McCarthy] needed was a computer and a flat surface, and he could journey back through hundreds of years of historical and literary analysis, always with the hope that in the next moment, he’d discover a crucial piece of evidence to crack the mystery wide open. And along with it, prove that the work which he’d devoted more than a decade of his life had value.” Though he was a generation older than Shakespeare, the biography of North’s life fit well with the play’s topics. As do the political commentary within the plays themselves if you look at the context of when North supposedly wrote them. It’s weirdly uncanny McCarthy also uses plagiarism software to prove that North’s own source materials for his plays fit in with the Shakespeare canon. North was a published translator, and the works he translated into English would have been inspiration for themes, characters, and dialogue. Without definitively stating so, Blanding seems to agree with McCarthy because there are far too many parallels for them to be coincidence. It’s bizarre how well North’s education, travels, and experiences fit into McCarthy’s proposed sequence of North’s authorship. It's been a long time since I’ve read Shakespeare’s plays, so I was glad Blanding took the time to provide synopses of the plays as their discussed in relation to North’s life. And of course, I loved the Elizabethan history presented alongside the playwright’s narrative. I enjoyed how Blanding also wrote about how his involvement in McCarthy’s research evolved and that he owned up to being, “…seduced by McCarthy’s theories into conforming his own biases in the text.” It’s a compelling literary mystery with fascinating historic significance and it was fun to follow along with Blanding and McCarthy’s sleuthing. I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author.

  3. 5 out of 5

    June Schlueter

    Thanks, Sally, for your review. I too read Michael Blanding’s North by Shakespeare, but try as I might I could not find the “toxic masculinity” you attribute to it. Nor could I see Blanding and Dennis McCarthy, the “rogue scholar” of the sub-title, as “insufferable men” capable of little more than the sneers and smirks of privilege. Had you read Blanding’s book with greater care, you may have noticed that five years into his 15-year study of the North family, a healthy bearer of estrogen joined Thanks, Sally, for your review. I too read Michael Blanding’s North by Shakespeare, but try as I might I could not find the “toxic masculinity” you attribute to it. Nor could I see Blanding and Dennis McCarthy, the “rogue scholar” of the sub-title, as “insufferable men” capable of little more than the sneers and smirks of privilege. Had you read Blanding’s book with greater care, you may have noticed that five years into his 15-year study of the North family, a healthy bearer of estrogen joined the project—and stuck with it for a decade, co-authoring with McCarthy two books revealing our discovery of two little-known manuscripts, both of which identified linguistic and other contextual parallels between these two texts and Shakespeare’s plays. Indeed, a story about the 2018 publication received worldwide attention, including a front-page story in The New York Times. As an academic trained in the nature and necessity of evidence, I worked with McCarthy for ten years, conducting both digital and archival research that yielded often surprising information, and when we wrote of it, I was confident that it was solidly in the tradition of the scholarship I have done over a decades-long academic career. Sally, you need to reread Blanding’s book again. There is nothing in North by Shakespeare to suggest that any of us is an anti-Stratfordian. We do not believe that the hidden identity of the playwright from Stratford was the Earl of Oxford, Francis Bacon, or Queen Elizabeth. Nor do we say that Thomas North was Shakespeare. We state unambiguously that Shakespeare deserves to have his name on the title-page of each of his plays. If you’ll have a look at Thomas North’s 1555 Travel Journal: From Italy to Shakespeare (2021), you will see that we make it clear that our interest is in sources. And to that end, we say—and show—how Shakespeare repeatedly borrowed from North. Shakespeareans have long known that he did so for the Roman plays, which reflect language and scenes that appear in North’s translation of Plutarch’s Lives. Our research has extended the exploration of North’s influence beyond the Roman plays and beyond that one translation—to North’s other translations and his travel journal. Keep in mind that Blanding became interested in McCarthy’s work just two years ago and set out to evaluate his argument, which is what North by Shakespeare does. An author (The Map Thief) and an investigative reporter, Blanding turned out to be an able researcher himself. It was he who discovered North’s copy of The Dial of Princes, with North’s marginalia, in the Cambridge University Library. And it was he who suggested that the story of Antigonus and the roaring bears may well have been the inspiration for the most famous stage direction in Shakespeare: “Exit pursued by a bear.” I am not sure why you would beg readers not to read North by Shakespeare. In my judgment, the testosterone you see in Blanding’s book is sufficiently tempered by the estrogen this seasoned academic contributed. But please don’t confuse either with excitement. We three would happily defend Dennis’s argument in any venue and respond to every question Shakespeareans or the reading public might have. And no, we would not yield to a reader who thought there was something—anything—in Blanding’s book to suggest a conspiracy. Yes, encourage everyone to read James Shapiro’s Contested Will as well as its reviews, including the one entitled “Shapiro’s Shakespeare Redivivus.” Despite its meticulous attention to detail, that reviewer’s devastating commentary must have unsettled Shapiro. Indeed, until your own review of North by Shakespeare, it was, in my judgment, the “most unkindest cut of all.” But Shapiro recovered, as I’m sure we will. June Schlueter Charles A. Dana Professor Emerita of English Lafayette College Easton, PA 18042 [email protected]

  4. 4 out of 5

    Lori L (She Treads Softly)

