Shakespeare’s Lost Plays


Double FalsehoodShakespeare’s canon, as it is known today, is incomplete. The Bard is known to have written several plays that were not, for various reasons, included in the First Folio printed shortly after his death.

Other plays, several included in the third folio, were attributed to Shakespeare after that publication, but most are known not to have been written by him, and have since been rejected (called the Shakespeare Apocrypha).

Some, like Pericles, have be given grudging acceptance in the modern canon. Many modern scholars accept Pericles as a collaboration between Shakespeare and a lesser talent (George Wilkins is suggested), but some are willing to accept it as entirely by Shakespeare’s hand.

Other texts have crept into the canon as scholars assess and reassess contemporary works. Two Noble Kinsmen is now accorded a place in most collections as a collaboration between Shakespeare and John Fletcher. Edward III, published anonymously in 1596, has won considerable support as an early Shakespearean history, and appears in many modern collections.

Edmund IronsideAnd still others remain contentious. Eric Sams argued well (at least I thought so) for Edmund Ironside as an early Shakespearean history, and his book about the play created a small tempest in academia. Sams’ claim was rejected by some scholars simply because he was not a Shakespeare academic, but rather a talented musicologist.

You can read an analysis of the play and Sams’ claims for authorship here, (a good overview, although the writer incorrectly assumes Shakespeare was really Edward de Vere).

Two plays that were mentioned by Shakespeare’s contemporaries (including a list of Elizabethan plays and poems collated by Francis Meres and published in 1598) as having been published or performed during the Bard’s lifetime: Love’s Labour Won and Cardenio.

Love’s Labour Won, included in Meres’ list, might have an alternate title for another play, although which one has been hotly debated without resolution. It may simply be lost, for now. You can read several interesting discussions about the lost play and other related topics on

The History of Cardenio, a play based on a character in Cervantes’ novel, Don Quixote (or properly, The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha), was, according to Wikipedia, performed by The King’s Men in 1613 (but not attributed to any author). It was later attributed to William Shakespeare and John Fletcher in a Stationers’ Register entry of 1653 (Fletcher collaborated with Shakespeare in at least Henry VIII and Two Noble Kinsmen, and perhaps others). But the play was not included in the First Folio, and a convincing copy that academics accept as the original has never resurfaced.

In 1728, a play titled “Double Falsehood” was published after it was performed in London. It was written by Lewis Theobald, claiming to have been based on three original manuscripts of Shakespeare’s Cardenio. Ever since its appearance, there has been a sometimes acrimonious debate between scholars as to whether this was a mere forgery or an actual edited version of the original. In 2010, Arden made the controversial decision to include Double Falsehood in its latest series of plays by Shakespeare (along with Sir Thomas More, another mysterious play).

Arden’s General Editor, Professor Richard Proudfoot, said of the decision that,

“The Arden Shakespeare Third Series has chosen to include collaborative plays from outside the 1623 canon and the inclusion of Double Falsehood is our most controversial decision.
“That it represents in some form the otherwise lost play of Cardenio is a sufficiently sustainable position to recommend publication of Lewis Theobald’s avowedly thorough 18th-century adaptation, thus making it accessible for the first time in 250 years.”

Friday, I got my copy of the Arden edition from Amazon, and will start reading it next week. I am most interested in reading the critical notes and lengthy introduction – Arden is known for excellent critical commentary in its publications (although its single-volume Collected Works dispenses with this otherwise important material, making that work of lesser value  to readers looking for scholarly content).

Hamilton's CardenioIt’s not the only copy on my bookshelf of a play claiming to be Cardenio. In 1990, handwriting analyst Charles Hamilton attributed the anonymous play, “The Second Maiden’s Tragedy” to Shakespeare, and argued (unconvincingly to me) that the play was the lost Cardenio, but with some of the characters’ names changed. That claim has generally been rejected by scholars. Nonetheless, the play (a rather bloody effort, like Titus Andronicus, with numerous slayings) gained a new lease on life when Hamilton’s claim was published, when several smaller acting companies performed it under Shakespeare’s name.

The other title included in the recent Arden Third Series is Sir Thomas More, parts of which are believed to have been written by Shakespeare, and three pages of the original manuscript in his own hand. On thehamletweblog, it noted,

The Arden Shakespeare’s rattling of the canonical cage continues with this enthralling publication of Sir Thomas More, the collaborative play for which only a few passages have critically been attributed to the bard and because of which, thanks to its extant manuscript at the British Library, we’re apparently able to see Shakespeare’s handwriting. Editor John Jowett offers sound reasoning for the imprint’s inclusion of what was for quite some time considered to be Apocrypha.

So, at least for Arden, the canon is somewhat larger today. Not every publisher has followed Arden’s lead, but it’s good to see that academia is still actively debating the questions of authorship (aside from the canard about de Vere).

I have not yet purchased Arden’s edition of Sir Thomas More, although I have a copy of the play within my Oxford Collected Works. I’ll save that for another day, once I’m finished reading Double Falsehood.

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