'Bad Handwriting' May Settle Shakespeare Mystery

Professor says it proves 'Spanish Tragedy' lines are by the Bard
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 14, 2013 9:30 AM CDT
'Bad Handwriting' May Settle Shakespeare Mystery
A detail of the newly discovered portrait of William Shakespeare, presented by the Shakespeare Birthplace trust, is seen in central London, Monday March 9, 2009.   (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

It's been a nearly 200-year-long debate: Did William Shakespeare add 325 lines to Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy nearly a decade after Kyd's death? None other than Samuel Taylor Coleridge raised the question in 1833, and a 2012 computer analysis seemed to lend credence to the theory. Now, a University of Texas professor says the proof may be in the handwriting—and bad handwriting at that. In a paper to be published next month, Douglas Bruster compares the play's 1602 "Additional Passages" with a three-page handwriting sample believed to be the Bard's held at the British Library.

What he found, per the New York Times and UT at Austin News: about two dozen similar spelling patterns (for instance, "sorow for "sorrow"; past-tense words that ended in "t", like "wrapt"; and one word spelled two ways, like "allie" and "allye" for "alley") and nine textual "corruptions" that he believes resulted from the printer misreading Shakespeare's hand. He also thinks an awkward passage—so seemingly poorly written that it has been cited as evidence the lines couldn't have been crafted by Shakespeare—is the result of another bad handwriting/printer error goof. Says Bruster, "This is the clinching evidence we need to admit the additional passages into the Shakespeare canon." The Times notes this would mark the first such addition since passages from Edward III (also attributed to Kyd) were included in scholarly editions in the mid-'90s. (Another fascinating recent study paints Shakespeare as a food hoarder.)

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