    North by Shakespeare: A Rogue Scholar's Quest for the Truth Behind the Bard's Work by Michael Blanding is a very highly recommended, and apparently controversial, examination of who may have inspired Shakespeare in the writing of his plays. This is a very interesting investigation that summarizes Dennis McCarthy's close scrutiny of the works of William Shakespeare compared to the life and works of Sir Thomas North. "McCarthy’s contention, that Shakespeare borrowed his material from Thomas North - North by Shakespeare: A Rogue Scholar's Quest for the Truth Behind the Bard's Work by Michael Blanding is a very highly recommended, and apparently controversial, examination of who may have inspired Shakespeare in the writing of his plays. This is a very interesting investigation that summarizes Dennis McCarthy's close scrutiny of the works of William Shakespeare compared to the life and works of Sir Thomas North. "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." Dennis McCarthy is a self-taught Shakespeare researcher who has relentlessly worked on his theory and looked into the true origins of Shakespeare’s works for fifteen years. He uses plagiarism software and has found links between the plays and North's published and unpublished writings. At the end of the narrative in Appendix B, Blanding includes a section showing examples of McCarthy’s "techniques for using plagiarism software to explore parallel passages between Thomas North’s prose translations and William Shakespeare’s plays." North by Shakespeare is a summary, but it is also a dense book and not a leisurely read. To cover the theory McCarthy sets forth, Blanding tackles topics that could fill several volumes, but manages to succinctly organize and integrate Shakespearean literary criticism, Elizabethan history, a modern-day travelogue, and McCarthy's research into a fascinating and compelling presentation of the theory that Shakespeare based his plays on the work and life of Sir Thomas North. Included is Appendix A, which " includes Dennis McCarthy’s estimated chronology of Thomas North’s plays versus the conventional chronology proposed by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust," Appendix B, the example of using plagiarism software, a bibliography, and notes. I found this whole theory and the presentation of it engrossing and was irresistibly pulled into the intriguing investigation McCarthy sets forth. I am not a Shakespearean scholar and, although I know about several of them, I haven't closely followed any of the various conspiracy theories over the years about who wrote Shakespeare's plays. They will always be by Shakespeare, even if he was inspired by or freely rewrote the work of someone else. At this point it is an interesting historical exploration of how he came to write so knowledgeably about places and experiences he would not have had access to or experience with in his life. Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Hachette Books in exchange for my honest opinion. http://www.shetreadssoftly.com/2021/0...

  5. 4 out of 5

    Beth M.

    I haven’t read any Shakespeare since my days in college as an English major, but when I saw this book months back, it caught my eye. And I’m sure glad I picked it up! It is generally accepted these days that Shakespeare did not write the entire body of work he is credited with; however there are various theories about who else he may have written with or “borrowed” from. In NORTH BY SHAKESPEARE, journalist Michael Blanding shares a new theory developed by Dennis McCarthy ... that Sir Thomas North I haven’t read any Shakespeare since my days in college as an English major, but when I saw this book months back, it caught my eye. And I’m sure glad I picked it up! It is generally accepted these days that Shakespeare did not write the entire body of work he is credited with; however there are various theories about who else he may have written with or “borrowed” from. In NORTH BY SHAKESPEARE, journalist Michael Blanding shares a new theory developed by Dennis McCarthy ... that Sir Thomas North is the source for ALL of Shakespeare’s plays! 😮 Blanding captures this story in a really engaging way, sharing the contextual history of Shakespeare’s time alongside McCarthy’s unconventional research methods to present the argument of why North is the true source for these iconic works. Even more interesting: McCarthy is not a trained Shakespearean scholar, but has spent the last 15 years researching out of pure passion and interest to prove his theory! The process used to piece together what happened hundreds of years ago is just fascinating to me. For example, McCarthy relied heavily on plagiarism software to provide evidence for his theory. Although there still appears to be no physical evidence of plays written by North at this time, McCarthy has been able to make a clear connection that Shakespeare DID use North’s prose to write some of his plays. Blanding lets the reader decide whether or not to believe McCarthy’s overarching argument that North wrote actual plays which Shakespeare adapted. And I must admit, although I questioned them throughout, the points he makes are compelling! McCarthy’s findings appear to be more than just coincidence, although I would still love to see some concrete evidence of North’s plays to seal the deal. And I have a feeling we may just see more evidence supporting this theory in the future ... Many thanks to Hachette Books for gifting me an advance copy and the beautiful finished copy of NORTH BY SHAKESPEARE you see here.

