Oswald Osgood was an insufferable know-it-all. The fact that he was a college professor didn’t help him much and the fact that his specialty was William Shakespeare helped him even less. Studying “the Bard” only made him think more of himself and less of everyone else. “No one,” he liked to complain, “can ever reach Shakespeare’s level of technique, or have his command of or ultimate impact on the English language.” And you know what that means.
“Shakespeare wasn’t even a Bard,” said one of his students, Stephanie Wing, “I mean, not really. He wrote on commission for, like, noble people and even for the Queen herself, right? It’s not like he went from town to town singing songs.”
Her male friend who was not her boyfriend, Justin Leech, had some things to say about that on a factual level, but instead scooped up the heart of the statement and agreed that “Shakespeare is not really all he’s cracked up to be. His writing is delightful, sure, but so much of the ‘myth of Shakespeare’ is perpetuated by the endless cycle of scholarship on the subject.”
And yet so much of that scholarship relied on information that was incomplete. “There is so much that we still don’t know,” Professor Osgood often lamented in his classes. “There are whole plays that have been lost to us—the Cardenio, which we are certian was based on an episode from the Don Quixote, and Love’s Labour’s Won, which might have been one of his later comedies under a different name, but I, for one, don’t think so.”
This would then trigger one of Professor Osgood’s favorite lecturing subjects: “If you look at the plot,” he said, “of Love’s Labour’s Lost, you’ll find two things of equal and related interest: the first is that there is more than one strand of action left utterly unresolved at the play’s conclusion; but more striking still is the fact that, despite its status as a comedy, structurally it can be called a tragedy in that the ending does not feature a wedding but rather the death of a king. This is monumental and should be considered incontrovertible evidence that Shakespeare had in fact intended to write what we now call a sequel to this early play, and we know from the records that a play with that title was performed. We just don’t have access to any of the text.”
“Maybe it just sucked,” Stephanie suggested. But that was, of course, not an argument that would hold water for torch-carrier Oswald Osgood.
Imagine the reaction, though, given Oswald’s obsession, when he came back to his office one day to find a box at his door marked “urgent and confidential”; he brought it inside with him, opened it up and discovered a faded and weary manuscript entitled “Love’s Labour’s Won: A New Play by William Shaksper”.
It wasn’t possible! It was some sort of joke, some sickly scheme. Wasn’t it?
Who would do such a thing?
Yet who could do such a thing?
Careful with the fragile pages, Oswald set about reading the text, and it was wonderful. Delightful, even. Filled with precious little quirks and four-hundred-year-old plot twists that still made him cry out “I knew it! I knew it!” in jubilation at their conclusion.
It was everything a Shakespearean scholar could ever possibly want and more.
But where had it come from?
“Oh, who cares!” Oswald reasoned, “if they sent it to me, it’s because they wanted me to have it—they probably didn’t know what to do with it anyway.”
But he knew what to do—in fact, he knew exactly whom to call.
“You’re kidding! said his old friend Gordon Mickiewicz. “Is it any good?”
Oswald could tell from the condescension this was one of those stuffy hipsters who didn’t fully appreciate the genius of the Bard’s early works. “I am telling you, it’s great! It’s going to revolutionize the study of Shakespeare’s cannon and who knows? It might even revitalize the Theatre Herself!”
“The Theatre Herself!” Professor Mickiewicz exclaimed. “Well, then, let’s not keep Thaleia waiting, send the darn thing over!” (Editor’s Note: Thaleia is the Greek Muse of Comedy)
Oswald promised to do just that once he had the whole thing transcribed. Mickiewicz had a computer that could identify authors from text with pinpoint accuracy (except Hunter S. Thompson—for some reason, it kept identifying him with bad translations of Karl Marx) so his blessing was the first step towards solidifying this new play as Shakespeare’s 38th (39th if you include The Two Noble Kinsmen, but Oswald turned his nose up at that idea).
In the meantime, though, he took the liberty of spreading the word and in particular of alerting the press. This level of notoriety was hard to come by, even in an age of instant access and lack of gatekeepers, and he found now that he wanted it.
“So,” said eminent members of the Shakespeare Society, “wherever did you dig up the text?”
“It was in our library, believe it or not, we do have a rare books section, small though our college is, and I found it hiding behind a second printing of Gorbaduc—or all places!”
“Curioser and curioser,” the Society remarked. “And has it been authenticated?”
“All in good time!” Oswald assured him. “I can vouch for its authenticity—been reading Shakespeare all my life, you know!”
The hype was like nothing Professor Osgood had ever seen. TED talks, talk shows, conferences, magazine interviews, online things; and what’s more: theatre troops were clawing at Oswald’s inbox to get their hands on the script and expand their repertory. He had everything but the one thing he really needed as an academic: articles in peer-reviewed journals.
“You know you’re going to have to send it to me,” Mickiewics reminded him. “Nobody’s going to take you seriously until you do—at least not within the academic community.”
“Oh, who cares about those stuffy old farts,” Oswald found himself saying, even though he knew his friend was right. “I know what I know and what I know is, it’s the most authentic thing I have ever laid eyes on!”
In fact, the more Oswald read it, the more convinced he became that it was his favorite Shakespearean text, not just among the comedies. There was something about the Princess and her grief for her father that brought tears to his eyes and put Hamlet himself to shame. Which made it all the more embarrassing for Oswald when Professor Mickiewicz got back to him with the results.
“Well, it’s a beautiful play, obviously,” Mickiewicz admitted, “but sadly, there isn’t the slightest chance that Shakespeare came up with it.” He went on and on about the science of it, which Oswald drowned out until Mickiewicz added “every chance that it’s actually a twenty-first century writer.”
“Twenty-first century!” Oswald was mortified. “I am willing to accept Marlowe or Edward de Vere or the Marquis the bloody Sade as the author, but I can tell you with absolute conviction, Gordon, that no one from this artforsaken twenty-first century of ours is capable of imitating Shakespeare to that degree or with that kind of quality!”
But Mickiewics responded with jargon and gibberish and finally, Oswald hung up.
It was then there was a knock on his office door. “Come in.”
“Hello, Professor,” said the student who had managed to do what no one could and imitated Shakespeare. “Perhaps you’d like to chat?”