Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Double Falsehood of Double Falsehood

Here's a terrific article about how that "newly discovered" play by Shakespeare is anything but. I don't think my dear Shakespeare authorship fans are going to like what Ron "Shakespeare Cop" Rosenbaum at Slate has to say about them.

Generally, though, debunking "authorship" obsessives isn't even worth the Shakespeare cop's time. Talk about shooting fish in a barrel. The question is also almost entirely irrelevant. The point is not who wrote Shakespeare (though I'm entirely convinced Shakespeare did) but what Shakespeare wrote, and what is falsely passed off as Shakespearean. The "someone else wrote Shakespeare" types (and those who waste time arguing with them) are sad and pathetic because, frankly, life is short and if one has to choose between rereading King Lear or Othello and arguing about who wrote them, then one's priorities are profoundly misaligned. Any amount of time spent on the latter is subtracted from the former, alas.

What is Shakespeare really about? This is what Shakespeare is really all about:

Of course this is not to say Shakespeare can't write boring or even bad lines. I recently moderated a panel at the Brooklyn Academy of Music featuring the cast of Sam Mendes' production of The Tempest. Because I was hosting the panel, I saw it twice, and it was interesting to see how even good actors couldn't make some of the leaden comedy and words work. It left me thinking again about what made Shakespeare Shakespeare. But then we'd come to one of those great passages in The Tempest: "Full fathom five thy father lies/ and of his bones are coral made" and "like the baseless fabric of this vision/ the cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,/ the solemn temples, the great globe itself./ Yea all which it inherit, shall dissolve/ and like this insubstantial pageant faded/ leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff/ as dreams are made of/ and our little life rounded with a sleep."

Lines like this send jolts of lightning through you.

No effing scheiss.

It's a great article with an air detective story to it as Rosenbaum pulls apart the horrible writing that is being passed off as genuine Shakespeare. Enjoy!

The Double Falsehood of Double Falsehood



  1. This guy Rossebaum is great. Sounds like Arden published DF for the publicity.

  2. According to Arden editor Brean Hammond, quoted in an article posted on the TimesOnline website,* the hand of Shakespeare can be detected in Acts I and II, and at least half of Act III, of DOUBLE FALSEHOOD (DF), as presented by Louis Theobald.

    While Ron Rosenbaum quotes a number of examples in his SLATE article from DF that he maintains sound un-Shakespearean, they all come from Acts IV or V of DF, which were presumably based on the part of the original play that had been written by John Fletcher—at least according to Hammond. Unfortunately for Rosenbaum’s argument, the examples he gives do sound somewhat suspiciously like the work of Fletcher.

    Rosenbaum gives us the example of “Tell me the way to the next nunnery,” which is from Act IV, Scene I, of DF. While it’s true that Shakespeare famously had Hamlet direct Ophelia to “Get thee to a nunnery,” which sounds much more pleasing, Beaumont and Fletcher also used the word “nunnery” at least ten times in their plays. For instance, in THE MAD LOVER, Act IV, Scene II, the character Chilax tells us that “There’s an old nunnery at hand.”

    Rosenbaum also complains about the line “Fair-snouted skittish woman”, again from Act IV, Scene I, of DF, noting that “Theobald’s yucky” phrase “fair-snouted” does not appear in Shakespeare. While this is true, there is a similar passage in Beaumont and Fletcher’s THE COXCOMB, Act IV, Scene III, where a mother, upon hearing that her son was in the company of some gentlewoman, says “Pray God he have not cast away himself Upon some snout-fair piece! I do not like it.”

    Rosenbaum next complains about “broken your complexion”, used in Act IV, Scene I, of DF to show that neither sorrow nor age has ruined a character’s complexion. Beaumont and Fletcher don’t use this particular phrase, but they do have a character in similar circumstances in THE ISLAND PRINCESS, Act II, Scene I, whose “complexion [is] firm still”. Presumably a firm complexion would be the equivalent of an unbroken one.

    The next target for Rosenbaum is the Theobald line “soul-spotted hind”, used in Act IV, Scene II, of DF to describe a vicious master. In midst of the humor, Rosenbaum wonders what “soul-spotted” might mean. Beaumont and Fletcher appear to use “spotted” to mean foul (as in “the pureness of her chaste thoughts entertains not such spotted instruments”, from THE ELDER BROTHER, Act V, Scene II), and they include the phrase “you shotten-soul’d, slight fellows” in WIT WITHOUT MONEY, Act III, Scene IV, when a character upbraids his fellows. So it would appear that “soul-spotted” might mean that the master has a foul soul.

    Rosenbaum next ridicules “hurt my brain,” Act IV, Scene I, of DF, contrasting it to Shakespeare’s “cut to the brains,” but the usage seems closer to Beaumont and Fletcher’s “the largest dose of camphire, opium, harms not his brain”, from Act IV, Scene I, of THE QUEEN OF CORINTH.

    Rosenbaum also frowns at “aught of humane in you, or a soul that's gentle” from Act IV, Scene I, of DF, arguing that it suggests that Theobald suffered from a language learning deficit, but perhaps he would better have compared it to Beaumont and Fletcher’s “Oh let not (as you have any flesh that’s humane in you) the having of a modest wife decline him!” from Act II, Scene VI, of VALENTINIAN.

    Nor does Rosenbaum appear to like “sounds the depths of falsehood”, from Act V, Scene I, of DF, but then, he might not have liked Beaumont and Fletcher’s “Yet something must be done to sound the depth on’t” from Act III, Scene V, of THE CUSTOM OF THE COUNTRY, either.

    Far from proving that DF was a forgery by Theobald, the best Rosenbaum has managed to do is strongly suggest that Acts IV and V were based on an earlier work by John Fletcher. It remains to be seen whether Acts I and II, and parts of Act III, may have been by Shakespeare.


  3. @Clark, I assume that you have directed these concerns to Mr. Rosenbaum?