Shakespeare, Theobald, and the Prose Problem in Double Falsehood

  • John V. Nance


Most critics agree that there’s not much uncontaminated Shakespearian verse in Double Falsehood. Some then leap to the conclusion that Shakespeare had nothing to do with the play. This line of reasoning assumes that dramatic prose is unimportant, or that Shakespeare’s prose is indistinguishable from anyone else’s. The following analysis seeks to explore these unsubstantiated generalizations by analyzing the unique characteristics of the prose in 1.2.179–224 of Double Falsehood. This essay is admittedly partial (36 lines, 334 words), but it provides new evidence to challenge Tiffany Stern’s 2011 claim that Double Falsehood is a forgery. An analysis of the distinctive dramatic function and vocabulary of these prose lines strongly suggests the presence of Shakespeare more than any other author. In addition, this study confronts Stern’s adamant disavowal of stylometric evidence in Double Falsehood by illuminating the methods and goals of stylometry as a reliable tool to record evidence of the play’s authorship.


Stylistic Analysis Prose Passage Early Eighteenth Century Unique Parallel Literature Online 
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  1. 3.
    For Fletcher’s chronology, I have followed: McMullan, Appendix 2. These figures and the ones that follow are based on the lineation and attributions in Fletcher. 1.3 of The Tamer Tamed has the most concentrated amount of prose in Fletcher’s solo plays, but modern editors tend to reduce the number of prose lines in this scene. Daileader and Taylor restore 46 lines of verse (leaving only 12 lines of prose) to 1.3 in their 2006 Revels Student edition. See: The Tamer Tamed; or, The Woman’s Prize, Celia Daileader and Gary Taylor, eds., (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006).Google Scholar
  2. 12.
    Brian Vickers, The Artistry of Shakespeare’s Prose (New York: Methuen, 1979), 5–18; Taylor and Nance in Quest, 193.Google Scholar
  3. 15.
    Richard Foster Jones, Lewis Theobald, His Contribution to English Scholarship (New York: Columbia University Press, 1919), 9.Google Scholar
  4. 16.
    Jones, Theobald, 151; James R. Sutherland, “Shakespeare’s Imitators in the Eighteenth Century,” PMLA 28.1 (1933): 29–30.Google Scholar
  5. 25.
    Caroline F. E. Spurgeon, Shakespeare’s Imagery and What lt Tells Us (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1952), 101.Google Scholar
  6. 26.
    W. H. Clemen, The Development of Shakespeare’s Imagery (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1951), 3.Google Scholar
  7. 37.
    Jackson’s analysis of the beginning of 1.2 is less thorough than my analysis of the end of the scene, because he did not have access to as much of Theobald’s work, and because he does not discriminate between authors of collaborative Fletcher plays. But it strongly suggests that Camillo’s prose—which again has no equivalent in Don Quixote—is also Shakespeare’s work. In addition, Vickers notes that in writing Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsman, “Shakespeare invented new and transformed existing material, while Fletcher was content to reproduce what he had read.” Brian Vickers, “Incomplete Shakespeare: Or, Denying Coauthorship in 1 Henry VI,” Shakespeare Quarterly 58.3 (2007), 323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Terri Bourus and Gary Taylor 2013

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  • John V. Nance

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