Wednesday, October 24th, 2012...9:30 am

W.H. Ireland’s Original Shakespeare Forgeries Identified

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Portrait of Shakespeare on vellum. MS Hyde 60 v.5.As the Curator of the Hyde Collection, I’m very pleased that the distinguished antiquarian bookseller Arthur Freeman has shared with us an exciting discovery about the significance of an item in the collection. The Shakespeare forgeries of William Henry Ireland have long intrigued scholars and captured the public imagination. But Ireland’s practice later in life of recreating his forgeries to sell to collectors has made studying them a particular challenge: what do you do when a forger forges himself?

That’s what makes it especially exciting that Arthur Freeman has managed to trace three volumes of forgeries, originally bound up by William Henry’s father Samuel, who never wavered in his belief in their genuineness, through a series of auction records and private libraries, until they were purchased by the Hydes in 1952. These manuscripts are, so to speak, the genuine forgeries, and the point from which any study of Ireland must begin. The volumes (MS Hyde 60, v. 5-7) include manuscripts of “Kynge Leare” and “Hamblette” as well as that of Ireland’s own pseudo-Shakespearean composition, Vortigern.

Forgery of Shakespeare's King Lear by William Henry Ireland. MS Hyde 60 v. 5.

Arthur is announcing his discovery in an abbreviated form in the Times Literary Supplement this week, but he has kindly supplied us with the complete essay on the history of these manuscripts:
William Henry Ireland’s ‘Authentic Original Forgeries’: An Overdue Rediscovery.

Forged letter from Elizabeth I by William Henry Ireland. MS Hyde 60 v. 5.

[John Overholt, Curator of the Donald and Mary Hyde Collection of Samuel Johnson and Early Modern Books and Manuscripts, contributed this post.]

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