If you've read every Shakespeare play from King Lear to All's Well That Ends Well and are dying to get your hands on some more Bard, you're in luck. New evidence suggests that Shakespeare helped out Thomas Kyd with the play The Spanish Tragedy, a revenge tragedy from the late 16th century that is believed to have served as the basis for Hamlet.
Douglas Bruster, a professor at the University of Texas, studied Shakespeare's handwriting and found that Shakespeare's sometimes inventive spellings made their way into the original print version of The Spanish Tragedy. Another Shakespeare scholar, Eric Rasmussen, told The New York Times, “I think we can now say with some authority that, yes, this is Shakespeare. It has his fingerprints all over it.”
According to Bruster, Shakespeare's "bad handwriting" and 24 broad spelling patterns affected the way The Spanish Tragedy was printed, and illustrate that Shakespeare authored part of it — specifically, the so-called "Additional Passages" of 1602. Last year, British scholar Brian Vickers also argued the passages were written by Shakespeare, but his evidence came from computer analysis. Now with Bruster's added handwriting analysis, scholars are pretty much in agreement that Shakespeare assisted Kyd, who has in turn been credited by some with influencing Hamlet.
Vickers claims that:
Shakespeare wasn’t a solitary genius, flying above everyone else. He was a working man of the theater. If his company needed a new play, he’d get together with someone else and get it done.
Vickers has also controversially argued that Shakespeare didn't write all of his own plays. The evidence for The Spanish Tragedy, however, appears solid. Another scholar, Tiffany Stern, told The Times, “The arguments for The Spanish Tragedy are better than for most.” Considering that centuries have passed since the purported collaboration, that may be as close as we ever get to certainty.
Photo: A rare copy of Shakespeare's Hamlet, via Reuters.