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Computerized concordances have by now recorded every use of every word in Shakespeare, and Taylor soon found interesting similarities between his discovery and Romeo and Juliet, written when Shakespeare was around 30. The poet writes that his lady's "star-like eyes win love's prize/ When they twinkle." Romeo says of Juliet's eyes that they are "two of the fairest stars in all the heaven" and that they "twinkle in their spheres." Oddly enough, though, Taylor was also pleased to find some words that Shakespeare used nowhere else. Scanty, for example, does not appear anywhere else in the language before 1660, nearly a half-century after Shakespeare's death, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. "Shakespeare was always trying to create a new language, a new way of speaking," Taylor explains. "It's only mediocre writers like you or me who use the language that other people have invented for us."
Several scholars joined in praising Taylor. Says Samuel Schoenbaum, professor of Renaissance literature at the University of Maryland: "This discovery is no wild surmise. All scholars will have to take it seriously." And how has it lain so unnoticed for so long? "In modern times we explore outer space," says Schoenbaum. "But there is an inner space to be explored. An inner space of libraries, where there are wonders like this poem to be found."
Perhaps, but many experts were bothered by a basic question: Could Shakespeare really have written a poem that is so, well, mediocre? "This is a really bad poem, a piece of doggerel," says David M. Bevington, professor of English at the University of Chicago. "The poem itself does not sound much like Shakespeare to me," says Princeton's Alvin B. Kernan. Frank Kermode of Columbia is even harsher. "This is a very silly affair," he says. "True, Shakespeare wrote some bad poems, but the way this one is bad is not similar in any fashion to the way Shakespeare was bad. The whole thing is a mess."
Taylor himself does not claim to have discovered a masterpiece. "It's not Hamlet," he says. "It's a kind of virtuoso piece, a kind of early Mozart piece." Early Salieri would be more like it, but Taylor, who wears an earring rather like the one in Shakespeare's portrait, is learning quickly that all the scholarly world's a stage and all the scholars merely players. "I've always regarded this hoo-ha as slightly absurd," he says, "and once it is over, I shall go back to being as ordinary as dirt." --By Otto Friedrich. Reported by Steven Holmes/London