Have We Finally Found the “Lost” Shakespeare?

Have We Finally Found the “Lost” Shakespeare?

When William Shakespeare’s friends and fellow actors and authors published his collected plays in 1623, 7 years after the Bard shuffled off this mortal coil, that book, now known as the First Folio, established what was and was not to be officially “Shakespeare.” Yet, as with any other great artist, Shakespeare left us wanting more. The search for “lost” Shakespeare has spanned centuries, spilling plenty of critical ink along the way. William Shakespeare & Others: Collaborative Plays, edited by Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen, uses the latest computer technology paired with old school critical connoisseurship not to end the debate once and for all, but to cooly lay out all the arguments free of the heat of Bardology beside the very texts in question. If there truly is “lost” Shakespeare waiting to be found, it awaits somewhere in these pages. And if these works be the stuff of Shakespeare, play on.


As anyone who grudgingly plowed through Romeo and Juliet or Julius Caesar in high school remembers, modern audiences know Shakespeare mainly through the written texts handed down to us, most often originating from that First Folio. But Shakespeare’s contemporaries would have known Will’s work more from the stage than from the page. Only 18 of Shakespeare’s plays appeared in print before 1623. The First Folio provides the first written text for 18 more and often provides more reliable text for those previously published. Of the plays considered canonical Shakespeare, only Pericles and The Two Noble Kinsmen fail to appear in the First Folio. The First Folio might not have appeared at all without the efforts of Shakespeare’s fellow actors John Heminges and Henry Condell and the urging of fellow playwright Ben Jonson, who had published his own collected works. Jonson’s preface to the First Folio, in which he calls Shakespeare “not of an age, but for all time,” reveals how he hoped the publication of the plays would win Will (and other authors, such as himself) a lasting legacy rather than the fleeting fame previous, unpublished playwrights suffered. But of that rescue mission, how many works were left behind?

The very title of William Shakespeare & Others: Collaborative Plays might take many readers aback. Wasn’t Shakespeare the mighty, head and shoulders above the crowd lone genius that never erased a line? The truth of the Elizabethan theater Shakespeare worked in is much messier than the myth. Even within the canon, critics agree that Shakespeare collaborated on two of his last plays, Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen, with John Fletcher, who became the King's Men’s in-house playwright after Shakespeare retired. Shakespeare first made his mark as a “fixer” of the plays of others, sprucing them up for staging by his troupe. During Shakespeare’s lifetime, publishers would sometimes connect his name (or a tantalizing “W.S.”) to anonymous plays to make them sell better. With all of these complications in mind, Bate asks, “Where do we draw the borders of the Shakespeare ‘canon’?” Those borders might never be unblurred, but at least these works offer a slightly clearer picture.

Will Sharpe’s essay on authorship and attribution of the plays in question points out the obvious draw of finding “lost” Shakespeare. “Remaking Shakespeare is big business,” Sharpe writes, “and the commodity is revelation.” But the biggest revelations the book offers probably aren’t the answers most casual Shakespeare fans want. The authorship question—the idea that someone other than Shakespeare wrote the plays we know and love—now, according to Sharpe’s count, includes 70 possible candidates. But this different authorship question—the idea that Shakespeare didn’t write alone—offers, for Sharpe, “the flip side of the same coin.” Sharpe sees both authorship questions as “founded on love,” specifically the passionate faith “that we have not yet sounded the full depths of Shakespeare’s creativity.” That faith in the existence of more Shakespeare, Bate contends, requires two more acts of faith: one, “a renewed willingness to approach Shakespeare as a working man of the theatre and a collaborative author, not a solitary genius”; and two, an equal willingness that modern technology such as computer-based stylometry, known to some as “linguistic fingerprinting,” can actually finger the Bard’s hand even in the midst of the work of others.

But how does stylometry claim to find “lost” Shakespeare? Experts feed texts from the time in search of an author into a database, which is then searched for linguistic patterns such as the use of contractions, favored phrases, allusions, metrical patterns, etc. A program then compares those patterns with those found in canonical Shakespeare. Because Shakespeare’s style is a “moving target”—shifting from period to period as he developed as an artist—the approximate age of the text is taken into consideration during the comparison. Finally, human connoisseurship comes into the picture as literary critics ponder whether the statistics match their “gut” feeling. In addition to the textual critics, today’s performers of Shakespeare’s works respond in a series of interviews with Peter Kirwan as to whether the questioned plays “feel” like Shakespeare on the stage. Actress Caroline Faber felt “excited to ‘test’ the attribution [of Edward III] [her]self” during performance, while director Terry Hands’ experience with Arden of Faversham left him convinced it was decidedly “unShakespearean.”

