Was Shakespeare a Co-author of a 1602 Play by Thomas Kyd?
August 15, 2013
University of Texas Professor Douglas Bruster presents, in a paper to be published in the September issue of Notes and Queries, what he believes to be definitive proof that the much debated lines in the 1602 edition of Thomas Kyd’s play The Spanish Tragedy were in fact written by (and not merely borrowed from) William Shakespeare. Previous attempts to verify this notion include British scholar Brian Vicker’s 2012 article using historical evidence in tandem with computer programs designed to expose plagiarism to show linguistic patterns in Shakespeare’s work matching those of the ‘Additional Passages’ found in The Spanish Tragedy.
Where Vickers’ argument is based on the concept of similar patterns in writing style, Bruster takes a much more literal route, using Shakespeare’s handwriting itself as means to prove the Bard did indeed write the words in question. His handwriting survives mainly in three scribbled pages found at the British Library. Professor Bruster analyzed patterns and “typos” to argue for the strong likelihood that the Passages were set in type from pages written by Shakespeare’s hand. These “typos” also get at another issue many scholars have with attributing the Spanish Tragedy lines to Shakespeare, namely poor writing. Bruster contends that, by taking the existence of misspellings into consideration, a recreation of the passages into the more refined lines expected from the likes of Shakespreare is possible. “Once you realize that it’s Shakespeare’s handwriting that’s responsible for the misreading, it’s no longer a bad line. It’s actually a gorgeous passage.”
Tiffany Stern, professor of early modern drama at Oxford University and an advisory editor for the Arden Shakespeare, is not so sure of the new findings. She commends Bruster’s paper and admits “the arguments for The Spanish Tragedy are better than for most.” But, she maintains, “some new attributions were driven less by solid evidence than by publishers’ desire to offer ‘more Shakespeare’ than their rivals.” If the ‘Additional Passages’ become generally accepted as Shakespeare’s work, they would be the first undisputed new addition to the canon since Shakespeare’s contribution to Edward III, an anonymously written play printed in the late 16th century, began appearing in scholarly editions in the mid 1990s.
Source: The New York Times