  6. 5 out of 5

    BooksAmyRead

    Did Shakespeare write his own plays? And if he did, did the ideas for the plays originate in his own mind or was he influenced by something else? In "North by Shakespeare", McCarthy and Blanding dive deep into Shakespeare's work and by tracing the sources of Shakespeare's plays they find themselves drawing up Thomas North's biography, linking events in Shakespeare's work to the events in North's life. They traveled across England and Italy, stood in the same spots that North stood in some 450 ye Did Shakespeare write his own plays? And if he did, did the ideas for the plays originate in his own mind or was he influenced by something else? In "North by Shakespeare", McCarthy and Blanding dive deep into Shakespeare's work and by tracing the sources of Shakespeare's plays they find themselves drawing up Thomas North's biography, linking events in Shakespeare's work to the events in North's life. They traveled across England and Italy, stood in the same spots that North stood in some 450 years ago, visited his ancestral home, and used modern plagiarism software, all of which resulted in a very compelling argument; it is North, not Shakespeare, who is behind some of the best literature to come out of England. The book is vivid, detailed and transports you right into the heart of the Elizabeth Court of the 16th century. It hits the stands on March 30! Thank you to @hachettebooks for sending me an advance copy!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    Author Michael Blanding brings his well-honed experience and skills as an investigative journalist to this most controversial of theories. Maybe Shakespeare didn't entirely write Shakespeare. As this mystery unfolds, the reader goes on a journey with Blanding and McCarthy, the Rogue Scholar of the book's title, as they deeply analyze, whether, and/or to what extent, Shakespeare's works originated with Thomas North. At no point in time is a truth seeker like McCarthy more welcome, during which a Author Michael Blanding brings his well-honed experience and skills as an investigative journalist to this most controversial of theories. Maybe Shakespeare didn't entirely write Shakespeare. As this mystery unfolds, the reader goes on a journey with Blanding and McCarthy, the Rogue Scholar of the book's title, as they deeply analyze, whether, and/or to what extent, Shakespeare's works originated with Thomas North. At no point in time is a truth seeker like McCarthy more welcome, during which a world experiences a pandemic fraught with misinformation, and when science and medicine battle lies and falsehoods. When the 2020 pandemic began, the virus was framed in ways that were both inaccurate, and absent key details; so too the nature of Shakespeare’s epic works have been mischaracterized, and missing important facts. While the implications may not be life and death relative to what Blanding and McCarthy put forth, choosing to ignore historical facts is antithetical to scholarship. Whether it be politicians, doctors, scientists, or literature and history scholars, if there is a refusal or failure to consider evidence that strongly exists right in front of them, one must ask the question of what do they have to lose? We know politicians fail to speak truth for fear of not being re-elected. Doctors and scientists fear their fallibility when something like SARS-CoV-2 does not align with all they’ve previously known, so they ignore their patients until those same patients form numbers so great that a failure to recognize them would be medical incompetence. What of the Stratfordians, who cannot consider that Shakespeare’s great works may have been informed by the writings of Thomas North? What do they have to lose, by considering this, a theory put forth quite convincingly in Blanding’s book? Beyond that, though, this book boggles the mind in the best of ways, in its ability to combine historical narrative with intersections between religion and history and literature with such vivid descriptions of places and people at key points in time, as to tell a great story that any reader would enjoy. The characters are both larger than life, yet also humanized by Blanding’s vivid writing. Somehow Blanding manages to tell multiple stories; a slice of his own story in relation to McCarthy, McCarthy’s own story and his daughter who herself is an interesting character, undoubtedly soon to make an appearance on a larger stage as a film-maker, the story of Thomas North, and the ever-present Leicester. Blanding writes of royalty, and of the impoverished, with an equalizing gaze, while also grounding their narratives in history. One of my absolute favorite aspects of this work comes together regarding the exploration of the process by which creation occurs. Blanding consistently describes how much richer Thomas North’s backstory makes the Shakespeare works, an argument McCarthy attempts time and again as he receives rejection after rejection by anonymous peer reviewers. Neither Blanding nor McCarthy give up, however, because there is truth to what they pursue. Blanding himself admits to moments of hesitation, or doubt, and questions even his own eyes when he himself comes across certain connections that even McCarthy missed. There’s an openness and beauty to this narrative that cannot be compared; it sits uniquely in its own category, well ahead of its time, and a threat to those who seek for things to remain stagnant. The quality of the research and writing of this book is truly exceptional, whatever anyone thinks of the basic premise. Each chapter is like a pocket of wonderful surprises. There are also hilarious moments, like the interactions with McCarthy’s deadpan documentary filmmaker daughter, Nicole, captured subtlety but brilliantly by Blanding. (And the reader cannot help but wonder how Blanding will later be captured when the documentary airs in the future). There are small quips where Blanding pokes gentle fun at McCarthy or Shakespeare loyalists or even high school students struggling to comprehend Shakespeare’s works. (Students may find Blanding’s work to be helpful in its synopsis of Shakespeare plays, as opposed to more basic CliffsNotes!). Notable is McCarthy’s persistence despite near constant years’ long rejections. You have to have some overconfidence, perhaps even arrogance, to persist in the face of that, yet now Stratfordians wish to use that against him? For it is not in fact arrogance that drives McCarthy, nor Blanding, it is the interest in truth; it is in the interest in the depth and richness of creation, as it inhabits one of the most impressive, and likely the best known, works of any literature. Liberal arts colleges would do well to incorporate this book into their teachings of Shakespeare, whether in philosophy, history, religion or literature seminars, or in courses that crossover among these subjects. Blanding is the rarest of writers with the ability to combine extensive journalistic skills and persistence with an eye for editing, allowing for both individual and collective storytelling, provoking a full range of emotion. I will not give away the ending, but it is one of the best I have read in non-fiction writing.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sally

