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|Review of Arden Double Falsehood|
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0204 Monday, 24 May 2010
 From: Larry Weiss <
 From: Justin Alexander <
I agree with a lot in Ron Rosenbaum's piece, but it would have been more informative to his lay audience -- not to mention fairer to Arden and its editor -- to have given at least a bit of the history of the play other than merely to refer to Theobald as a "hack dramatist" without mentioning his editorial credentials. Not a word about the possible connection of Double Falsehood with Cardenio. The Shakespeare Cop should be a little bit more thorough.
This response on Slate makes the same point:
It is also a bit unfair to equate this issue with the Funeral Elegy fiasco, in which Rosenbaum was not entirely alone in rejecting the attribution, despite the Horatius-like stance he assumes. There is something about Ron's repeated reference to that incident which remind me of Captain Queeg and the missing larder key.
Nor does the Arden publication of Double Falsehood legitimatize the "authorship question." If Rosenbaum wants to enter that fray -- and, as I pointed out in my Shakespeare Newsletter review, he wisely avoided doing so in "The Shakespeare Wars" -- he will probably begin by reviewing Jim Shapiro's recent book. I hope he does; it will be fun to watch.
Ron Rosenbaum wrote:
> List members might be interested in my skeptical take on the Arden
I've recently been studying Double Falsehood because we'll be including a reading of it in the Complete Readings of William Shakespeare this summer. Not because we think it particularly likely that Shakespeare had a hand in the script, but because we're including a healthy selection from the apocrypha in the reading series. (Just yesterday we finished our reading of Second Maiden's Tragedy, the "other Cardenio".)
But I am somewhat skeptical of the lack of scholastic rigor to be found in some sort of line-by-line "this isn't by Shakespeare, so there must not be any Shakespeare in here" approach to the text. Even if we accept that (a) there was a Cardenio play written by Shakespeare and Fletcher and (b) that everything Theobald said was completely true, that still leaves at least two other authorial hands mucking about in there. Even if the work were evenly divided, that would still only leave us with a one-third chance that any particular line or section was by Shakespeare. That leaves a rather wide field to find examples of "this isn't by Shakespeare" that would tell us absolutely nothing about whether or not there's any Shakespeare to be found in here.
There's also the inevitable temptation in such an approach to take any common line and then compare it to the best of Shakespeare. Shakespeare obviously has a high level of quality, but that doesn't mean that every word he ever wrote is a quotable masterpiece.
For example, "Don't you love 'And, opportune,' a hearse passed by? Opportune, indeed. Has anything more clumsy been done in the name of Shakespeare, who was so masterful at masking the fluidity of plot manipulation?"
Well, yes, actually, "Exit, pursued by a bear" comes to mind. Or, perhaps even more appropriately, there's the ending of Comedy of Errors: Antipholus and Dromio of Syracusa, pursued by the equivalent of an angry mob, are in desperate need of sanctuary when a priory conveniently appears in front of them: "Run, master, run; for God's sake take a house. / This is some priory, in, or we are spoil'd." A priory, which one might, is run by an abbess who turns out to be Antipholus' long-lost mother and is situated immediately before the execution grounds where Antipholus' long-lost father is scheduled to be executed.
One could easily respond that such a passage of transparent plot manipulation was being played deliberately for comic effect. But it could be just as easily answered that two men disguising themselves as monks to sneak into a nunnery can similarly be played for comic effect. And it is just this sort of low comic effect which was frequently written out of Shakespeare's plays or glossed over by 18th century revisers like Theobald, which would neatly explain any apparent awkwardness in this passage.
Which is not to say that, therefore, Double Falsehood should be accepted as Shakespearean. I'm merely pointing out that arguments like these don't actually amount to anything.
On the other hand, from a purely personal perception, I can hardly deny the effect that a "totality of experience" has on my own opinion of a play. Having worked on a dozen Shakespearean texts in close succession as part of the Complete Readings of William Shakespeare, there was a palpable "gear-shift" when it came time to work on Second Maiden's Tragedy. In performance, there was simply an un-Shakespearean feel to the ebb and flow of the play.
In contrast, when we did Edward III we all came away with the distinct feeling that we had just performed a Shakespearean text. Rough and crude, perhaps, in some of its parts (as befitting one of his early plays), but nonetheless language and plot which both flowed like Shakespeare. I don't expect anyone else to be convinced by such an impression, but in combination with the thorough (if not necessarily slam-dunk) scholastic work surrounding Edward III, I know that I'd place my cold, hard cash on Shakespeare. (And I wouldn't put money on Shakespeare's authorship of Second Maiden's Tragedy if my life depended on it.)
It will be interesting to see what my gut tells me about Double Falsehood once we put it in front of an audience.
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