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The Boy Who Would Be Shakespeare: A Tale of Forgery and Follyby Doug Stewart
Synopses & Reviews
In the winter of 1795, a frustrated young writer named William Henry Ireland stood petrified in his fatherand#8217;s study as two of Englandand#8217;s most esteemed scholars interrogated him about a tattered piece of paper that he claimed to have found in an old trunk. It was a note from William Shakespeare. Or was it?
In the months that followed, Ireland produced a torrent of Shakespearean fabrications: letters, poetry, drawingsand#151;even an original full-length play that would be hailed as the Bardand#8217;s lost masterpiece and staged at the Drury Lane Theatre. The documents were forensically implausible, but the people who inspected them ached to see first hand what had flowed from Shakespeareand#8217;s quill. And so they did.
This dramatic and improbable story of Shakespeareand#8217;s teenaged double takes us to eighteenth century London and brings us face-to-face with historyand#8217;s most audacious forger.
"William Henry Ireland was an unassuming law clerk in Georgian England when he seemingly stumbled on the greatest literary find of his generation-a chest of documents in the home of an unnamed patron, full of Shakespeare's receipts, private letters, and a draft of an unpublished play. This find brought fame and notoriety to Ireland and his father, Samuel, a collector with a low opinion of his son. Soon, however, that fame turned to ignominy when it is was revealed that Ireland's Shakespearean trove was entirely fabricated; perhaps even more tragic was Samuel's unwillingness to believe his son had the talent to execute the forgery. Stewart's exhaustively researched examination of the Irelands' rise and fall is as entertaining as it is informative; modern readers, accustomed to Shakespeare's place of reverence, will be surprised to learn how ignorant Georgian England was of his work. Where Stewart's research truly shines is in accessing Ireland's human motivations-his desire for approval and artistic legitimacy, not profit, distinguishes him from other cons, making him neither wholly despicable nor pitiable. History and literary enthusiasts will be delighted with this smart investigation into a high-minded hoax." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Book News Annotation:
Stewart, a freelance journalist who writes about history and the arts, tells the story of the falsification of documents by a 19-year old British clerk, William-Henry Ireland, in 1795, who tried to pass them off as Shakespeare's in an attempt to impress his father. Since nothing survived in Shakespeare's own hand, he was able to produce letters, deeds, poetry, drawings, and a play that he claimed were Shakespeare's, which was staged in 1796. Stewart describes Ireland's family and life, his father's obsession with collecting antiquities, the cult of Shakespeare that existed at the time, publication of the papers, the inquiry into the forgeries, and his confession. A few facsimiles of the forgeries are included. Annotation ©2010 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
The true story of how a quiet, unremarkable, nineteen-year-old clerk almost pulled off the greatest literary hoax of all time
About the Author
Doug Stewart frequently writes about history and the arts for Smithsonian magazine. A freelance journalist, his articles have also appeared in Time, Discover, and Readerand#8217;s Digest. He lives in Ipswich, Massachusetts.
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Arts and Entertainment » Drama » Shakespeare » Criticism