    Full review to come, but for now allow me to say: This book is a heap of confirmation bias piled on top of logical fallacies piled on top of factual errors and omissions. At least, it is when it isn’t just fabricating stories outright. Cover all that in a sauce of smug self-congratulation and sprinkle it with toxic masculinity, and you’ve got a sense of how much value there is to find within these pages. I am begging you, do not read this book. Read James Shapiro’s CONTESTED WILL or Paul Edmondson Full review to come, but for now allow me to say: This book is a heap of confirmation bias piled on top of logical fallacies piled on top of factual errors and omissions. At least, it is when it isn’t just fabricating stories outright. Cover all that in a sauce of smug self-congratulation and sprinkle it with toxic masculinity, and you’ve got a sense of how much value there is to find within these pages. I am begging you, do not read this book. Read James Shapiro’s CONTESTED WILL or Paul Edmondson & Stanley Wells’s SHAKESPEARE BEYOND DOUBT instead. Those books engage with the actual historical record, as well as examining the cultural context of why certain conspiracy theories fall in and out of fashion. Read anything by Tiffany Stern if you’re interested in early modern playhouse culture, the world Shakespeare lived, wrote, and worked in. You will learn things from those authors. You will learn literally nothing from NORTH BY SHAKESPEARE. (Also, I see the researcher/fabulist is on here, giving 5 stars to the book about him — which, honestly, given the reek of arrogance in the book itself, is not even slightly surprising — as well as commenting and upvoting things he finds flattering, even if those comments are, like his ideas, without substance. That’s a bad look, dude. Do not engage. And everyone else should ignore your inevitable sealioning). Review copy supplied to me, or perhaps inflicted on me, by NetGalley. -- Full Review: From the opening pages, it’s clear that NORTH BY SHAKESPEARE is the tale of two privileged, arrogant men puffing each other up on their shared sense of falsely assumed mutual excellence. It does not improve from there. This book is a heap of confirmation bias piled on top of logical fallacies piled on top of factual errors and omissions. At least, it is when it isn’t just fabricating stories outright. Cover all that in a sauce of smug self-congratulation and sprinkle it with toxic masculinity, and you’ve got a sense of how much value there is to find within these pages. I’m not going to knock down the very silly premise of this book point by point. That’s a waste of my and your time. Anti-Stratfordians demand we play that game, but I have a blanket policy of not engaging with sea lions. Suffice it to say that this book shouldn’t be shelved in nonfiction. It is utterly without credibility. The historical record is really quite clear and unambiguous. Any alternate proposal requires wild contortions, fanciful inventions, and a refusal to acknowledge fact. So let’s take the book on its own merits — or lack thereof. It’s difficult to take seriously something which gets very simple facts about Shakespeare’s plays straight up wrong. Plot things. Simple things. Things that SparkNotes could correct them on. Historical facts about the era are also just straight-up wrong. We must wonder: If North wrote so many plays, why is there literally no record of them? We have record of the existence of literally hundreds of plays from the era for which no copies survive — but somehow, not a mention of a single one of North’s? They weren’t performed at court; the court kept excellent record of performances. They were never submitted to the Master of the Revels for public performance nor to the Stationer’s Register for printing. That would leave as the only possibility that North wrote a few dozen plays merely as closet dramas, performed in private with friends. In which case — How on earth would Shakespeare ever have known about them? The book has no answer to this, because throughout, the North theory betrays considerable ignorance about how both playhouses and printing worked in the era. That’s true of most of the conspiracy theorists, though; the researcher/fabulist isn’t as special as he thinks he is. When it does attempt to engage with the world of the playhouses, the book both underexamines and overgeneralizes: witness calling Jonson’s comedies of humours “wholly original” when that form has its roots in Aristophanes, Plautus, and a lot of medieval drama. Jonson popularized the form, along with the oft-overlooked George Chapman, but to credit him with its invention betrays ignorance of historical tradition. What the author and researcher/fabulist don’t know, they invent rather than examine. They pursue only chains of logic which they can then twist around to point at those inventions, falling prey to confirmation bias at every opportunity. This pervasive devotion to their thesis at all costs causes them to miss some pretty basic counterarguments to their conspiracy. (I’m not sure how you talk about North’s translation of Plutarch and its influence on the early modern stage, for example, without mentioning George Chapman’s Caesar & Pompey. But that doesn’t fit their narrative! So, even if they’re aware of that play, they cannot permit it to intrude upon their fiction). When it comes to chronology, the author outright admits that the researcher/fabulist “has reversed the chronology of sources at times when it suits him”. Oh! Had we all but known it was so easy! It’s all the more maddening that the men go through this process with a palpable assumption of their own infallibility. The book reeks of unexamined privilege (hefty chunks of it are just the two men traveling around the world so that the researcher/fabulist can stare smugly at statues; I’m not even slightly kidding) and includes phrases like “testicular fortitude” being necessary to do this very brave work. Gross. The author breathlessly relates the researcher/fabulist’s self-absorbed panic about the movie Anonymous, his scramble to publish afterwards, and his fully ludicrous belief that it was somehow akin to Mark Zuckerberg launching Facebook. (That’s just one of the many famous men — always men — that the researcher/fabulist believes himself intellectual kin to). The author also peppers in references to his subject’s smirks and smiles, particularly with regard to his imperviousness to contradiction; I can easily picture it. I’ve known plenty of insufferable men just like him. (“One may smile and smile and be a villain”, after all). I quarrel with the book’s early stated premise about experts not being suitable to examine their own fields (a trend in modern thinking which is how we ended up with a multi-bankrupted reality TV host as president), particularly since it *also* relies on faulty evidence. The book claims: “One thing [the researcher had] learned from his forays into the history of science, it’s that generations of people tend to look in the same place for answers. It takes a Darwin in the Galápagos to really change what we think we know—and make a new truth seem as though it had been obvious all along.” Except that Darwin *was* a trained biologist and evolutionary theorist before he went to the Galapagos. He trained at Edinburgh *and* Cambridge. He was already an expert in his subject matter! Seriously, how are we meant to respect a book and a theory that are so obviously rooted in false presumptions rather than facts? This book is also almost satire of itself in that while writer and researcher/fabulist both sneer at actual Shakespeare experts for all the supposed holes in the traditional biographical narrative, their own hypothesis is nothing BUT holes. They simply invent a story that pleases them, often in either ignorance or outright defiance of the historical record. When the author quotes the researcher/fabulist as saying “it would be really ridiculous to invent a complete story—write a book on a climate you’ve never been in, a town you’ve never seen, the types of people you’ve never met”, it is with no apparent awareness that this is exactly what they themselves are doing. (Nor with any awareness of how fiction writers work, for that matter, unless he believes George Lucas actually met Chewbacca on Tatooine). The subject of the book also seems blissfully unaware of how textbook a conspiracy theorist he is. Absence is considered evidence, and coincidence is exaggerated to be declared incontrovertible proof — the researcher/fabulist expects us to find it odd that two writers covering a similar topic in the same language would use similar vocabulary. When you realize few of his supposed ~discoveries are anything that would even cause a high school plagiarism auto-checker to ping, his whole premise falls apart. Presented with jarring information that doesn’t fit the narrative, he simply declares, “That’s what you have to look for, the modifications. Especially when it doesn’t really work that well, and it’s just forced in there.” Ah well, of course. If we simply assume all contradicting evidence is, secretly, supporting evidence, then it all falls together! He also resorts to subterfuge more than once, misrepresenting his theory in order to get in the door with academics — who rightly aren’t pleased when they discover they’ve been catfished. (You’re not getting ignored because you’re threateningly brilliant; you’re getting ignored because your ideas have no merit and are not worth engagement. You’re not brave; you’re just really bad at this). It's a real shame. The researcher/fabulist somehow, got access to some of the most brilliant people working in Shakespeare and early modern theatrical studies today, but he wasn't interested in their skills or scholarship; he only wanted their endorsement so that he could piggyback off of their credentials. When some of them, demonstrating far more patience than I would be able to summon, attempt to steer the researcher/fabulist onto a more productive and less fictitious path, he simply turns away from them. That's just poor scholarship. Had the author and researcher/fabulist *listened* to those professionals rather than dismissing them, and were their arrogance not an impenetrable shield to logic, they could have learned that many of the things they claim as inventions of the Stratfordian model do, in fact, have solid evidence behind them. Simple evidence, requiring no fabrications or contortions. Fascinating evidence, showing us the unique world of early modern theatre! They could have learned something real. They chose not to. You, dear reader, can make a better choice. I am begging you, do not read this book. Read James Shapiro’s CONTESTED WILL or Paul Edmondson & Stanley Wells’s SHAKESPEARE BEYOND DOUBT instead. Those books engage with the actual historical record, as well as examining the cultural context of why certain conspiracy theories fall in and out of fashion. Read anything by Tiffany Stern if you’re interested in early modern playhouse culture, the world Shakespeare lived, wrote, and worked in. You will learn things from those authors. You will learn literally nothing from NORTH BY SHAKESPEARE.

