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

If the 325 lines from Thomas Kyd's play The Spanish Tragedy become accepted as William Shakespeare's work, it will be the first time new work has been added to Shakespeare's canon since Edward III was acknowledged as his in the 1990s.

If the 325 lines from Thomas Kyd's play The Spanish Tragedy become accepted as William Shakespeare's work, it will be the first time new work has been added to Shakespeare's canon since Edward III was acknowledged as his in the 1990s. Library of Congress hide caption

itoggle caption Library of Congress

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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Simon SaysSimon Says NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small