Counterfeiting Shakespeare: Evidence, Authorship, and John Ford's Funerall Elegye

By Brian Vickers | Go to book overview

PROLOGUE
Gary Taylor finds a poem

On 24 November 1985 purchasers of the Sunday Times found their breakfast reading enlivened by a challenging question: 'Is this by Shakespeare?'. The work referred to was a poem printed on page 3 of that issue, beginning like this:

Shall I die? Shall I fly Lovers' baits and deceits, sorrow breeding? Shall I tend? Shall I send? Shall I sue, and not rue my proceeding? In all duty her beauty Binds me her servant for ever. If she scorn, I mourn, I retire to despair, joying never.

How did this 'discovery' come about? In the words of Gary Taylor, to whom the 'discovery' was credited: 'on the evening of Nov. 14' while 'routinely checking references in the Bodleian Library, I came across an item I did not recognize', and 'asked for the manuscript to be fetched'. Next day, at first view, he was already convinced:

I found the literary equivalent of Sleeping Beauty, a nameless poem awakening from the ancient sheets in which it had lain undisturbed for centuries, a poem without a critical history. 1

Within a week, a little week, 'with the help and advice of my senior colleague' on the Oxford Shakespeare project, Stanley Wells, Taylor 'had subjected the poem to every accepted test of authenticity; the results were all positive and we could think of nothing else to check' (Taylor 1985a, p. 11). Once the poem had been published on both sides of the Atlantic, Taylor claimed, 'public reaction to the discovery has been generous and enthusiastic; I have been overwhelmed by a tidal wave of curiosity.

-1-

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