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Sun August 18, 2013

Might Bad Handwriting Lead To 'Lend Me Your Beers'?

William Shakespeare was a singular genius who sometimes made that hard to see — or at least read.

The New York Times reports this week that modern computer analysis has persuaded scholars that 325 lines in the 1602 edition of Thomas Kyd's play The Spanish Tragedy were truly authored by Shakespeare.

The Bard's name was not on the script, but researchers have scoured other Elizabethan plays for bits and pieces of Shakespeare because he was a showman who would get called in occasionally to "punch up" a speech or plot — like a Hollywood script doctor.

Douglas Bruster of the University of Texas at Austin, who is editor of a forthcoming new edition of the complete works of Shakespeare that will include those lines from The Spanish Tragedy, says there's been skepticism about that passage because it seemed to have little of Shakespeare's powerful music or metaphor.

But new analysis suggests that the Elizabethan printer may have simply misread Shakespeare's speech because the Bard was a genius who had poor penmanship.

Bruster told the Times, "What we've got here isn't bad writing, but bad handwriting."

His observation might make you wonder if, over the centuries, scholars were simply stymied by Shakespeare's quill-and-ink chicken-scratches and just kind of wrote in something on their own.

What if, for example, Shakespeare's Marc Antony was mostly thirsty when he began his funeral oration over Julius Caesar, and Shakespeare actually began, "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your beers..."

A classic tragedy sounds like a Budweiser spot.

What if Shakespeare had Hamlet, woe-struck by the hatred that can hide in the human heart, including his own, actually greet Rosencrantz and Guildenstern by remarking, "What a piece of jerk is a man!"

What if Shakespeare really wrote that Lady Macbeth looked down at her tunic after the killing of the King of Scotland that she had inspired and saw not a splotch of blood, but something on her shoe and said,"Out, damned knot!"

A little less powerful, isn't it?

What if Shakespeare wrote that Romeo looked up to the balcony of the Capulet household and actually exclaimed, "But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet looks like she might be a lot of fun."

Not the same brilliant image as a beloved who shines like the sun, is it?

And what if two Ps got confused for Bs in the opening lines of Hamlet, "to be or not to be" — and it turns out that Shakespeare was only trying to decide what he was going to do during intermission?

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Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

William Shakespeare was a singular genius who sometimes made that hard to see, or at least read. The New York Times reports this week that modern computer analysis has persuaded scholars that 325 lines in the 1602 edition of Thomas Kyd's play, "The Spanish Tragedy," were truly authored by Shakespeare. Bard's name was not on the script, but researchers have scoured other Elizabethan plays for bits and pieces of Shakespeare because he was a showman; would get called in occasionally to punch up a speech or a plot like a Hollywood script doctor.

Douglas Bruster of the University of Texas who is editor of a forthcoming new edition of the complete works of Shakespeare that will include those lines from the Spanish Tragedy says there's been skepticism about that passage because it seemed to have little of Shakespeare's powerful music or metaphor.

But new analysis suggests that the Elizabethan printer may have simply misread Shakespeare's speech because the bard was a genius who had poor penmanship. Professor Bruster told the New York Times, what we've got here isn't bad writing, but bad handwriting. His observation might make you wonder if over the centuries scholars were simply stymied by Shakespeare's quill and ink chicken scratches, just kind of wrote in something on their own.

What if, for example, Shakespeare's Mark Antony was mostly thirsty when he began his funeral oration over Julius Caesar which Shakespeare actually began: Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your beers. The classic tragedy sounds like a Budweiser spot. What is Shakespeare had Hamlet, woe struck by the hatred that can hide in the human heart, including his own, actually greet Rosencrantz and Guildenstern by remarking: What a piece of jerk is a man.

What if Shakespeare really wrote that Lady Macbeth looked down at her tunic after the killing of the king of Scotland that she'd inspired and saw not a splotch of blood but something on her shoe and said: Out damn knot. A little is powerful, isn't it? What if Shakespeare wrote that if Romeo looked up to the balcony of the Capulet household and actually exclaimed: But soft, what light through yonder window breaks. It is the East and Juliet looks like she might be a lot of fun.

Not the same brilliant image as a beloved who shines like the sun, now is it? And what if two Ps got confused for Bs in the opening lines of "Hamlet," "to be or not to be" and it turns out that Shakespeare was only trying to decide what he was going to do during intermission.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Hope you're still listening to NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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