Lewis Theobald was dismissed as a hack in the 18th century when he published Double Falsehood and claimed that it was an adaptation of a lost Shakespeare original. Now, some Shakespeare scholars believe that he was telling the truth all along:
”There is definitely Shakespearean DNA,” said English literature professor Brean Hammond, who has worked since 2002 to determine if ”Double Falsehood” has Shakespearean roots. Arden Shakespeare, an authoritative publisher of the Bard’s works, has released an edition of the play edited by Hammond — a decision the publisher acknowledges is controversial.
Arden’s general editor, Shakespeare scholar Richard Proudfoot, agrees with Hammond and says there is no absolute way of knowing if ”Double Falsehood” is based on Shakespeare’s work, but he argues it is a ”sufficiently sustainable position” that it represents the play in some form.
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”My position is one of fairly confident — but cautious — acceptance,” he said.
Apparently, there is strong evidence that Shakespeare did indeed co-author the play Cardenio (based on the character from Cervantes’ Don Quixote) late in his life; there are records that the actors in the King’s Men troupe were paid for staging it. Hammond argues that there are also strong parallels between Shakespeare’s known works and Double Falsehood — in things like spelling, imagery, and syntax — but skeptics say it’s still no magic bullet:
Scholars are keen to find another Shakespearean play, [Prof. Tiffany Stern of Oxford] said, and so want to believe that ”Double Falsehood” is that work.
”You can put forward a real argument to say it’s a fraud,” Stern said, ”and you can put forward a real argument to say there’s a play in there somewhere.”
Those interested in a work that potentially has the bones of a possible play that was partially written by Shakespeare can check out Arden’s latest publication and decide for themselves.
Of course, everyone knows that these things were always a bit of a collaborative process: