U. NOTTINGHAM (UK)—A literary detective who claims to have found evidence of a ‘lost play’ by William Shakespeare has won the backing of the acclaimed Shakespeare publishers, Arden, with the publication of his new book, Double Falsehood, or the Distressed Lovers.
Professor Brean Hammond from the University of Nottingham has spent the past 10 years researching the origins of the play, Double Falsehood, by 18th-century scholar Lewis Theobald, who claimed it was a re-working of an original play by the Bard himself.
Theobald’s claims that he had three original Shakespeare texts, now lost, were largely dismissed until now. Hammond believes he has found credible evidence that indeed links Theobald’s play back to Shakespeare’s ‘lost play’—Cardenio, a collaboration between Shakespeare and John Fletcher performed in 1613.
The new Arden Third Series edition, set to publish March 22, will make the play available in a fully annotated form for the first time in 250 years.
It brings all the latest evidence to light in a detailed introduction by Hammond explaining how the 18th-century play appears to be a genuine version of Shakespeare’s earlier work, a revision of the Cardenio co-written by Shakespeare and John Fletcher.
“Ever since Wednesday December 13 1727, when Lewis Theobald mounted at Drury Lane Theatre a play entitled Double Falsehood; or, the Distressed Lovers, claiming it to be his version of a lost original by William Shakespeare, there has been skepticism about the play’s status,” says Hammond.
“The early consensus, however, was that Theobald had either forged it or passed it off as written by Shakespeare when it clearly was not Shakespeare’s work,” he adds. “As the 20th century progressed, however, a gradual trickle of belief—not in the idea that the play as it stands is Shakespeare, or even Shakespeare edited by Theobald—but in a much more complex story, developed into an irresistible flood.”
Arden’s general editor Richard Proudfoot adds: “The Arden Shakespeare Third Series has chosen to include collaborative plays from outside the 1623 canon and the inclusion of Double Falsehood is our most controversial decision. That it represents in some form the otherwise lost play of Cardenio, by Fletcher and Shakespeare, is a sufficiently sustainable position to recommend publication in Arden 3 of Lewis Theobald’s avowedly thorough 18th-century adaptation, thus making it accessible for the first time in 250 years. Here is a true Shakespeare mystery for an age addicted to fictional mysteries attached to him”.
Double Falsehood’s plot contains all the ingredients of an intriguing play of both the Elizabethan and 18th-century periods: two contrasting beautiful female protagonists, one lowborn and one of higher birth but not aristocratic, and two contrasting leading men, one, of modest birth, full of honour and probity and the other an aristocratic villain. An interrupted marriage, a series of mad scenes, and a near-rape make sure that the play does not lack incident.
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