A Lesser Known Work, Recently Discovered

Daniel J. Waters, DO, MA

Stratford-on-Avon, UK   Bard scholars are abuzz about a newly discovered manuscript thought to be an early draft of perhaps Shakespeare’s most famous drama, Hamlet. The single section of decipherable text appears to be a portion of a longer soliloquy. The draft is thought to have been written during the cold, damp spring of  1609  when England’s most well-known playwright had a bad cold or perhaps might have even been suffering from the influenza virus.

The play was originally titled Droplet and only later in the year was it renamed. The speech is given by Droplet, the main protagonist of this early version. Perhaps due to the infectious nature of the author’s illness, the soliloquy questions – as we do today – whether obscuring one’s nose and mouth with an opaque physical barrier confers any true benefit in times of epidemic:

To mask or not to mask,
That is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind
To suffer the slings and arrows
Of outrageous aerosols
Or take PPE against a sea of capsids
And by opposing resist them
To cough, perchance to breathe,
Ay, there’s the pleural rub

The references to acute  upper respiratory illness were later removed (perhaps once Shakespeare had recovered) and the speech revised, becoming what is perhaps the most quoted block of text in the English language.

Shakespeare purists have decried the find as a hoax, citing the anachronistic medical terminology and dismissing it as “FakeBard.”  This has ignited an unbridled and often pithy Tweetstorm of rhyming couplets in iambic pentameter. Jeff Chaucer, a Professor of
Classics at Oxford, opined that “Sometimes the funniest things are true.”

Definitive authentication of the manuscript is ongoing by what a spokeswoman for the Royal Shakespeare Society referred to as “top men” and was incomplete when this report was filed.

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