  9. 5 out of 5

    KarnagesMistress

    I don't know why I decided to enter the Goodreads Giveaway for this book. Sometimes, I will enter Giveaways for genres I don't usually read, because I figure that I need to be a more well-rounded person. So, I came into this book as a blank slate. I find Elizabethan England interesting, but it's not one of my real areas of fascination. The same goes for Shakespeare himself. I despiseRomeo and Juliet, absolutely adore Macbeth (I think the Lady and I are separated at birth, right on down to the sl I don't know why I decided to enter the Goodreads Giveaway for this book. Sometimes, I will enter Giveaways for genres I don't usually read, because I figure that I need to be a more well-rounded person. So, I came into this book as a blank slate. I find Elizabethan England interesting, but it's not one of my real areas of fascination. The same goes for Shakespeare himself. I despiseRomeo and Juliet, absolutely adore Macbeth (I think the Lady and I are separated at birth, right on down to the sleepwalking. Go read Foul Is Fair right this very instant if you feel the way I do.), and really don't know much about his other works, outside of popular cinema. As for my relationship with academia, well, I ̶w̶a̶s̶ ̶s̶m̶a̶r̶t̶ ̶e̶n̶o̶u̶g̶h̶ knew myself enough to not pursue a PhD. Those are really the three main subject areas of this book. First, for anyone nervous that this book will be inaccessible, too scholarly-- cast your fears aside! Michael Blanding kept things to a dull roar; I wasn't hopping over to Wikipedia nearly enough as I could have been. (Of course, for the stuffed shirts who are mortally offended that this topic is even considered for popular nonfiction, well, I can't help you there. It's readable. Sorry not sorry.) Michael Blanding kept the narrative hopping smoothly between Elizabethan England and contemporary America, between the different narratives of history, specifically Sir Thomas North's history, Shakespeare's plays, and Dennis McCarthy's own contemporary history. This is one of those books that I gibbered on about the entire time I was reading it (and, if I took too long in the reading, well, you can't rush some things. Roll it around on your palate for a moment, at least.) Since putting it down, I keep trying to find people to recommend it to. (I just ended a sentence with a proposition. Did you catch that? I swear, books like this make you bold. https://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/2... I'm gibbering again, and I think that is probably a good way to sum up this book. It is something readable that a wide audience can enjoy. Different audiences will take away different things, but so many will enjoy it that you can't market it to just one crowd. I'd promise you my copy, but I've already got two other readers promised. This book will also satisfy the Watauga County Public Library 2021 Reading Challenge (ending 6/30/2021) categories: A Book About Art or an Artist; A Book About a Different Culture; Best-Selling Nonfiction Book (as of 4/13/2021, it is currently the #1 New Release in Shakespeare Literary Criticism on Amazon); Genre You Don't Usually Read. I received this book for free through Goodreads Giveaways. It is an advance reading copy.