Between all this critical verbiage rests the works themselves. The stylometric analysis ranks the questioned plays as “almost certain to very likely” (Sir Thomas More, Edward III, Arden of Faversham, The Spanish Tragedy [Shakespeare’s additions to Thomas Kyd’s original], and Double Falsehood [in Lewis Theobald’s 18th century claimed adaption of Shakespeare and Fletcher’s lost play Cardenio]), “worth considering” (Mucedorus), or “highly unlikely to almost impossible” (A Yorkshire Tragedy, The London Prodigal, Locrine, and Thomas Lord Cromwell). The only surviving manuscript page believed to be written in Shakespeare’s own hand comes from Sir Thomas More (detail shown above), which was written by multiple collaborators and wasn’t printer or performed during Shakespeare’s day due to the political climate, so dismissing these works before reading them robs you of seeing a possible different side of Shakespeare.

Of all the plays, Arden of Faversham struck me as the most Shakespearean. “Love is a god and marriage is but words,” proclaims the title character’s adulterous wife with Lady Macbeth-like confidence. “So we that are the poets’ favorites/ Must have a love,” gently speaks a love-struck artist. “Ay, love is the painter’s Muse.” The range of humanity and wit shouted out “Shakespeare” to me throughout, but was that reality or “Will”-ful wishing? “Whoever wrote Arden of Faversham was one of the most innovative and daring talents the Renaissance theatre ever saw,” Sharpe adds, “and yet no contemporary record links this watershed work, written in or around 1590, to any author… It wasn’t just made in England, it was England, bringing action into local places, into the here and now, and giving for the first time a voice to ordinary people in a new kind of domestic setting.” Although stylometric analysis makes a good case for Shakespeare as the author of Arden, there are also strong arguments against that center primarily around the dating of the play versus where Shakespeare was in his artistic development at that time. Nevertheless, the editors “offer it to readers of this volume as one of the finest plays that a young Shakespeare, possible, never wrote.”  

“Why can we not celebrate [Arden of Faversham as] a remarkable play by a remarkable author who, to our loss, and for whatever reason, wrote nothing else?” Terry Hands asks in his unShakespearing of the play. Ultimately, that sentiment is the real revelation of William Shakespeare & Others: Collaborative Plays. As Shakespeare himself wrote, “The play’s the thing.” “Whether or not some or all of them were indeed part-written or ‘newly set forth’ or ‘overseen’ by Shakespeare,” Bate concludes, “the reading of them cannot fail to illuminate his theatrical world.” Jonson called Shakespeare “not of an age, but for all time,” but that timelessness comes precisely because he was “of an age” that included Thomas Kyd, Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Middleton, Thomas Dekker, and many others remembered in footnotes or not at all. (Shakespeare scholar Stanley WellsShakespeare & Co. is a quick, accessible entry into this fascinating chapter of literary history.) The public mania for Elizabethan theater created a template for our own modern entertainment madness as those “early moderns” of Shakespeare’s day increasingly looked and acted more and more like we do today. The Shakespeare in William Shakespeare & Others: Collaborative Plays will pull in readers initially, but you’ll come away with a greater respect and interest in those “Others” than you ever imagined. Shakespeare isn’t less because he worked in this collaborative world. In many ways, he’s much, much more.

[Image: Detail of manuscript page of Sir Thomas More by “Hand D,” believed to be that of William Shakespeare. Image source.]

[Many thanks to Palgrave Macmillan for providing me with a review copy of William Shakespeare & Others: Collaborative Plays, edited by Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen with Jan Sewell and Will Sharpe, associate editors Peter Kirwan and Sarah Stewart.]

A landslide is imminent and so is its tsunami

An open letter predicts that a massive wall of rock is about to plunge into Barry Arm Fjord in Alaska.

Image source: Christian Zimmerman/USGS/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • A remote area visited by tourists and cruises, and home to fishing villages, is about to be visited by a devastating tsunami.
  • A wall of rock exposed by a receding glacier is about crash into the waters below.
  • Glaciers hold such areas together — and when they're gone, bad stuff can be left behind.

The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

"It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

The Barry Arm Fjord

Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

Image source: Matt Zimmerman

The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

Image source: whrc.org

There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

Moving slowly at first...

Image source: whrc.org

"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

How do you prepare for something like this?

Image source: whrc.org

The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

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Eating veggies is good for you. Now we can stop debating how much we should eat.

Credit: Pixabay
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The common cuttlefish

Credit: Hans Hillewaert via Wikicommons
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