Sunday, 12 April 2015

Double Falsehood; or the Distrest Lovers by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher.

Over the past month or so there's been a resurgence of interest in the play Double Falsehood. Its authorship has been debated for several hundred years since its publication in 1728, when Lewis Theobald claimed to have reworked it from a now lost manuscript of William Shakespeare and John Fletcher's (Shakespeare and Fletcher also collaborated on Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen, the latter based on 'A Knight's Tale' from Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales). This manuscript would have been The History of Cardenio, first performed in 1613, and was attributed to Fletcher and Shakespeare in the Stationers' Register entry of 1653, however it was lost in a library fire. In 2010 Arden Shakespeare included it in their Shakespeare series and there have been several productions of the play in the past few years, and in March of this year Arden reissued it. New evidence has been supplied by the University of Texas at Austin (Ryan Boyd and James Pennebaker), who have a used a combination of test analysing software and psychological theory; as a result they have "strongly identified" Shakespeare and Fletcher with Double Falsehood:
More than 100 years after Shakespeare’s death, Lewis Theobald published Double Falsehood, a play supposedly sourced from a lost play by Shakespeare and John Fletcher. Since its release, scholars have attempted to determine its true authorship. Using new approaches to language and psychological analysis, we examined Double Falsehood and the works of Theobald, Shakespeare, and Fletcher. Specifically, we created a psychological signature from each author’s language and statistically compared the features of each signature with those of Double Falsehood’s signature. Multiple analytic approaches converged in suggesting that Double Falsehood’s psychological style and content architecture predominantly resemble those of Shakespeare, showing some similarity with Fletcher’s signature and only traces of Theobald’s. Closer inspection revealed that Shakespeare’s influence is most apparent early in the play, whereas Fletcher’s is most apparent in later acts. Double Falsehood has a psychological signature consistent with that expected to be present in the long-lost play The History of Cardenio, cowritten by Shakespeare and Fletcher. [source]
The Cobbe portrait.
Naturally, this has sparked a new discussion. In the past month there have been several newspaper articles:
From time to time spurious Shakespeare plays pop up (The Guardian estimate about 77 plays have, at one time, been attributed to Shakespeare, Edward III, which I'm planning on reading next month, is one of them. Wikipedia have a list of the Shakespeare Apocrypha) and, not surprisingly it's hard to be certain, and furthermore it's hard (especially for members of the Press) not to get excited and proclaim definitively that a new play has been found. Nevertheless, Boyd and Pennebaker's research is most interesting and, yes, exciting (though, for balance, I'll mention that Oxford Shakespeare are distinctly less enthusiastic). So, I looked up Double Falsehood on Internet Archive and there it was, so I read it this morning.

The likely source for Double Falsehood or The History of Cardenio is Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes; the Part I was published in its original Spanish in 1605, Part II in 1615. Part I was published in English in 1612, Part II in 1620. Cernates' Cardenio appears in the first part, and so available to Shakespeare and Fletcher. The play is set in Spain and tells of the Duke Angelo of the Andalusia province and his two sons, the dutiful Roderick and the independent, wilful Henriquez. Henriquez wishes to buy a horse and requests gold from his father, so it is agreed that his friend Julio will collect the payment. The Duke and Roderick, however, plot to detain Julio and "assay to mould him / An honest spy upon thy brother's riots". At this time, Julio wishes to marry Leonora, whilst Henriquez is obsessed with Violante, a virtuous young woman who he rapes. Whilst Julio is away, however, Henriquez pursues Leonora (this is the "double falsehood"); her father, Don Bernado, is in favour of this marriage, however Leonora is not, and she writes to Julio to inform him of her father and Henriquez's intentions, and, should that fail, she plans to kill herself. Julio manages to prevent the marriage, and the two women, Violante and Leonora, escape - Leonora to a nunnery, and Violente, disguised as a male shepherd, to the countryside. It is Roderick who, ultimately, saves the day, and they are all happily reconciled. If this play was by Shakespeare, I imagine it would therefore be placed in the problematic "comedy" section, despite its darkness.

I don't want to dwell too much on my thoughts of the play: firstly, I read it on my laptop which is something I very rarely do - I detest reading books online and in fact this may be the first time I've managed to complete anything this way. For that, I can't say it was very enjoyable. But, Double Falsehood did pass the time (apologies for that unenthusiastic review). What makes it all very interesting is the surrounding discussion of the play and for that alone I'm happy to have read it. Was this play by Shakespeare? I don't know. In all honestly, had I not have known the author I actually would have guessed at John Ford, which would have been completely wrong but that's what it felt like (I'm no Renaissance scholar though, far far from it!). But the discussion, whatever the outcome, is enjoyable. So I shall ask - has anyone here read Double Falsehood or any other of Shakespeare's Apocrypha? Or do you have any thoughts on the spurious plays? Is it all wishful thinking? Whatever the case, it's a nice change from the frequent "Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare" debate!

For further reading, the articles listed above are good sources, and so too is Double Falsehood • It’s not Shakespeare from PoemShape. Finally, here is Lewis Theobald's letter to George Doddington (presumably George Bubb Dodington, 1st Baron Melcombe) regarding the play:

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