  10. 5 out of 5

    A Long Story Short Co.

    An interesting take on Shakespeare. If you are a fan it is worth the read. I received a complimentary copy of this book from Goodreads Giveaway in exchange for my honest review.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Aiden

    Gripping writing style and very detailed. A great and interesting read!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ron Frampton

    The author believes he can uncover the source of Shakespeare's plays The author believes he can uncover the source of Shakespeare's plays

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ariel Curry

    This is the fascinating tale of one man's search for the real author of Shakespeare's plays - whom he suspects isn't Shakespeare at all, but Thomas North. Through using plagiarism software, traveling all over Europe, and analyzing original source documents, Dennis McCarthy finds some shockingly convincing signs that point to Thomas North as, at the very least the main source, if not the author himself of most of Shakespeare's plays. McCarthy's argument is that Thomas North wrote the originals an This is the fascinating tale of one man's search for the real author of Shakespeare's plays - whom he suspects isn't Shakespeare at all, but Thomas North. Through using plagiarism software, traveling all over Europe, and analyzing original source documents, Dennis McCarthy finds some shockingly convincing signs that point to Thomas North as, at the very least the main source, if not the author himself of most of Shakespeare's plays. McCarthy's argument is that Thomas North wrote the originals and then sold them to Shakespeare, who adapted them - and the plays were misattributed to Shakespeare after his death, when the First Folio was put together. It's a risky argument, and McCarthy faces rejection after rejection from Stratfordians who will never give up on the Bard. While I've enjoyed Shakespeare's plays, in my literature studies I never got into the question of authorship or source identification, which is an entire field of Shakespeare studies. As a literature lover, what I enjoyed most about this book was learning more about the plays themselves. And the parallels not only between North's prose works and the plays, but also between his own life and the plays, are eerily convincing. I highly recommend reading for yourself and coming to your own conclusions!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Baldthunder

    Fascinating and very enjoyable I found this book to be very interesting and enjoyable. Its giving me a new and fresh idea about the legacy of Shakespeare. I am a fan of the bard but I am not a scholar and this book makes me want to read Shakespeare’s plays again, but with a new perspective this time. Blanding’s writing style and arguments make for an excellent read that I would highly recommend this book to any Shakespeare fan.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Dennis McCarthy

    From CSMONITOR: "Captivating... virtuoso job...the most elegant proposed solution to the authorship question to appear in many decades... Orthodox scholars who simply ignore it do so at the peril of their reputations." https://www.csmonitor.com/Books/Book-... From CSMONITOR: "Captivating... virtuoso job...the most elegant proposed solution to the authorship question to appear in many decades... Orthodox scholars who simply ignore it do so at the peril of their reputations." https://www.csmonitor.com/Books/Book-...

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen Wakeman

    Its heavy reading. I'm enjoying it, but taking a little longer to read than usually Its heavy reading. I'm enjoying it, but taking a little longer to read than usually

  17. 4 out of 5

    Laurie

    loved the premise. Always wondered why some of the suppositions about Shakespeare did not make sense. I hope this is the answer. Enjoyably written and easy to follow.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Pauline Hawkins

