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Monday, 28 September, 1998, 19:09 GMT 20:09 UK
Shakespeare's lost labours found
The new Globe Theatre and Shakespeare bronze bust
A bust of Shakespeare presides over the new Globe Theatre
A play about Edward III, written 400 years ago, has been officially recognised as a 'lost' work of William Shakespeare .

The text will be included in the new Arden Shakespeare series, regarded by scholars as the closest to a definitive version of the Shakespeare canon.

They believe that the play was a collaborative effort by a group of playwrights, but that Shakespeare may have taken charge at a late stage of the writing.

This reappraisal was prompted by an American computer analysis of the text which compared the play's vocabulary to that of Shakespeare's known works.

William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616)
One of the most striking similarities was the use of a line - Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds - which also appears in sonnet 94. However, such line borrowing from other works and other authors was commonplace in Elizabethan theatre.

"The computer has been a great help. The Arden text will give authority to the accumulating strength of opinion that Edward III is significantly Shakespearean," said Professor Richard Proudfoot, senior editor at Arden.

Scholarly dispute

The official acceptance comes as welcome news to Eric Sams, a retired civil servant and amateur literary scholar who put the case for the Bard's authorship in his book Shakespeare's Edward III, published in 1996.

The book was poorly received by academics, with one review dismissing Sams as "a particularly pesky gnat, raging at orthodoxy with all the passion of the outcast Lear - as yet to equally forlorn effect."

Sams is still the only authority to maintain that the entire play is the work of Shakespeare.

Sketch of the Rose Theatre
Many Shakespeare plays were performed at the Rose Theatre
Scholars date the play from 1592 or 1593, making it one of Shakespeare's earliest works, written while he was still in his twenties.

The play was not a success and was suppressed by the monarchy for fear of offending the Scots. It tells the history of King Edward III, who won some of the greatest victories in British military history, including the defeat of the French at the battle of Crecy.

Edward III has long been part of the Shakespeare 'apocrypha' - a group of plays and poems which various scholars have attempted to claim as the work of Stratford's most famous son.

It was proclaimed as "a play thought to be writ by Shakespeare" in a 1768 edition, and was included in a Collected Shakespeare published in 1877.

In 1904 it appeared in a list of 14 plays possibly by the Bard, but this is the first time it has been recognised by the official arbiters of Shakespeare's literary legacy.

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