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Are Shakespeare's fingerprints all over this – or not?

University of Texas professor Douglas Bruster is claiming lines of 'The Spanish Tragedy' by Thomas Kyd were written by the Bard.

By Staff Writer / August 15, 2013

'We can now say with some authority that, yes, this is Shakespeare,' professor and editor Eric Rasmussen says of 'The Spanish Tragedy.'

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Has proof surfaced that legendary playwright William Shakespeare wrote a section of Thomas Kyd’s play “The Spanish Tragedy”?

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Scholars have long debated whether 325 lines of the Elizabethan drama were written by the Bard. The original script, which is attributed to Kyd and dates from the late 1500s, had several sections added to a 1602 quarto printed after Kyd's death.

And now University of Texas professor Douglas Bruster is saying that he has new evidence that the lines were penned by Shakespeare. What had looked like some clumsy and un-Shakespearean verbiage is just a printer's mistake, argues Bruster, that occurred when the printer misread Shakespeare's handwriting.

For example, one part of the text printed inserts a confusing “I, or yet” at the end of a sentence, a phrase which doesn’t seem to make sense where it’s put in the speech. The awkwardness of this language is one of the reasons scholars have argued that the lines could not have been written by Shakespeare.

But Bruster thinks Shakespeare wrote “Ier,” indicating that the character Hieronimo (a name sometimes written during that time period as Ieronimo) was speaking, and the printers misinterpreted his words.

“Once you realize that it’s Shakespeare’s handwriting that’s responsible for the misreading, it’s no longer a bad line,” Bruster said. “It’s actually a gorgeous passage.”

Bruster says he has been able to determine that the writing in "Tragedy" resembles Shakespeare's by examining pages in the British Museum that are believed to have been written by the playwright.

“What we’ve got here isn’t bad writing, but bad handwriting,” he told the New York Times.

In 2012, British professor Brian Vickers used a computer to examine the text and said his research concluded the lines were written by Shakespeare.

University of Nevada, Reno professor Eric Rasmussen said the combination of evidence may be as close as the scholarly world will come to definitive proof that the lines were written by England’s most famous playwright.

 “I think we can now say with some authority that, yes, this is Shakespeare,” Rasmussen, who also serves as co-editor of the complete Shakespeare edition of the Royal Shakespeare Company, said. “It has his fingerprints all over it.” He said he and his co-editor Jonathan Bate will be adding “Tragedy” to the new edition this fall.

As pointed out by the New York Times, one playwright helping another with a script or writing portions for another’s play would have been normal during Shakespeare’s day, which saw many writers working together in the the theater. 

But some scholars are preaching caution.

“The arguments for ‘The Spanish Tragedy’ are better than for most,” Oxford University drama professor Tiffany Stern told the NYT. “But I think we’re going a bit Shakespeare-attribution crazy and shoving a lot of stuff in that maybe shouldn’t be there.”

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