    North by Shakespeare is impressive for so many reasons and goes beyond investigative journalism. Michael Blanding does an excellent job telling the multiple storylines separately and then weaving them together, helping the reader understand the significance of the historical events in relation to Dennis McCarthy’s theory that Thomas North wrote the source plays that Shakespeare adapted. It’s hard not to get pulled into the history and intrigue of the Elizabethan era, especially the way Blanding North by Shakespeare is impressive for so many reasons and goes beyond investigative journalism. Michael Blanding does an excellent job telling the multiple storylines separately and then weaving them together, helping the reader understand the significance of the historical events in relation to Dennis McCarthy’s theory that Thomas North wrote the source plays that Shakespeare adapted. It’s hard not to get pulled into the history and intrigue of the Elizabethan era, especially the way Blanding writes it. And just when you think you are getting a bonus history lesson, Blanding ties in Dennis’s research and how North was a first-hand witness to those events that later made it into the plays we have come to know and love. Blanding shares his own journey with the theory, from meeting Dennis and Nicole to travelling with them throughout Europe, as well as his own research of Dennis’s claims. He is honest with his initial doubts as well as his “confirmation bias” fears as he increasingly sees the merit of Dennis’s theory. Blanding also perfectly portrays Dennis: his drive and enthusiasm; his intelligence and fears; his immense ego and surprising humility. I can feel Dennis’s emotions coming off the page. Blanding captures the ups and downs of Dennis’s 15-year journey, and I was often amazed when Blanding’s research confirmed Dennis’s theory. It’s no wonder some committed traditionalists are, at best, dismissive and, at worst, belligerent towards both men. The North theory is so compelling that all they have left is to attack Blanding and Dennis as people. Like Blanding, I had my own initial negative reaction to Dennis claiming he had unraveled the mystery of Shakespeare authorship. As a high school English teacher, I taught “Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet” for 11 years. I was aware of the controversy but thought that if there were a “truth” out there, someone would have discovered it by now, and if it could be discovered 400 years after Shakespeare’s death, that researcher certainly wasn’t going to be Dennis McCarthy. When Nicole first told me what her dad was up to, I laughed and then I got unreasonably angry (he didn’t even have a college degree!), and then I read his early work. I was blown away by the evidence, even back then, and how North’s life held all the experiences necessary to write the plays. Truthfully, I was still a little angry, but this time because I had to admit that Dennis was on to something, that he in fact might have unraveled the mystery and found Thomas North at the center of it. So, I am in the unique position of defending the man and the theory that I had once doubted and scorned. While reading North by Shakespeare, I constantly wondered how many people have actually done the type of research Dennis has done. How can anyone dismiss Dennis’s claims if they haven’t done their own research and investigation? At first, Blanding thought he would disprove the theory, but instead, through his own research, he found additional evidence to support Dennis’s theory. The other point that Blanding makes very clear is that just about everything attributed to Shakespeare is based on speculation with some sort of “explanation” for why Shakespeare may have done this or that. As June Schlueter is quoted as saying, “Every biography of Shakespeare is maybe 80 percent the author’s imagination.” But Dennis, Schlueter, and Blanding have uncovered many more records involving North’s life than any biographer ever has with Shakespeare. This even includes a travel-journal of North’s trip to Rome. Everything we learn and teach about Shakespeare is conjecture. A whole history has been created based on what biographers have been able to cobble together a century or more after his death. Now the conclusions drawn from lack of evidence have become Shakespeare’s accepted history, all of which they are using against Dennis’s theory. Why not be open to the newly discovered information? So much of the canon has stumped people for hundreds of years but adding North to the conversation clears up so much of it. The hostility towards the theory is confusing. This brings me to the final reason why Blanding’s book about Dennis’s theory goes beyond engaging investigative journalism. In the past we read the plays for their beauty and ignored the questions hammering at our critical thinking skills. But now, those questions are answered. Now, we can study the plays to understand the past, to know how North felt about the time he was living in. Now, we know how to interpret the plays, scenes, phrases, and words that left us confused. I would absolutely add North to the conversation when teaching the plays we have come to know as Shakespearean.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Katie/Doing Dewey

    Summary: I really enjoyed the historical parts of this story, but the Shakespeare theory was too speculative for me. Author Michael Blanding's The Map Thief was some of the earliest narrative nonfiction I read and, like Mitchell Zuckoff's Lost in Shangri-La, it stands out as one of the books that made me love the genre. When I had an opportunity to review his latest book, on a researcher named Dennis McCarthy with a new theory about Shakespeare, I couldn't pass it up. I was a little nervous about Summary: I really enjoyed the historical parts of this story, but the Shakespeare theory was too speculative for me. Author Michael Blanding's The Map Thief was some of the earliest narrative nonfiction I read and, like Mitchell Zuckoff's Lost in Shangri-La, it stands out as one of the books that made me love the genre. When I had an opportunity to review his latest book, on a researcher named Dennis McCarthy with a new theory about Shakespeare, I couldn't pass it up. I was a little nervous about the topic though. The last book I read on a Shakespeare theory was pretty bad, presenting theories that felt laughably thin. This book didn't have that problem. It was purely speculative, but some of the coincidences were persuasive. However, I still enjoyed the historical bits better than the Shakespeare theory. As someone who really appreciates solid evidence and wants to know what I'm reading in nonfiction is true, I'm not sure Shakespeare theory books are the best fit for me. Because the Shakespeare theory was such a large part of my reaction to this book, I'll discuss that first. McCarthy's theory is that most of Shakespeare's plays are revisions of plays he bought from Robert North, a nobleman's impoverished second son. I found some comparisons of text from North's writing with Shakespeare's plays striking. Other comparisons felt like a stretch. The same was true of the links between North's life and the autobiographical elements McCarthy claims North included in the plays. The inclusion of the weaker evidence made it harder for me to take McCarthy seriously. He seemed obsessed and I didn't trust him to objectively evaluate the evidence. I also had a hard time getting past the fact that no plays attributed to North survive. This contributed to the biggest problem I had with this theory - it relies entirely on coincidence, with no definitive evidence. It reminded me of a true crime story I read somewhere, which described multiple suspects, each of whom seemed like they must be guilty because of persuasive circumstantial evidence. They didn't all commit the crime though, so some of those too-strange-to-be-coincidental events were actually coincidences. That seems to be happening with alternate-Shakespeare theories and at most one of them has gotten it right. So, I didn't love the sections of the book that focused the most on the Shakespeare theory. I was pulled out of the story by trying to evaluate every claim myself. Fortunately, as with The Map Thief, there were multiple elements to this story, including some that I really loved. Following North's life gave me a fascinating glimpse of daily life in the Elizabethan era for someone of his rank. Most histories I've read focus on those more closely connected to Elizabeth. Blanding did a great job giving little details of North's experience that brought this era to life from a fresh perspective. While I feel bad that McCarthy hasn't been given much of a hearing by Shakespeare scholars, his clashes with the academic establishment also made for entertaining reading. The author's conclusion made me feel a bit better about the speculative nature of the theory presented here. Throughout the book, he's very clear about when McCarthy is speculating. The conclusion then gave a great summary of what was known vs what was only hypothetical. I certainly don't think the book overstates McCarthy's case and it was a credible enough theory that it was interesting to read about. Unfortunately, while I loved the author's previous book and enjoyed his writing here, I'm forced to conclude that this topic is just not for me. If you feel differently, but share my love of narrative nonfiction, I definitely recommend this one. You can check out another review from Julie at Julz Reads if you're looking for an opinion from someone for whom the topic was a better fit. This review was first published at Doing Dewey.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Travis Sherman

