Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Shakespeare Forgeries

William Henry Confesses

When he confessed to his father, Samuel did not believe him. In his fathers opinion, William Henry was not bright enough to pull off such a stunt. He was slow, dull-witted, and unimaginative. Whoever had written these documents had to be brilliant, and William Henry was far from brilliant. In fact, Samuel maintained, only the genius of Shakespeare himself could have produced them.

Poor William Henry! He had become the great forger to please his father. There was no desire for riches. Even in his unmasking, when he believed that he should have been praised for his abilities to mimic the immortal Bard, the father rejected the son. The fathers greed to possess a part of Shakespeare was greater than his pride in his sons remarkable accomplishments. He had to believe they were real.

Still maintaining the validity of the Shakespeare papers, and shunned by the antiquarian and literary community as the probable forger, Samuel lived on for another five years and died in disgrace. Even with William Henrys admission of guilt, many believed that Samuel must have been involved in this deception. Society could not accept the simple fact that Samuel Ireland was a fool, consumed by the desire to acquire relics of the Bard of Avon.

William Henry lived on, writing various novels, plays, and articles. Despite his fathers low opinion of him, he thought of himself as a genius. Had not a number of learned men accepted his forgeries as written by Shakespeare? Was he not, in effect, a second Shakespeare?

Confessions of William H. Ireland
Confessions of William H. Ireland
All of the details of this massive forgery were revealed in William Henrys Confessions, published in 1821. The 19-year-old who produced the papers that had fooled many was now an unrepentant 45-year old, secure in his own belief that he was simply a son seeking the approval of his father (which he was) and a genius worthy of Shakespeare (which he wasnt).

As an additional disappointment to his father, William Henry never produced the full-length portrait of Shakespeare. That highly desired relic was beyond the skills of the first of the Shakespeare forgers.

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