Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Shakespeare Forgeries


The cases of William Henry Ireland and John Payne Collier can be found in most recent biographies of William Shakespeare.

The best general discussion of the Shakespeare forgeries can be found in Samuel Schoenbaums Shakespeares Lives (1991). Both cases are discussed with reference to primary documents, and are framed beautifully within each mans era.

The judgment against William Henry Ireland is so clear that it seems surprising that he would be the subject of an entire book. Nonetheless, Bernard Grebanier (1966) has written a fascinating account of the Irelands that delves into the psychology of the forger and those he deceived. Many of the quotations in the first section of this article are taken directly from Grebaniers reproduction of important sections of William Henrys Confessions.

John Payne Collier has not only a biographer, but a champion in Dewey Ganzel, whose book Fortune and Mens Eyes (1982) is a serious attempt to exonerate Collier from the charge of forgery. He makes a compelling case for Colliers innocence, but his arguments require such a great degree of conspiracy amongst those who sought to frame Collier for the crime that his defense is difficult to accept.

Perhaps the most interesting book about the Shakespeare forgeries is In Search of Shakespeare, by the noted manuscript authority Charles Hamilton. While only a small portion of his book deals with the forgeries, it is a fascinating analysis of Shakespeares handwriting. Hamilton claims that there are more than the six signatures of Shakespeare and the three disputed holographic pages of the Thomas More play. Using his considerable powers as a handwriting analyst, he presents a convincing case that Shakespeares will was written in his own hand. Other documents, annotations in books, and assorted pages of writing are also in Shakespeares hand, according to Hamilton.

One is swept away with the evidence, until Hamilton proposes the novel theory that the shakiness of Shakespeares writing in his will is the result of his being poisoned by his son-in-law, Thomas Quiney. Few scholars who have written on these matters since Hamiltons book was published in 1985 agree with him. However, his discussions of Ireland and Collier are quite interesting, and there is no doubt that his knowledge of handwriting and forgeries establishes the guilt of both men. He adds John Jordan to his list of forgers, although Jordan was so inept a forger that he becomes incidental to the history of Shakespeare forgeries.


Adams, Joseph Quincy. 1923. A Life of William Shakespeare. Little, Brown.

Ganzel, Dewey. 1982. Fortune and Mens Eyes: The Career of John Payne Collier. Oxford University Press.

Grebanier, Bernard. 1966. The Great Shakespeare Forgery. Heinemann.

Hamilton, Charles. 1985. In Search of Shakespeare. Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich.

Holden, Anthony. 1999. William Shakespeare: The Man Behind the Genius. Little, Brown.

Lee, Sidney. 1898. A Life of William Shakespeare. Smith, Elder & Co.

Rowse, A.L. 1963. William Shakespeare. Harper & Row.

Schoenbaum, S. 1991. Shakespeares Lives. Oxford University Press.

Wilson, Ian. 1999. Shakespeare: The Evidence. St. Martins Griffin.

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