The Story of a Theatrical Scandal

Jeffrey Kahan

Reforging Shakespeare: The Story of a Theatrical Scandal charts the bizarre but true story of William-Henry Ireland, a 17-year-old boy who fooled the academic and theatrical world with his Shakespeare forgeries. At first the forgeries were mundane: legal papers, promissory notes, mortgage deeds, but as each was unquestioningly validated, Ireland grew more bold and bizarre. He "found" Shakespeares lost poems, significantly different versions of Hamlet and King Lear, love letters to his wife, even a lock of Shakespeare's hair! But boldest of all was his "discovery" of a lost play, Vortigern. Theatre Royal Drury Lane offered a lucrative contract for its world premiere. The Duke of Clarence engaged a box; the poet laureate wrote the prologue. Supporters filled the house to ensure a positive reception, but as the curtain went up, no one could suspect the disaster that was to ensue.


A story that includes many of the most famous literary, political, and theatrical figures of the day, Reforging Shakespeare is a tale of greed, selfishness, deception, and a son's need to love an unloving father. This work was written in a vivid and lively manner and—though fully documented—is not a dry academic study.


Written with many of the elements commonly associated with the detective novel, Kahan's book is both informative and highly entertaining. The reader is encouraged to follow the author on a complex trail of literary detection: questioning suspects; examining letters, diaries, affidavits, and published confessions uncovering fraud, conspiracy, blackmail, and sexual scandal.


Among other things, Kahan's unconventional study gives a detailed explanation of the conditions that gave rise to the forgery as well as how and why Ireland forged the papers. Kahan explains how he nearly succeeded, but was ultimately exposed. Finally, Kahan explores the major ramifications of the forgery, which are still affecting Shakespeare scholarship and theatrical production today.

0934223556 (AUP)
Lehigh University Press - Reforging Shakespeare