Human Interest

Lefteris Pitarakis/AP
A newly discovered portrait of William
Shakespeare, presented by the
Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, is seen
in central London, Monday, March 9,

New Controversy Revives Debate Over Shakespeare’s Authenticity

March 16, 2010 01:10 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
Shakespeare wrote parts of a play formerly credited solely to playwright John Fletcher, shedding light on the Bard’s collaborations and how researchers determine the authenticity of literature.

"Double Falsehood" Controversy

A significant portion of the play “Double Falsehood” has now been credited to Shakespeare, according to the BBC. The work was “first discovered nearly 300 years ago,” and was presented by Lewis Theobald in the 18th century. Although staged as “as an adaptation of a Shakespeare play,” it was “dismissed as a forgery.” Now, a cadre of researchers from British Shakespeare publisher Arden insist that “Double Falsehood” is in fact actually based on “Cardenio,” a “long-lost work ... based on Don Quixote.”

Professor Brean Hammond, an editor of Arden’s Shakespeare collection, told the UK’s Radio 4, “At least half of the plays written in the period were written collaboratively.” According to the BBC, researchers had “already established that Shakespeare wrote two other plays with Fletcher.” Hammond asserts that the duo wrote “Double Falsehood” not long after the translation of Don Quixote was published in 1612.

On Shakespeare’s Authenticity

The revelation raises questions, such as how researchers determine the authenticity of literature and authors.

According to the Guardian, Hammond has been doing “literary detective work” for a decade, and says, “I don’t think you can ever be absolutely 100% but, yes, I am convinced that it is Shakespeare." Hammond’s “compelling new evidence” will be published next week. Rumors are swirling that “Double Falsehood” will soon be staged at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Swan Theatre in Stratford.

Another Bard expert has backed up Hammond’s claims. Jonathan Bate, professor of Shakespeare and renaissance literature at the University of Warwick, discusses the issue in a column for the Daily Telegraph.

Theobald caused controversy by saying his play was based on “an authentic [Shakespeare] manuscript,” but failed to include the work “in his subsequent edition of Shakespeare’s complete works.” Bate contends that this “inconsistency” can be boiled down to the fact that Theobald was always aware that the manuscript was a rewritten version of Shakespeare’s original.

Bate also discussed the Shakespeare authorship issue with PBS Frontline, focusing at one point on the Bard’s collaborations with Fletcher.

In 2006, The New York Times reported that editor Gary Taylor was “reworking” a play called “The History of Cardenio." According to the Times, Taylor and fellow scholars believed that “Cardenio” was a Shakespeare-Fletcher collaboration, and that the original manuscript went missing.

Related Topic: Determining authenticity of artwork

In December 2009, ScienceDaily reported on digital technology “capable of distinguishing a forgery from an authentic Van Gogh.” The article notes that Igor Berezhnoy, who works at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, is behind computer algorithms that aid art historians’ and experts’ “visual assessment of paintings.”

The Museo d’Arte e Scienza in Milan describes in detail the process of determining a painting’s authenticity, using images of artwork for clarification.

Background: Shakespeare clues

Parishioners of St. Mary’s Church in Warwick, England, believe a tomb below the building may contain clues about Shakespeare’s work. The English church was built by the writer Fulke Greville, a Shakespeare contemporary who some believe was the true author of several of Shakespeare's works.

Reference: Shakespeare, Cerventes and “Don Quixote”

The link between Shakespeare and Miguel Cerventes goes beyond the Cardenio-Don Quixote association, according to the Guardian. In 2007, a Spanish film called “William and Miguel” featured an “imagined encounter” between the two scribes, and suggests that they “met and influenced each other” during Shakespeare’s so-called “‘missing years’ between 1586 and 1592.” Shakespeare and Cerventes are believed to have died on April 23, 1616, but Spain was using the Gregorian calendar while Britain used the Julian version.

To learn more about the Bard, including his life, works and influence on the English language, as well as insight into the age of Shakespeare, visit findingDulcinea’s Shakespeare Web guide.

Controversies surrounding Shakespeare’s true identity, and his appearance, are among the topics discussed in findingDulcinea’s Shakespeare in the Limelight feature series.

Don Quixote is a staple of classic literature, and also the source of inspiration for findingDulcinea. Discover what’s behind Don Quixote references, such as windmills and knights errant; link to educational resources; and find a few fun Quixote-inspired visual and audio works.

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