An American scholar working in Oxford, England, has discovered a 90-line poem said to be written by William Shakespeare -- the first Shakespeare find since the 17th century.
The untitled nine-stanza love lyric was discovered in a bound folio collection of poems at the Bodleian Library at Oxford University by Gary Taylor, 32, of Topeka, Kan., The New York Times reported today.
Taylor said the poem was contained in a handwritten anthology of English Renaissance poetry, probably compiled in the 1630s, two decades after Shakespeare's death. It had been in the library since 1756 without anybody taking much notice of it.
"As soon as I finished copying down the poem . . . I felt in my guts it was Shakespeare," Taylor said.
Taylor has been working for more than seven years as an editor of a new collection of Shakespeare's works that Oxford University Press plans to publish next year.
One American expert called the find "brilliant."
"It's authentic until proved otherwise," said Samuel Schoenbaum, a professor at the University of Maryland and the American consultant for the Oxford University Press Shakespeare Project. Schoenbaum is the author of the recently published "Shakespeare and Others."
"Gary Taylor has made out a prima facie case from all the evidence that it is a Shakespeare poem. It's a brilliant discovery . . . These are not amateurs with crackpot theories that they are announcing to the world."
Shoenbaum called the poem "extraordinarily interesting," noting its complicated internal rhymes and its "ironies and multiple meanings." He also said the poem belongs to the general class of Elizabethan poetry, and was likely written at the same time as two other long narrative Shakespeare poems.
The first stanza of the poem reads:
Shall I die? Shall I fly
Lovers' baits and deceits,
Shall I fend: Shall I send?
Shall I shew, and not rue
In all duty her beauty
Binds me her servant for ever.
If she scorn, I mourn,
I retire to despair, joying never.
Taylor consulted Stanley Wells, a leading Shakespeare authority, on the find and the two concluded that it was written between 1593 and 1595. During the period, Shakespeare was just turning 30, and wrote "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "Love's Labour's Lost" and "Romeo and Juliet."
One part of the poem, noting that the beloved's "star-like eyes win love's prize/ when they twinkle," is said to be similar to the speech Romeo delivers under Juliet's balcony.
Schoenbaum said he wasn't surprised by the discovery, and believes that other works by Shakespeare could yet be discovered. "A past that has been buried for several hundred years will still yield its secrets for those who will burrow in it and look for them, and God knows what will be found in the future," he said.
The find has been challenged by other Shakespeare authorities. "This is such a feeble poem that I am not convinced," said Oxford University professor John Carey.
But Taylor said the burden of proving the poem was not written by Shakespeare is now on anyone who doubts his find.
"Someone can come along tomorrow and find something that proves that 'Hamlet' was not written by Shakespeare," Taylor said. "All the evidence says this poem belongs to Shakespeare's canon, and unless somebody can dislodge it, it will stay there."