UT professor says Shakespeare responsible for additional passages in “The Spanish Tragedy”

Alyssa Mahoney

The words of William Shakespeare might be in more places than you think. 

This month, English professor Douglas Bruster wrote “Shakespearean Spellings and Handwriting in the Additional Passages Printed in the 1602 Spanish Tragedy.” In the article, he argues that the author who wrote “Sir Thomas More” was also the author of 325 lines that were added to Thomas Kyd’s “The Spanish Tragedy” approximately 10 years after it was written. Bruster argues this based on his observation of certain spelling variations and handwriting features that the two works share.

Bruster said his research came from years of scholars’ work on the texts, and the more he researched, the more he realized that some of the lines in “The Spanish Tragedy” were a rough transmission.

English graduate student Maley Thompson said she has been a teaching assistant for Bruster and has worked closely with him on her master’s report.

Thompson said she thinks that Bruster’s insight is ingenious; however, she said she can understand the opposition to his argument. She said one of the sets of handwriting in “Sir Thomas More” is referred to in academic circles as Hand D.

“You have to believe that Shakespeare was Hand D to believe that the handwriting from that document can be used as evidence for spelling variations in ‘The Spanish Tragedy,’” Thompson said. “I am not entirely convinced that Shakespeare is Hand D. I want him to be. That fulfills my fantasy of Shakespeare as a moonlighting collaborator.”

English professor Eric Mallin said that he finds Bruster’s work impressive because of the way it adds to the growing body of knowledge being assembled in this field. Mallin said Bruster’s paper “solves” a long-standing textual problem in the additional lines, and the paper can serve as a good model for other research because Bruster’s close reading turned the text into a form of objective data.

Bruster said that he will continue to work in collaboration with Genevieve Smith, ecology, evolution and behavior graduate student, focusing specifically on finding the chronological order and years that Shakespeare wrote his works.

Thompson said that she is currently helping Bruster and other scholars anthologize the newest compilation of the complete works of Shakespeare called “Bankside Shakespeare,” which will be published in 2016. As with the two previous editions of the compilation, the “Bankside Shakespeare” will include the additions ascribed to Shakespeare in “Sir Thomas More.” But this edition will have something new: For the first time, it will contain the additional passages of “The Spanish Tragedy.”

“The 38 or so plays that we have [from Shakespeare] are an inexhaustible resource, but people always want more,” Mallin said. “If there were, for instance, undiscovered recordings from the Beatles, Stones or Sex Pistols, I suspect that music historians, and more than a few fans, would want to hear them.”