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“Immature Poets Initiate; Mature Poets Steal”

“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.” – T.S. Eliot

“If all writers are pickpockets, then Shakespeare was an inveterate ‘snapper-up of unconsidered trifles’, like Autolycus in The Winter’s Tale,” writes Robert McCrum in The Observer. “He swiped the best bits of Antony and Cleopatra (notably “The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne/Burned on the water…”) direct from Plutarch, and took 4,144 out of 6,033 lines in Parts I, II and III of Henry VI verbatim or in paraphrase from other authors. Apart from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night, the plots for all his plays were ruthlessly appropriated from other, often classical, sources.”

Rev. R.D. Brown has followed many of the great poets in the grand tradition of Shakespearean plagiarism. Beginning with The Next Testament of The Holy Bible Trilogy and continuing with The Crusadic Testament, Rev. R.D. Brown has gleefully stolen from Biblical and Biblical-era books, along with medieval books and letters. Sometimes, he has cut them apart and pasted them together in a wondrous new literary collages, and sometimes he has purchased them wholesale, fashioning a wonderful new commodity out of them.

Is it thievery to abridge an overly wordy historical tome, The War of the Jews, in order to make it more palatable to a more modern (or even 1st Century) reader? Is it plagiarism to simply copy-and-paste letters written by Crusaders in the medieval period, translated into English at the turn of the 2oth Century (well within the “public domain”), and reprint it in the early decades of the 21st Century as the inerrant and infallible Word of God?

Where would William Shakespeare have been if he was writing in the Internet Age, where every line written by his pen would be Googled to see if “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. He would be endlessly lambasted for his apparent lack of imagination as it pertains to his willful “adapting” of an endless stream of works written by others, and he would be crucified for having the audacity to coin new words. “Why doesn’t Shakespeare write something original?”, the Internet would cry. The visionary filmmaker James Cameron has been accused of the surprising crime of self-plagiarism. Only in this paradoxical Internet age we live in, can an artist be accused of creating art that is too much like their own art: Avatar just had too many influences, including his own earlier film Aliens.

If the Evangelists had written in the early decades of the 21st Century, instead of the latter decades of the first, Luke and Matthew would have accused of the outright plagiarism of Mark’s earlier Gospel and this mysterious “sayings” Gospel they must have also had access to. “How is it possible they tell the same stories if this ‘Q’ Gospel doesn’t exist?”, the Internet would cry! How can we, as an internet community, accept Luke and Matthew’s Gospels, which are such obvious and unashamed plagiarisms?

“But why the fuss? Plagiarism is a puzzling vice”, Robert McClum concludes, “No writer, if he or she were honest about it, would ever deny that, when they come across a good thing in someone else’s work, consciously or unconsciously they store it up for a rainy day.”

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