Double Falsehood by William Shakespeare (et al.)
Filed under: Book Reviews,Infinite TBR,Reader of the Stack Goes Canonical — Ibis at 2:43 pm on Saturday, September 4, 2010

From the back cover:
“On December 1727 an intriguing play called Double Falshood; Or, The Distrest Lovers was presented for production by Lewis Theobald, who had it published in January 1728 after a successful run at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London. The title page to the published version claims that the play was ‘Written Originally by W.SHAKESPEARE’.

Double Falsehood‘s plot is a version of the story of Cardenio found in Cervantes’s Don Quixote (1605) as translated by Thomas Shelton, published in 1612 though in circulation earlier. Documentary records testify to the existence of a play, certainly performed in 1613, by John Fletcher and William Shakespeare, probably entitled The History of Cardenio and presumed to have been lost. The audience in 1727 would certainly have recognised stage situations and dramatic structures and patterns reminiscent of those in Shakespeare’s canonical plays as well as many linguistic echoes.”

My thoughts:
Shakespeare & Co. put spotlight on mistreatment of women–At least that’s what I’m getting so far. Violante basically date raped, Leonora forced by her father to marry against her will (as it happens, to the rapist of the first girl). I don’t know if that was the original thrust–I get the impression that much of the text was pared (a kind word) by Theobald. It’s a little frustrating to think that he may have had earlier copies of the complete play and decided to do his own spin on it and now this is all we have.

Then again, it’s good that we have anything of it remaining, so thanks, Theobald!

When Dunzy first told me about this edition, I made a joke about them going through every line trying to decide what’s authentic Shakespeare. In fact it’s word by word, phrase by phrase. It’s interesting, but a bit distracting.

I haven’t finished, but I’m getting hints about how it will turn out–for poor Violante anyway. She dresses as a boy and goes out of town and into the countryside, but she expresses her intention to keep watch on Henriquez, ostensibly hoping that he’ll repent. The problem is, the outcome she’s looking for is, presumably, that he’ll make up for the damage done to her reputation by marrying her (cf. that repulsive injunction on rapists to marry their victims in Deuteronomy). I don’t know if Shakespeare will subtly show this to be not exactly the best answer to the problem (or if he did, if it will survive in Theobald’s edition), but I’m pretty sure she’s going to end up with him.

For a woman with a 21st century sensibility, the outcome I’d love to see is to have Roderick fall in love with her and not care that she’s “damaged goods”* & marry her anyway. I’d also love for Henriquez to have his comeuppance.

* according to their culture, not my opinion of course

Overall, I’d have to say this was a bit disappointing. It’s a bit like having a fossil of an extinct animal. We have a pretty good idea of the original structure (though details could be missing) and we can model what the original organism might have looked like, but all the flesh is missing. All that stuff (aside from the obvious–the language) for which we read Shakespeare seemed to have been left on the cutting room floor. The deep understanding of the human condition, the emotional and intellectual self-contemplation, the conflicts and confrontations, were all pretty much absent. We’re left with a bare-bones plot and little insight into the characters. There are also clear signs that there used to be more, like oblique references to events that are no longer included. Also, a couple of places where Theobald’s interpolations are quite evident. But I guess a fossil is better than no record at all.

(Oh, and I was right about Violante. One moment Henriquez is pressing his suit to Leonora, the next (when confronted with V’s allegation) he’s pledging his true love to Violante. All the men involved agree that H & V should marry and that’s that.)

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