We'd like to think of Shakespeare as a lone genius. But new research indicates he co-authored a play that had long been attributed to someone else. DW-WORLD.DE spoke with the editor of the newly published work.
It was common for playwrights in Shakespeares time to work together
For almost 300 years, the play "Double Falsehood" was regarded as a hoax. In the 18th century, the editor Lewis Theobald had presented the work as an adaptation of Cardenio, a lost play by William Shakespeare, but it was dismissed as a fraud. New research, however, indicates that "Double Falsehood" was indeed co-authored by the Bard, together with contemporary playright John Fletcher.
Brean Hammond has edited "Double Falsehood" for inclusion in the renowned Arden Shakespeare collection. Through his research, Hammond has established a direct lineage between "Double Falsehood" and the lost Shakespeare play, "Cardenio."
Deutsche Welle: Professor Hammond. Can you tell us how you came to encounter "Double Falsehood?"
Poet Alexander Pope led Hammond to evidence behind Shakespeare's "Double Falsehood"
Brean Hammond: I initially discovered “Double Falsehood” in the 1980s, when I was working on [18th-century English poet] Alexander Pope. Pope was the big cultural magnate of the period. He got himself into a feud with Lewis Theobald, an up-and-coming scholar who had demolished Pope's edition of Hamlet. So Pope - not a man to take such things lying down - wrote a massive mock epic poem called "The Dunciad," making Theobald the King of the Dunces.
Another part of this process of pouring cold water on Theobald was to rubbish a play that Theobald had advanced as a lost play by Shakespeare. That play was "Double Falsehood." Pope writes long and abrasive footnotes suggesting that this play is claptrap or forgery.
But what is fascinating about these footnotes - and what really got me going - is that as Pope was rubbishing Theobald's lines, he started to find iambic pentameters buried in there that Theobald hadn't spotted. Theobald had actually presented lines as prose that Pope could see were poetry. Pope found himself inadvertently editing the play!
Whatever he may privately have come to believe about the origins of the play, Pope's public verdict was that Theobald's claim was an elaborate hoax. This has been the generally accepted opinion ever since.
Well, that never seemed to me to be at all convincing. It wasn't convincing as a description of the play we had, and it wasn't convincing as an account of what Theobald might do. Far too risky. Theobald would never have forged a play and passed it off as Shakespeare if he wanted a successful career as a Shakespeare editor. That would have been suicidal.
Taking on Pope proved rather suicidal…
Yes, it was never easy to take on Pope. Pope may have been only four-feet-seven-inches tall, but he packed a terrible wallop! Theobald lost confidence and went silent. This will partly have been the consequence of Pope's attack. I think, however, that it was also because Theobald had started to realize that this was not a single author play, but that John Fletcher had had a hand in it.
Fletcher's involvement would have been a tremendous embarrassment to Theobald. It's not until fairly recently that people have recognized collaborative writing to be the standard condition of Elizabethan and Jacobean authorship. More than half of the plays written in the period were written collaboratively.
This is not the story we have wanted to tell about Shakespeare. We have wanted to think of Shakespeare as a lone universal genius. But in actual fact, Shakespeare was a jobbing playwright, he wrote for the market place and he collaborated with other writers when it was sensible for him to do that.
So we're talking about a play which Shakespeare wrote in collaboration with Fletcher, and which was then edited by Theobald in the eighteenth century. How much Shakespeare is there in there?
I like to think of it as a layer cake. There's a layer of Shakespeare at the bottom of this, but there's a layer of 18th-century adaptation on top. The meter is very smooth - perhaps too smooth. Then there's the fact that there is no sub-plot. There is no diversification of the action. Shakespeare's later plays are typically complicated. There will be a sub-plot. We don't have that here. One's suspicion has to be that it was there once, and that it was then taken out in conformity with 18th-century tastes.
The modern reconstruction of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre opened in 1997
What does the addition of "Double Falsehood" to the canon add to our knowledge of Shakespeare?
It adds to our understanding of this notion of collaboration, of Shakespeare working with other writers. What is really exciting about the Cardenio play, however, is that it is based on an episode in Don Quixote. Shakespeare meets Cervantes! You think of the huge genius of the English Renaissance meeting the huge genius of the Spanish Renaissance under the covers of one play. Of course, there's also the fact that Cervantes died on the same day as Shakespeare, which I've always rather liked!
Can you outline the basic plot of the play for us?
There is a character called Julio who is betrothed to Leonora, but Julio's friend Henriques decides that he wants to steal Leonora. At the same time, Henriques has also conceived a fancy for a country maid called Violante. So the double falsehood of the title is the betrayal of these two women by Henriques and the way in which that betrayal is atoned for in the end. It's a tragic-comedy, really.
Is "Double Falsehood" any good?
I think the play is very good for what it is. If judged by the standard of late Shakespearean or Fletcherean plays, it's a little simple, a little stripped down. But people will get an opportunity to judge this I hope, because I believe the Royal Shakespeare Company is going to put it on next year. The RSC director is a hard man to pin down, but I announced it on Radio 4, so I hope I've committed him.
Interview: Kate Laycock
Editor: Kate Bowen