Final Drafts of William Shakespeare's Manuscripts Found

Stratford-Upon-Avon, June 16, 2044 -- In the remains of a demolished pub on the outskirts of Stratford-Upon-Avon, a group of amateur archeologists have uncovered what may be the most sensational literary discovery of the century.

William Shakespeare. Good writer, bad editor.William Shakespeare. Good writer, bad editor.

Buried beneath the rubble of an ancient, decrepit printing shop that was apparently built over by the long-defunct pub The Bipolar Loon, builders were stunned to find a complete set of edited, signed plays and sonnets of William Shakespeare, all of which differ substantially from the verses known and loved by every reader of English literature.

“It’s a true literary bombshell,” said Wilfred Pumbleberry of Bramble-on-Pricklethistle, one of the first local amateur archeologists to explore the site. “Based on the cover texts and liner notations, this set of manuscripts is clearly the definitive version of William Shakespeare’s plays and poems as he intended them to be published. The fact that they have been overlooked until now is beyond comprehension.”

Most striking about the Shakespeare texts, which are currently being transferred to the Bodlean Library at Oxford University for further study, is that the final versions are virtually unrecognizable as Shakespeare's writings.

“Beyond some basic correlation of theme, plot and character elements,” said Dr. Earnest Quarantine, a literary scholar at Cambridge University, “one would be hard-pressed to believe this decidedly sophomoric material to be the actual work of William Shakespeare. However, carbon dating and signature analysis, when considered together with the doodled self-portraits by the Bard found on various manuscript pages, thus far very strongly support the conclusion that these are, in fact, Shakespeare’s final edits, however unfortunate.”

According to literary historians, Shakespeare’s works were frequently published and performed before he had pronounced them officially completed, due in part to tight deadlines, contract limitations and pressing financial needs. As such, the Bard would often continue “tweaking” texts long after a particular play or sonnet had already been absorbed into the mainstream of 16th century English literary culture.

Scholars now believe the newly discovered collection of final drafts may have been edited during Shakespeare's "lost years" in the late 1580s.

“One of the first things we discovered is that many, if not all, of Shakespeare’s roughly 2,000 neologisms were probably the result of momentary writer’s block, impatience, or simply typographical errors,” Dr. Quarantine said. “None of them appear in the final drafts, as best we can tell.”

Most striking, though, is the fact that iambic pentameter, the da-dum da-dum da-dum da-dum da-dum literary cadence used throughout Shakespeare’s writings, does not appear in the final versions more than sporadically.

“We think he may have used iambic pentameter as a kind of rhythmic place-filler while sketching out plot elements and character development,” Dr. Quarantine said. “When Shakespeare moved on to the final drafts, he mostly used more populist meters including frequent amphibrachs, trochees, anapests and simplistic end-rhyme combinations. It makes the pieces a lot more catchy and accessible, but I don’t think it helps improve the standing of Shakespeare’s work as great literature. Rather the opposite.”

Dr. Quarantine quoted a sample passage from The Merchant of Venice, Portia's “quality of mercy” speech, Act IV, Scene I:

That mercy takes no strain at all.
It like the gentle rain will fall
Upon the place beneath.
Not blessed just once, it’s blesséd double
For both that gets and takes the trouble.
That’s good for you and me.

A similar literary style can be seen in the revised version of Hamlet’s immortal soliloquy from the play of the same name (Hamlet), Act III, Scene I:

To be? To be, or not to be?
There’s the rub that’s troubling me.
I wish I knew the answer. Yea, I do.
Should I take arms against the sea?
Or suffer troubles silently?
I wish I knew the answer. Say, do you?

And in Sonnet 116, “Let me not to the marriage of true minds”, for which Shakespeare apparently eschewed the sonnet form for a more populist limerick style in his edited version:

I once loved a lassie from Greenleigh
Whose comportment was naught short of queenly.
When she grows old and stout,
Wracked with chilblains and gout,
I'll embrace her no less, but more keenly.

Dr. Quarantine said it may take scholars several years or more to conclusively determine that the find does indeed represent Shakespeare’s final word on his works. During that time, the plays and sonnets as they currently stand will remain the official versions.

“There’s also a bit of a quality control issue here,” Dr. Quarantine said. “I mean, even if Shakespeare did intend these revised works to be his final versions, I think you’d be hard-pressed to prove that they represent any kind of improvement. I don't think we'll ever know what was going through his mind during those lost years, but given the evidence we can at least conclude that even a genius can be his own worst enemy when it comes to editing.”

By Ion Zwitter, Avant News Editor

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