Thursday, December 21, 2023

Book Note: Double Falsehood: Or, The Distressed Lovers

Double Falsehood: Or, The Distressed Lovers
. [By Lewis Theobald at the very least.] Ed. Brean Hammond. London: Arden Shakespeare, 2010.

After reading the Arden edition of Arden of Faversham, a play written early in Shakespeare's career with some possible Shakespeare connections (for which, q.v.), I thought it time to give a try to the Arden edition of Double Falsehood, a play that might have some connections to the late part of Shakespeare's career.

By way of overview, Double Falsehood was a play produced in 1727 by Lewis Theobald, one of the famous earlier editors of Shakespeare.  A year later, Theobald printed the play. Theobald said he had three separate manuscripts of a play by Shakespeare on which he based his play. Note that this doesn't mean that any of them were in Shakespeare's hand; "manuscript" just means hand-written rather than printed. The manuscripts are no longer extant. 

The long and short of my take is that the Arden edition of Double Falsehood is, with some qualifications, a marvelously scholarly edition of a simply dreadful play.

While reading through Brean Hammond's lengthy introduction and apparatus, which runs almost forty pages longer than the text of the play it introduces, I was struck by how nearly every point had a direct or indirect connection to the possibility of Shakespeare's authorship of the play. What echos of Shakespeare can we find in Double Falsehood?  Was Theobald a forger or deluded or deceived or genuine? What did Shakespeare know and when did he know it? And so on and on and on.

I know it doesn't sound like me, but I started wanted less about Shakespeare and more about the play itself.

And then I read the play itself—or re-read, really. I had read it once before, many years ago, in a different edition, had not thought much of it, and hadn't done any more with it. On this reading, I realized just how dull and uninspiring it is. The introduction talks about connections to Shakespeare because there's not much to say about the play itself.

What the edition has to say is mostly scholarly and interesting. By way of example, here are the first few pages. Showing them to you will provide the added benefit of a better and deeper introduction to the play and its questions than I can give.

That should catch us all up pretty well. Serious questions about the three manuscripts call the authenticity of the play we have into question; nonetheless, many scholars think that Theobald's Double Falsehood is a version of an original play written by William Shakespeare in collaboration with John Fletcher.

It's also generally accepted the The Two Noble Kinsmen is a collaborative effort by Shakespeare and Fletcher. That play was itself adapted by William Davenant in 1664 under the title The Rivals. And, as my Grandmother Jones used to day, I told you that to tell you this. That's where this edition makes a strange and irrelevant turn. The argument is that, with The Two Noble Kinsmen, we have the source material (Geoffrey Chaucer's Knight's Tale), the Shakespeare / Fletcher collaboration (The Two Noble Kinsmen), and a restoration adaptation (Davenant's Rivals):

We have, the Arden edition argues, a parallel with Double Falsehood:

Three of three steps are available when we think about The Two Noble Kinsmen; only two of three are available in the consideration of Double Falsehood. Yet we can (runs this edition's argument) use the relationship between The Knight's Tale,  The Two Noble Kinsmen, and The Rivals to speculate about the relationship between Don Quixote, Cardenio, and Double Falsehood.

Not to put too fine a point on it, that seems like nonsense. Imagine that we did not have any of the texts of Hamlet. We know its source, and we know an adaptation of the play. Can we determine anything about the missing play based on those points?

I know that my chart has even fewer points of comparison than that proposed by the Arden edition. But the analogy still seems neither relevant nor useful. But it does show the way this edition is grasping at any possible straw to try to find something Shakespearean in Theobald's play. Fortunately, the introduction doesn't spend too much time on that point.

The play itself doesn't have much to recommend it, but there are still some points of interest. Early in the play, the villainous Henriquez sets out to woo the non-aristocratic Violante. His speeches capture the character of the infatuated quite well:

Note, though, the note to I.iii.27.s.d.  The twice-repeated "Hmmmmm" there shows my skepticism in an attempt to find something Romeo and Juliet-ey hear.

When the villainous Henriquez next enters, he's worried that he has raped Violante. Setting aside that there is nothing to prepare the audience for any such action, it's interesting that Henriquez tries to argue that it wasn't rape—even though he admits that "she did not consent" (II.i.37–38) and that "she did resist" (II.i.38):

I would have liked more about that in the introduction—together with some commentary on the shifts from verse to prose and back again. It's rare for a character in Shakespeare to shift in mid-speech. Could this shift (one among many) be indicative of a distinction between Theobald and his source material?

Of equal interest are Violante's speeches after the rape:

A great weight of tragedy is encapsulated in those few brief lines.

Double Falsehood is not a very successful play, but there's a fair amount of interest in its Arden edition.

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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Book Note: Arden of Faversham

Arden of Faversham
. Ed. Martin White. The New Mermaids. London: A & C Black, 1982.
Arden of Faversham. Ed. Catherine Richardson. Arden Early Modern Drama. London: The Arden Shakespeare, 2022.

Arden of Faversham is the True Crime Drama of the English Renaissance. Based on the story in Holinshed's Chronicles (supplemented by various ballads, stories, and tales), we learn how Alice Arden and her lover Mosby (and some hired murderers and other interested parties) Murder Thomas Arden, Alice's husband. 

