An Interview with Arden Editor, Brean Hammond

Can you talk about the history of the lost play, Cardenio, and how you and other scholars arrived at the general consensus that Double Falsehood is a version of the play? What do we know historically about this lost play? When was it written? How do we know it was lost? And where does Cardenio sit in terms of the timeline of Shakespeare’s other collaborations with John Fletcher?

We know that there was a play called Cardenio written by Shakespeare and Fletcher and performed in the theatrical season of 1612–1613. We know that because there are two entries in the king’s treasurer’s payments made to the actors who performed in the play. Those entries are May and July 1613 and called Cardenio and Cardenia, and give us the clue that Cardenio is a version of the Cardenial story as told by Cervantes in Don Quixote. Now why we think Double Falsehood is probably a version of that lost play? There are a series of different threads of evidence that you have to put together to mount a convincing case. There is qualitative evidence and quantitative evidence. Let me explain that a bit further. Qualitative evidence would be for example parallel passages, echoes of Shakespeare’s and Fletcher’s other plays, imagery which might be popular with both of these writers, items of vocabulary that obviously predate the era of Double Falsehood, this is what you might call the glamorous activity of language. But we also have quantitative evidence which hasmore to do with statistical testing and taking elements of language that are far from glamorous. And here we think about items like “has” and “have” and items like “‘em” and “them.” We can colloquiate this patterning with the use of small insignificant words in Shakespeare and Fletcher and in Theobald. The point here is that we are dealing with items of language which are below the radar of a forger, andthat are built into language to such a degree that it wouldn’t be convincing to argue that someone could consciously forge them, particularly not in the 18th Century, long before they were looking for such things. What I’m saying is that in order to mount a convincing case for Double Falsehood carrying Shakespeare’s DNA, or if you like, encoding the memories of this older play, you have to combine external evidence with these two different types of internal evidence and provide what seems to most scholars a reasonable convincing account. You won’t get one hundred percent certainty, and you won’t get a smoking gun, but you’re going get something that convinces the majority of people.

How did the play become lost?

To answer simply: because no manuscript or printed copies of it appear to have survived. There are many plays from Shakespeare’s period that we know existed because they’re referred to in various documents, but there is no literary property corresponding to them. What happened with Cardenio is that the play seems to have gone to ground. It wasn’t collected by Hemmings and put into the first folio of 1623. Pericles & Two Noble Kinsmen also weren’t around when the first folio editors were putting together Shakespeare’s work, and those plays didn’t surface until sometime after Shakespeare’s death when we hear of their accounts in the stationer’s register. So when you ask ‘how did it become lost’ well there are lots of reasons for plays being lost in this period. There just wasn’t the same kind of desire to publish plays like there is now.

You said it was originally performed around 1612 or 1613. When would it have been written?

Cardenio was written between 1612 and 1613 and would have been the first of three collaborations between Shakespeare and Fletcher. We know that Henry VIII was performed on the 29th of June 1613, because that was the performance where the Globe theatre burned down due to a misfired cannonball effect. And we think that Two Noble Kinsmen was written between 1613 and 1614, which would have made that the third collaboration.

Please tell me about Theobald’s adaptation and the controversy surrounding it? I know there were issues with Alexander Pope. I’d be curious to hear a little bit about that.

Certainly. Louis Theobald was a lawyer by trade, though he didn’t practice law much. He was ambitious from a fairly early age to be a professional writer. Louis Theobald was the first author of what we call now pantomimes, though they looked a bit different then from what they are now. He was making a large amount of money writing essentially populist works for the theatre,, but he also had a very strong ambition to be a Shakespeare scholar. He had been interested in Shakespeare since his very early youth. In 1725 Alexander Pope published his edition of Shakespeare. Louis Theobald, who was a much better scholar than Pope, immediately saw that his edition was full of faults and problems so in 1726 he published a book called Shakespeare Restored—a rather ominous title—which was an extended review of Pope ’s Hamlet. It ran something like two hundred pages of closely printed type and it simply hammered Pope’s edition. It showed that Pope was a slipshod, relatively ignorant editor of Shakespeare who really didn’t know the period. He might have been a great poet, he was a great poet, but as a scholar he was really in the lower echelon. Now, Pope was a man who did not take things lying down and if you attacked him, as viciously as Theobald did in Shakespeare Restored, you could expect trouble. Theobald got trouble at the end of the following year when in 1727 he launched upon an unsuspecting public his production of Double Falsehood at Drury Lane. Theobald was claiming to have found a lost play by Shakespeare that nobody had previously known about. You could imagine what a coup this would be for someone who was planning to be the next great editor of Shakespeare. Theobald was essentially saying he was producing a play by the immortal bard that nobody had ever seen or heard of, and which was not in Alexander Pope’s edition. Pope was probably shocked down to the roots of his hair and decided from the very start that it was bogus and that he was going to expose it as a forgery. Between 1728 and 1729, Pope produced a very long mock epic poem called The Dunciad, his version of the Iliad with dunces in it rather than heroes. And the king of the dunces was none other than Louis Theobald. Essentially Pope’s involvement was to say Double Falsehood is a ridiculous play and nobody in their right mind would take it to be by Shakespeare. It has to be said though that some years later Alexander Pope pretty much recanted in a letter to his friend Erin Hill by admitting that the play, in his opinion, was actually a renaissance play, though he didn’t admit that it was penned by Shakespeare.

How did Theobald acquire this lost Shakespeare play?

