Scholar Says 'Lost' Shakespeare Play Is No Hoax Performed in 1727, Double Falsehood was purported to be a "lost" play by Shakespeare. Critics dismissed it as a fake, and it was quickly forgotten. But professor Brean Hammond says the "rattling good yarn" has Shakespearean roots.
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Scholar Says 'Lost' Shakespeare Play Is No Hoax

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Scholar Says 'Lost' Shakespeare Play Is No Hoax

Scholar Says 'Lost' Shakespeare Play Is No Hoax

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In 1727, Lewis Theobald staged a performance of�what he claimed was a lost play by William Shakespeare. At the time - more than 100 years after Shakespeare's death - critics dismissed the play, "Double Falsehood," as a fake, and it was quickly forgotten.

That is, until this week, when the publisher Arden Shakespeare once again put the play back into print. The publisher did so based on the evidence and research of literature professor Brean Hammond, who joined us on the line from the University of Nottingham in England.

Good morning.

Professor BREAN HAMMOND (Literature, University of Nottingham): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Give us a thumbnail of the plot. Now, I gather it's a comedy, but it's a bit dark, some characters that aren't so nice.

Prof. HAMMOND: Yeah, that's right. It's a story of love and betrayal. There is a character called Henriquez. Now, he wants to steal the betrothed of his best friend, Julio. On the side, meanwhile, he is ruining and abandoning another maiden, whose name is Violante. And the villain Henriquez eventually gets his comeuppance. We might call it a tragic comedy.

MONTAGNE: Now, to the evidence, I would say one thing certainly right off, that the title "Double Falsehood" or "The Distressed Lovers" itself hardly has the charm of Shakespeare's other titles. You had to get past that, probably, first.

Prof. HAMMOND: We have to go back to the year 1613 to start this story. In that year, Shakespeare is known to have collaborated with John Fletcher in writing a play called�"The History of Cardenio," or some variant of that title, which was performed then, but then which disappeared from the record.

Now, the theory that I've put forward in the edition is that the play that Lewis Theobald came up with, as you said, more than 100 years after Shakespeare died in 1727, is a heavy revision of that lost play. And I also suggest that the play was re-titled. That was not, and would not have been, its original Shakespearian title.

MONTAGNE: Tell us some of the language that would make you and also Arden, the publisher, believe that at least part of this play had the hand of Shakespeare.

Prof. HAMMOND: Do you want me to give you a dramatic rendition?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: A brief one, if you don't mind. But, yeah, that would be lovely.

Prof. HAMMOND: This is a speech that might be typical of what is Shakespearian in the play. And this is a character called Julio, who is about to meet his betrothed Leonora. And he's a little worried about how Leonora is looking.

He says: I do not see that fervor in the maid, which youth and love should kindle. She can sense, as it were, to feed without an appetite. Tells me she is content, and plays the coy one like those that subtly make their words their ward, keeping address at distance.

That might be the kind of speech that I think has the genuine Shakespearean depth to it.

MONTAGNE: And is it a play that you would enjoy seeing onstage, even with all the overwriting?

Prof. HAMMOND: It's a rattling good yarn. I mean, it is plot-driven. It has a jolly good strong plot with lots of action that will stand up very well to the stage. But, you know, what you lose there is some of the richness, the kind of meditative language in Shakespeare which isn't really moving the plot along, but is providing, you know, such wonderful psychological depth to the characterization.

MONTAGNE: Well, thank you for joining us.

Prof. HAMMOND: It's been my pleasure.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: Brean Hammond is a professor at the University of Nottingham in England, on his discovery of what could be a lost play of Shakespeare called "Double Falsehood."

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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