    Michael Blanding assembles the kind of nonfiction that 'reads like a novel', following rogue scholar/autodidact Dennis McCarthy through his strange but interesting search for enough facts to back up the candidacy of his who-was-really Shakespeare. Blanding narrates the quest like the adventure it is, including computer searches using plagiarism detection software, trips to the British Museum where we find lost manuscripts and journeys to Italy where we look at paintings at streets that Shakespea Michael Blanding assembles the kind of nonfiction that 'reads like a novel', following rogue scholar/autodidact Dennis McCarthy through his strange but interesting search for enough facts to back up the candidacy of his who-was-really Shakespeare. Blanding narrates the quest like the adventure it is, including computer searches using plagiarism detection software, trips to the British Museum where we find lost manuscripts and journeys to Italy where we look at paintings at streets that Shakespeare never saw but McCarthy's candidate did. There's even a gruesome Elizabethan murder. McCarthy's candidate is a sound one. Thomas North was the translator of Plutarch's Lives, already acknowledged as the source of Anthony & Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, etc. He was the younger son of a well connected English courtier. McCarthy makes a sound case for North having written the 'ur-plays', which were performed for the court by the Earl of Leicester's players. North was a generation earlier than Shakespeare, and he fills the bill for all those discrepancies people wonder about; he spoke French, Italian, Greek and Latin, he traveled abroad, and he was only one degree away from the royal court. McCarthy puts together a very convincing chronology for the plays, each written to please the court at different political times, when England was switching religions with each new Tudor heir. Most important to me, he posits that Hamlet was written during the Spanish armada, when England was on the brink of invasion and North, and older man, faced battle. Those slings and arrows of outrageous fortune? North was a forty year old facing war. The sea of troubles? There really was a sea of troubles, a fleet of hostile ships! And here's my theory: If North did supply the rough draft of the plays, the stories he gleaned from his life of letters, Shakespeare supplied the poetry. When we read Hamlet's soliloquy, we don't think about the Spanish armada. I see Shakespeare as using North's stories and removing his topicality, creating the works of universality of human feeling that have gone down through the ages. Romeo and Juliet is no longer a takeoff of overdone romance staged during North's time. It's so much more than that, and that's where Shakespeare's genius lies. I've wondered all my life about Shakespeare, how a man whose only public records from his lifetime are lawsuits over grain hoarding and the like could have penned what is attributed to him. McCarthy's theory makes sense. Shakespeare did not write the plays. He adapted them, as was stated on the title page of his first published folios. But what an adaptation! We've all seen how the wrong director or cast can ruin a remake of a classic movie. So let it be with Shakespeare. He took good stories and made them great.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Anna Sthesia

    After reading a good story like this one, I can't help but suggest that you should join NovelStar’s writing competition, you might be their next big star. After reading a good story like this one, I can't help but suggest that you should join NovelStar’s writing competition, you might be their next big star.

  22. 4 out of 5

    John A.

    Over all entertaining, but a stretch. A compelling theory, but ultimately not a convincing argument. There is so much conjecture needed to fill in the considerable gaps in Thomas North's biography to make the "other playwright" theory work that we end up with pages upon pages of Olympic-level question begging. Could North have written early versions of *some* of the canon? Possibly. But the whole canon? I doubt it. Over all entertaining, but a stretch. A compelling theory, but ultimately not a convincing argument. There is so much conjecture needed to fill in the considerable gaps in Thomas North's biography to make the "other playwright" theory work that we end up with pages upon pages of Olympic-level question begging. Could North have written early versions of *some* of the canon? Possibly. But the whole canon? I doubt it.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sue

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mattie Cox

  25. 5 out of 5

    Adam Doyle

  26. 5 out of 5

    Julia

  27. 4 out of 5

    Goda G

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jamie Grecco

  29. 4 out of 5

    Katie

  30. 4 out of 5

    Rupert McNally

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