That really is a mystery. Theobald has written a preface to the play and in it he claims that he has acquired three different manuscripts of it. He goes on to describe one of them in specific detail. One of them he says is in the handwriting of a prompter who lived in the 1660’s. He’s not saying it’s a handwritten play by Shakespeare, lets be clear about that. He’s saying it’s in the hand of a theatrical prompter who was preparing it for production in the 1660’s. The other two manuscripts he doesn’t really describe at all. He simply says that he bought them at considerable expense, but we don’t know from whom he purchased them.

And those manuscripts are gone?

The manuscripts—again according to the story told by me in the edition—were in the theatre museum in Covent Garden, but that theatre museum burnt down in the year 1808. It’s likely that if those manuscripts did exist, they met their fate in the Covent Garden fire.

It seems easier for scholars to identify actual lines written by Fletcher than to point to any line and say this is definitely Shakespeare. Do you find this to be true? You spoke a little in your first answer about minor words, about how you are able to do detective work from them to determine whether it’s Fletcher vs. Shakespeare. Is it also a result of Theobald’s adaptation, and/or Shakespeare’s sophisticated period of writing?

The adaptation process has taken out a lot of the Shakespearean linesand left us with a lot of the Fletcher. When 17th and 18th Century theatrical people adapt Shakespeare, they really mess about with him to the extent that would really alarm anybody in the present day. These kinds of Shakespearean adaptations look like butcheries to modern admirers of Shakespeare. For example, there is a 17th Century adaptation of Two Noble Kinsmen called The Rivals, in which a very large amount of the Shakespeare text is cut out, but a lot of the Fletcher survives. This is because Fletcher tends to get on with telling the story, while Shakespeare tends to write meditative, imagistic, sickly metaphorically, dense passages that “gets in the way” of telling the story. These, of course, are the aspects of Shakespeare that we all admire and love, but this was not so in the 17th Century. So, if there had been an adaptation of Cardenio in the 17th Century as I’ve argued there was, it would have taken quite a lot of the Shakespeare text out. Then, when you put Louis Theobald into the picture as yet another adapter in the 18th Century, you perhaps find even more of Shakespeare being sacrificed. To come onto the second part of your question, yes Fletcher is much easier to identify than Shakespeare because Fletcher has various stylistic ticks. The way he uses adverbs, certain kinds of phrases that he’s addicted to using, particular words that Fletcher comes back to again and again and again. A lot of that material is there in Double Falsehood. So Fletcher’s hand in it, I think, is relatively easy to identify. Shakespeare has never been so easy to identify and even in plays like Two Noble Kinsmen where more of the Shakespeare survives, the editor of Two Noble Kinsmen in the Arden series makes the point that it’s much easier to identify the Fletcher than to identify the Shakespeare.

When you and your peers state that Acts 1-3 are probably Shakespeare and Acts 4-5 are most probably Fletcher, how is it you arrive at this conclusion? I know you have touched upon this already but what are the different tools that you use and does this also include scientific analysis? How do you come to those terms?

One I’ve already mentioned: the word “hath” is a word that Shakespeare used while the word “has” is a word used by Fletcher. Fletcher was of a younger generation and the word “has” was a modern word that was just coming into use. Shakespeare was using a more old fashioned form of the verb “to have”. Now, if Shakespeare had written most of the first part of the play and Fletcher the second part you’d expect “hath” in the first half and “has” in the second half, and that is precisely what you get. Statistical analysis shows that the first half of the play is “hath” prone and that the second half is “has” prone. That’s just one example. There are several other small features of Shakespeare’s style against Fletcher’s that work in a similar sort of way. The other thing that we examine are feminine endings. If you analyze the proportion of polysyllables and feminine endings you can come to some conclusions about how those match up with Shakespeare and Fletcher’s usage. These would be examples of the kinds of test that would separate, as it were, preponderant Shakespeare from preponderant Fletcher. The whole thing is a real challenge for computer-assisted analysis (stylometric analysis). It isn’t easy to do with this play but the tests that have been done by people who are experts in this field are supportive of the case that there are three hands: Shakespeare’s, Fletcher’s, and Theobald’s in the play Double Falsehood.

And that Shakespeare was Acts 1, 2, and 3 and Fletcher was 4 and 5?

Yes, and we see more of Shakespeare in the first half of the play and more of Fletcher in the second half.

There is a strong critical consensus that your work on Double Falsehood is a redacted version of Cardenio. And certainly laypeople in England seem to celebrate it. In America, especially non-Shakespearean scholars, experts seem to side with Pope. Do you have any insight or thoughts on why Americans are having a hard time accepting Double Falsehood as a version of Cardenio?

I would say that yes the majority of English Shakespeare scholars are convinced and the majority of the public are very keen to see this project have fair wind. They’re excited by the idea and of course Shakespeare is our national property. So the idea of Shakespeare expanding does excite people here in Britain. In America you guys seem to not like the wool being pulled over your eyes. You take the Philip Marlowe approach: show me the evidence. I think there is an American commonsensical tradition which is empirical. There is a very strong skepticism which is very healthy. I saw it for example in one of the reviews that I got from Ron Rosenbaum who is a self-styled Shakespeare cop. This is precisely the Philip Marlowe dimension that I’m talking about, and he’s very much a kind of customs officer who is prepared to let some things get through and give the red light to other things. What I noticed about the review for Double Falsehood was that he never actually looked at the arguments, he was working very much off his own hunch of what Shakespeare was or wasn’t. My own feeling is that in America there isn’t the same desire to expand Shakespeare, instead there is this very strong commonsensical, skeptical, you won’t fool me tradition, which is what might be operating here. I think by and large the American scholarly community, and specifically Shakespearean scholars, are pretty much as convinced as the British ones. I would imagine it goes about 80/20 in the scholarly community here, but that the public—as you rightly say—are more skeptical about it. We’ll see…