'Lost play' said to be work of Shakespeare


FOR ALMOST three centuries it has remained unloved and little noticed, but Double Falsehood, a play of rape, intrigue and spying based on Don Quixote, has finally been judged to be the work of William Shakespeare.

This follows the decision of the Shakespearean bible Ardento include it in the canon of the English poet and playwright’s works.

Acknowledging that the decision would be controversial, Arden yesterday published a new edition – the first for 250 years – of Double Falsehoodor the Distressed Lovers, with historical research and a line-by-line examination of the script by University of Nottingham academic, Prof Brean Hammond. The work is not solely Shakespeare’s, concluded Prof Hammond, who said the playwright in his last years was working alongside John Fletcher, who helped to write it.

“It was a kind of youth policy,” he said, adding that Fletcher had a role in two other works long accepted as being Shakespeare’s, Henry VIIIand Two Noble Kinsmen.

The Bard, he believed, wrote the first and second acts of Double Falsehood, which was named Cardenioby him, and parts of the third, before his younger assistant took over. The work was twice presented on stage in 1613, shortly after it was written. However, it then languished for more than a century until it was revived by author and editor Lewis Theobald.

Theobald produced what he called Shakespeare’s “lost play”, which led to accusations of forgery by Alexander Pope, among others. But Theobald’s claims were found after his death to carry weight when a reference to the play and Shakespeare’s connection with it was found in the Stationers’ Register, which recorded creative works of the time.

“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,” Prof Hammond said yesterday.

Arden’s general editor, Prof Richard Proudfoot, said the decision to include collaborative plays in the Shakespearean canon – even though they were the norm during Shakespeare’s time – will not please all.

“[It] 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 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.”