Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Taming of the Few: Newly Found Shakespeare Defended

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Taming of the Few: Newly Found Shakespeare Defended

Article excerpt

When he was working toward his doctoral degree in 1983, Donald Foster came across a little-known Elizabethan elegy, bound as a 21-page pamphlet and stored in the Bodleian Library at Oxford.

The printing was done in 1612 by Shakespeare's publisher. The text itself referred to the author as a successful poet. It was signed with initials: W.S. Was this a lost work of William Shakespeare?

Foster, who has since become a professor of English at Vassar College, knew that academia would ridicule such a belief on the basis of that evidence alone. So he spent the next 13 years working on the mystery.

Now he argues, largely through his computer analysis of the author's choice of words, that the 578-line elegy is Shakespeare's. And many Elizabethan scholars agree.

If they are right, this is the first piece of writing convincingly identified as Shakespeare's since parts of a play called "Sir Thomas More" were ascribed to him in 1871.

The elegy was written for the funeral of a youth involved in the London theater who was murdered on horseback after an afternoon of tavern-hopping.

For those who accept the attribution, the poem provides a treasure of biographical information about Shakespeare, including his lack of religious conviction, his disenchantment with theatrical excess and the possibility, hinted at in his sonnets and long noted by scholars, that he was bisexual.

When Foster first came across his find, titled simply "A Funeral Elegy," he knew that Elizabethan experts usually greeted with derision plays or poems newly attributed to Shakespeare.

At the time, in fact, two scholars were touting what they described as newly discovered Shakespearean works. One swore by a potboiler titled "The Birth of Merlin," and the other championed a jingle that opened with the lines "Shall I die? Shall I fly?" Both claims were quickly debunked.

Last month, in contrast, a group of respected Shakespeareans led by Foster was greeted with applause in Chicago, at the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association, when they made their case that Shakespeare was the author of the elegy. …

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