Play Posted to WikiBard Authenticated as a Previously Unknown Work by Shakespeare


February 16, 2015

Oxford University professor emerita of Shakespeare studies Dame Frances Beye-Cohn has used the most sophisticated stylometry analysis available to authenticate a play recently uploaded anonymously to WikiBard as being written by none other than William Shakespeare.  Building upon Bruster’s work which identified Shakespeare’s fingerprints on 325 lines added to a posthumous publication of Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy, textual analysis of this new play definitively identifies Shakespeare as the author based on sophisticated algorithms for pattern recognition, vocabulary matching, and idiosyncratic points of similarity to the Bard’s other works, including such telltale archaic phrases as "come in person hither,” “nay,” and “thou art.”

That an unknown work by Shakespeare should turn up is not entirely out of the realm of possibility. The rare First Folio of 1623 is the only reliable source for half of Shakespeare plays including Macbeth, Twelfth Night, Julius Caesar, and As You Like It. Additionally, scholars know of at least two Shakespeare plays of which no copies survive: The History of Cardenio and Love’s Labour’s Won; the latter, according to Dr. Martha Jones, is a sequel to Love’s Labour’s Lost.  Textual analysis has in recent years revealed Shakespeare’s previously unrecognized role as a collaborator in several Elizabethan plays.  Nevertheless, after centuries of Shakespearean studies that have turned over every possible rock, the discovery of an unheard-of play by the Bard has aficionados worldwide in a tempest.

The play was written toward the end of Shakespeare’s life in 1616, and is a prequel to his most critically acclaimed work, Hamlet. It tells the life story of the Prince of Denmark’s father from childhood until the time he became a ghost.  We learn that King Hamlet was originally named Menelaus after the king of Sparta, but as a child was an indentured servant who gained his freedom by winning a chariot race. After entering a monastic order, the youth adopted the familiar name “Hamlet.”

Critics are sharply divided over this new work, titled The Phantom Menelaus. Traditionalists complain about its stilted language and offensive stereotypes. Shakespearean actor Ian McDiarmid was quoted as saying, “One may write this shite, but one cannot speak it.” Meanwhile, the new play’s defenders—mostly younger scholars—say this is much ado about nothing. They argue that the work is every bit as good as the original Hamlet, and which one you prefer may depend on which play you’ve seen first.

Although the provenance of the anonymously uploaded text remains unknown, there is no doubt that its author is Shakespeare.

Oxford University Professor Emerita Dame Frances Beye-Cohn was knighted for her contributions to Shakespeare studies. She has also appeared as a glamour model in Victorian Vogue, Playbard, and Feventeen.