The play is fascinating in the way it deals with the plotting of the crime and its eventual fruition. Many failed attempts are made on Arden's life, including those by the comic hit men Black Will and Shakebag. 

I read the play a few times when I was in graduate school, but I hadn't revisited it for years. But then the Arden Shakespeare put out a new edition, and I couldn't resist.

"But hold on a second," I hear you cry. "Who wrote this play? If the Arden Shakespeare has produced an edition, does that mean . . . . Could it be that . . . . You don't think . . . ."

Well, yes, part of the interest in the has to do with its authorship, and there are those who think Shakespeare had a hand in it. It seemly likely to be a collaborative play (whether Shakespeare wrote any of it or not), and it was written between 1587 and 1591, which would place it very early in Shakespeare's career.

One of the points of interest in my current encounter with the play is the way its authorship is addressed in the two scholarly editions I have. The 1982 New Mermaids edition mentions the possibility but doesn't take a strong position on the issue:

The Arden Early Modern Drama edition spends a lot more time on whether Shakespeare should be considered one of the authors of Arden of Faversham. It comes short of saying anything with any certainty, but it strikes me as presenting a rosier picture of Shakespeare's participation in the play's composition than the New Mermaids edition did:

You now, no doubt, want to know my take. In re-reading this after many decades of reading Shakespeare left and right, I thought I would surely be able to know for myself—not with the certainty of proof but with the sense of instinct—whether Shakespeare wrote any part of the play or not.

But I don't get a sense one way or the other. I spotted several passages that struck me as Shakespeare-like, but none of them is so quintessentially Shakespeare that it couldn't have been written by another dramatist.  And none of the ones I spotted was in Scene 8, often said to be the most likely part for Shakespeare to have written.

The first passage that seemed Shakespearean to me comes from Scene three. The servant Michael, who has been suborned to leave Arden's house unlocked so that the hired murderers can get in and do their job, says this:

To me, that sounds a lot like Macbeth saying 

                    He's here in double trust;
First, as I am his kinsman and his subject,
Strong both against the deed; then, as his host,
Who should against his murderer shut the door,
Not bear the knife myself. (I.vii.12–16)

The next one I spotted is from Scene six. Here, Arden is relating a troubling dream to his friend Franklin: 

Perhaps when can think of Clarence's dream in Richard III. He says "I, trembling, wak'd, and for a season after / Could not believe but that I was in hell, / Such terrible impression made my dream" (I.iv.61–63).

Finally, in Scene 14, we have a weak possibility of a Lady Macbeth–like connection to blood that can't be washed away:

That's not much to go on, clearly. But it's nice to think that Shakespeare's authorship isn't utterly ruled out by my experience.

Finally, the drama is great. After Arden's murder, various characters start to put together clues—somewhat à la an Agatha Christy mystery with Ardens steadfast friend Franklin serving as de facto detective. In terms of the "True Crime" genre, that section is fascinating and worth providing in full:

It lovely how we get the footprints, the blood stains, the murder weapon, and the stolen items all revealed and pointing toward the guilty parties.

I was very glad to revisit Arden of Faversham, and I'd highly recommend reading it yourself in the new Ardent Early Modern Drama edition.

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Friday, December 1, 2023

Shakespeare in FoxTrot's Death by Field Trip

Amend, Bill. Death by Field Trip. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel, 2001.

Moving forward one volume in our search for all the Shakespeare in FoxTrot, we come to Death by Field Trip.

Like all FoxTrot books, it's great fun.

But it is a little lacking in the Shakespeare.

We do have one solid comic about Peter and his thoughts about studying Hamlet—particularly on such a lovely day:

And I'll admit I'm stretching a bit with this next comic. Shakespeare isn't mentioned—just the generic term "poem." But I prefer to imagine that they're all Shakespeare sonnets, which neither detracts from nor adds to the joke: 

I'm afraid that's it—but we'll try another volume next week.
Update: In re-reading the volume in question, I discovered an additional Shakespeare-related comic. It's subtle, but I'm sure you'll agree that the Shakespeare is there.

Some readers might consider the line about Leonardo DiCaprio to be connected to the 1997 film Titanic, in which DiCaprio played a role, but it's more likely to allude to the 1996 Romeo + Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes in the title roles. 

Support for this claim can be found in two quotations from Shakespeare's play. The first is from Romeo, and it comes toward the beginning of the balcony scene. In expressing how desparate he is to spend time with Juliet, he says,

I am no pilot; yet, wert thou as far
As that vast shore wash'd with the farthest sea,
I would adventure for such merchandise. (II.ii.82–84)

The FoxTrot comic picks up and expands this simile, implying that Romeo would even go as far as the deepest sea to adventure for the "merchandise" that is Juliet.

The section supporting quotation is from Juliet, who famously says this about her love for Romeo:

My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite. (II.ii.133–35)

There's much humor in the disparity between these images of the vastidity of the sea and the aquarium in FoxTrot—and we find it when we see the subtle Shakespeare allusion at play here.

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Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
All material original to this blog is copyrighted: Copyright 2008-2039 (and into perpetuity thereafter) by Keith Jones.

The very instant that I saw you did / My heart fly to your service; there resides, / To make me slave to it; and, for your sake, / Am I this patient [b]log-man.

—The Tempest