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Is "Double Falsehood" a lost work by Shakespeare?

After years of disparagement, a play named "Double Falsehood" is now being lifted closer to the Shakespeare canon.

By / March 16, 2010

After doubting it for years, scholars now say "Double Falsehood" may have ties to a lost play by Shakespeare.

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For centuries, scholars insisted that debate over the play was simply a matter of much ado about nothing. But now the story of "Double Falsehood" – a work being called a lost play of Shakespeare – is shaping up more like a tale of all's well that ends well.

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Next week, it is being reported, a respected Shakespearean scholar – Professor Brean Hammond of England's Nottingham University – will publish compelling new evidence that "Double Falsehood," little-known 18th-century play, is really the reworking of "Cardenio," a lost play co-written by Shakespeare.

Hammond's claims were further bolstered earlier this week when Arden Shakespeare, a highly regarded publisher of Shakespeare’s works, said that it will release an edition of the play edited by Hammond. An editor at Arden notes that there is no way of being certain that "Double Falsehood" has ties to Shakespeare, but he describes his position as one of "fairly confident – but cautious – acceptance."

This is the first time in 250 years that "Double Falsehood" will be available in its full form. It is also being reported that the Royal Shakespeare Company will perform the play in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2011.

The history of "Double Falsehood" is somewhat complicated. "Cardenio," a five-act play inspired by the character of Cardenio in Miguel de Cervantes' "Don Quixote," was performed twice in 1613. A bookseller's entry at the time asserts that the play was co-written by William Shakespeare and Jacobean playwright John Fletcher.

Then, in 1727, a playwright named Lewis Theobald came forward with a play called "Double Falsehood," which he said he had taken (and "improved") from original manuscripts by Shakespeare and Fletcher. But Theobald was widely disparaged in his time, and his claims that the play was the work of Shakespeare were ridiculed.

Now, however, Hammond's analysis of the play seems to support Theobald's claims. Hammond says that in the work he finds the presence of three writers – Theobald, Shakespeare, and John Fletcher.

If correct, the stir over "Double Falsehood" all adds up to huge vindication of Theobald, who had once hoped to be seen as the great Shakespearean scholar of his time. Too bad it comes almost 300 years too late.

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.

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