Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Shakespeare Forgeries

Ireland Goes Overboard

Forged love letter
Forged love letter

With each passing week, William Henry produced more documents. At first, they were like the receipt, rather mundane legal papers of one sort or another. Then, he produced a really startling gift for his father. It was a love letter from William Shakespeare to his wife, Anne Hathaway. As with the other documents, the paper was old, the ink was brown and faded. A small lock of the poets hair accompanied this wondrous discovery.

The only two oddities of this wonderful collection of Shakespeare papers that failed to catch Samuels attention is that no punctuation was used, and that some of the documents had brown spots, as if they had been singed. If he had noticed these aberrations, he might have reconsidered their authenticity.

Samuels house was becoming a shrine to Shakespeare, visited by experts and literary worshippers. How fortunate that Samuels dolt of a son should stumble onto such a treasure. Perhaps he had underestimated the boys worth.

Excitement grew with each new discovery. William Henry announced to his father that a full-length painting of Shakespeare was in the young gentlemans possession, and that shortly he would give it to William Henry, who would in turn present it to Samuel. The young gentleman was now referred to by William Henry as Mr. H. The reclusive Mr. H still wished to remain anonymous, and William Henry told his father that he had given his word not to reveal Mr. Hs identity.

Samuel Irelands desire for more and more Shakespeariana became insatiable.

He pressed his son for the portrait, and for more papers written by the Bard. Soon, William Henry gave his father a will, dated 1611, which clearly demonstrated that Shakespeare had not been a closet Catholic, as many had maintained, but a god-fearing Protestant of wonderful sensibilities. Samuel was delighted to have his high opinion of the sweet and moral nature of his idol confirmed. The array of visitors to the Irelands London home increased.

James Boswell, portrait
James Boswell, portrait

One of these visitors was the renowned James Boswell, biographer of the great wit and scholar Samuel Johnson. Viewing the Shakespeare papers on display at the Ireland home, Boswell knelt in reverence and declared that he could now die a happy man. Along with others, he signed a testament to the authenticity of these discoveries by the young Ireland. He died a few months later, presumably a happy man.

There was more to come, discoveries even more wondrous. William Henry gave his father a hand-written manuscript --- written in Shakespeares hand --- of King Lear. Here, at last, was one of the great pieces of English literature in its original form. Samuel was particularly gratified that much of the lewd matter in the play was not in this original manuscript, clearly demonstrating that actors and managers had been responsible for such reprehensible additions to the play. Shakespeare, as befitted his character imagined by those who worshipped him, had a pure and moral heart.

Vortigern, book title page
Vortigern, book title page

Still, Samuel pressed his son for the full-length portrait. William Henry responded by giving his father another manuscript of a play. However, this script was of a play unknown in the Shakespeare canon. It was entitled Vortigern. Further, William Henry reported there was another undiscovered play script also in Shakespeares hand entitled Henry VII. There seemed to be no end to these treasures. What a miraculous trunk had our Mr. H!

However, there were doubters. Several authorities questioned the authenticity of the Ireland collection. Most damning of all were the suspicions of the great Edmond Malone, the foremost Shakespearean scholar of the day. No matter. Samuel Ireland plunged ahead with his enthusiasm for the documents, and remained convinced that these were the true writings of the Bard.

He was so convinced that he persuaded the leading actor-manager of the day, John Kemble, to produce Vortigern, at no less a prestigious theatre than Covent Garden. Now, once more, the English public would see a Shakespeare play for the first time and reinforce the genius of Englands greatest dramatist.

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