Clearly the words of the Immortal Bard

“I ha reade thys Booke ande doe fynde fromme same howe cruelle bee the Spanyardes. Tis strange howe differente bee the myndes modes ande mannerres o menne. Wm Shakspeare.”If this inscription were genuine, it would easily be the most valuable item in the collection. It is, however, the work of the notorious 18th century forger, William Henry Ireland. Ireland began his career as a forger to win favor from his father Samuel, a passionate collector of Shakespeariana. When his first efforts were delightedly accepted by Samuel as genuine, William (despite his nearly nonexistent knowledge of Elizabethan orthography and handwriting) became bolder, forging legal documents, letters, manuscripts of existing plays, and finally an entire new play, Vortigern. Distinguished visitors flocked to the Irelands’ London home in 1795, among them James Boswell, who was greatly moved by his encounter with the spurious documents. William writes in his Confessions that James Boswell knelt before them and exclaimed “I now kiss the invaluable relics of our bard, and thanks to God that I have lived to see them!”

Wider circulation of Ireland’s forgeries hastened their inevitable exposure. The first and only performance of Vortigern in April 1796 was hooted off the stage at Drury Lane, and the credibility of the documents was destroyed by the publication of Edmond Malone’s masterful An inquiry into the authenticity of certain miscellaneous papers. Samuel died shortly thereafter, and William’s subsequent attempts at achieving a legitimate literary career were largely unsuccessful. Frequently in debt, he was often reduced to producing new Shakespeare forgeries to sell as souvenirs of the scandal, which may be the origin of the present work.

Published in:John Overholt |on February 24th, 2006 |Comments Off on Clearly the words of the Immortal Bard

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