Francis Beaumont & The Knight of the Burning Pestle

Beaumont’s The Knight of the Burning Pestle is another one of those plays one always sees in anthologies of Elizabethan plays. So I had to read it. It’s one of the few plays currently thought to be written entirely by Francis Beaumont though one also finds it included in collections of plays by Beaumont & Fletcher. They were, in terms of their reputation, the Lennon & McCartney of their day. It was said that they lived together in the same room, share their hats and cloaks, and shared a “wench” between them. Beaumont was born in 1584, some 20 years after Shakespeare, but died the same year as Shakespeare. He lived a short life, aged only 31 or 32, but in the decades that followed, especially during the Restoration, his collaboration with Fletcher was thought to represent the pinnacle of Elizabethan drama. Reading Beaumont & Fletcher, it’s hard to fathom why they were ever considered Shakespeare’s superior, but both Beaumont and Fletcher’s poetry were more immediately accessible than Shakespeare’s.

It’s an interesting footnote that the Restoration era may have been responsible for mucking up, once and for all, one of Shakespeare’s lost plays—Cardenio. The play was a cause for excitement in the early 1700’s when Lewis Theobald, a lawyer by training with aspirations to write professionally, announced the discovery of a lost play by Shakespeare. Interestingly, he stated that one of his copies (he claimed to have three) was “in the handwriting of the prompter to Sir William D’avanant’s Duke’s company in the 1660’s”. This was exceedingly bad news because Sir William D’avenant, along with other restoration poets like Dryden and the infamously bungling Nahum Tate, couldn’t resist bringing Shakespeare up to the august standards of the Restoration. As an example of D’avenant’s “improvements”, consider the following from his rewrite of Measure for Measure:


Ay, but to die, and go we know not where;
To lie in cold obstruction and to rot;
This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit
To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside
In thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice;
To be imprison'd in the viewless winds,
And blown with restless violence round about
The pendent world; or to be worse than worst
Of those that lawless and incertain thought
Imagine howling: 'tis too horrible!
The weariest and most loathed worldly life
That age, ache, penury and imprisonment
Can lay on nature is a paradise
To what we fear of death.

And D’avenant:

Oh Sister, 'tis to go we know not whither.
We lie in silent darkness, and we rot;
Where long our motion is not stopt; for though
In Graves none walk upright (proudly to face
The Stars) yet there we move again, when our
Corruption makes those worms in whom we crawl.
Perhaps the spirit (which is future life)
Dwells salamander-like, unharmed in fire:
Or else with wandering winds is blown about
The world. But if condemned like those
Whom our uncertain thought imagines howling;
Then the most loathed and the most weary life
Which age, or ache, want, or imprisonment
Can lay on nature, is a paradise
To what we fear of death.

Let’s just take a little detour from Beaumont to explore all the ways that D’avenant goes wrong. You could also think of this as a brief lesson in the difference between great poetry and mediocrity.

Right away, and for some inexplicable reason, D’avenant has Claudio address his sister rather than the subject at hand. This is supremely ironic given the Restoration’s obsession with “manliness” because rather than Claudio turning the audience’s attention to the subject of death—”Aye, but to die”—D’avenant’s Claudio turns to his sister with something like a frightened cry or sigh for comfort: Oh Sister, he says.

Next comes D’avenant’s change of “To lie in cold obstruction and to rot” to “We lie in silent darkness, and we rot”. This is just wrong on so many levels. The genius of Shakespeare’s “lie in cold obstruction” resides in his contrasting “lie” with the implied inability to move—”cold obstruction”. It’s not that we just lie there, but that we are horrifically trapped by the cold, indifferent obstruction of the earth, earth that had erstwhile been warm and nurturing. This is the genius packed into Shakespeare’s horrific and kinesthetic imagery. D’avenant inexplicably strips out the kinesthesia, opting for the bland and mediocre “silent darkness”. But who doesn’t put babies down to sleep in “silent darkness”. D’aventant’s imagery utterly loses the horror of Shakespeare’s original. Not only that, but whereas Shakespeare’s cold obstruction is the cause of our body’s decomposition, D’avenant’s “and we rot” is only related to “silent darkness” by a comma. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve lain down at the end of the day, having accomplished nothing with my life and thought to myself: “we lie in silent darkness, and we rot”. But morning brings a new day. Not so with Shakespeare. That cold obstruction is nothing you or I will ever escape.

In the next few lines Shakespeare doesn’t let up:

This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit
To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside
In thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice;
To be imprison'd in the viewless winds,
And blown with restless violence round about
The pendent world...

Shakespeare’s thought process, just have to say, is beautiful to observe. And one sees it over and over again. He reminds me of JS Bach in that he takes a single theme or idea, like a fugal subject, states it, than develops with an almost contrapuntal ease and precision. The theme that tantalizes Shakespeare’s imagination is “cold obstruction”—the implication of trapped motion. He immediately expands this thematic idea into “This sensible warm motion to become/A kneaded clod”. Do you see how this is just a restatement of “cold obstruction”? And it’s not enough to say that motion becomes a clod. The contrast of motion and immobility is constant. The word “sensible” implies motion and inquisitiveness, warmth contrasts with the cold of “cold obstruction”, while motion contrasts with “clod”. But describing our body as a lifeless clod isn’t enough. With the theme of motion and immobility working in Shakespeare’s mind, he writes “kneaded clod”. Kneaded implies motion, but paradoxically the kneading is the motion of earth’s obstruction, kneading our bodies, having become clay-like, with a cold indifference to our erstwhile “sensible warmth”.

From there, Shakespeare’s imagination moves from body to soul which, no less than the body, contends with contrasts—opposites always in the dramatist’s mind—with motion and immobility. It’s not enough to say that the “spirit is tormented by fire”, but Shakespeare combines opposites, applying the imagery of water to fire, by describing the soul as bathing in floods of fire. And it’s not enough that it’s the soul, but Shakespeare echoes the earlier imagery of the “sensible warm motion” with “the delighted soul”. On other words, the soul, capable of delight and warmth and motion, is tormented by just those qualities in the “warmth” of the firea and “motion” of the floods. And yet for all that, the soul, like the kneaded clod, is trapped, not in the earth, but in the floods of fire; the “thrilling”—again riffing on sensible—thick-ribbed ice, like the bars of a jail cell; and paradoxically imprisoned in the violent, restless, viewless—in the sense of both blind and without purpose—winds. Not even the earth is still in this paradox of the grave’s imprisonment and the soul’s violent motion. The earth is pendent, ceaseless in its cruel forward motion, burying all it gives birth to, like a remorseless clock.

It’s all there. This is why Shakespeare is considered the greatest writer who ever lived, because he could pack into a few lines of verse who paragraphs of meaning.

And then there’s D’avenant.

All of this is lost on D’vaenant. All of it. Like a Salieri revising Mozart, he tosses all of that out for the towering mediocrity of the following lines:

Where long our motion is not stopt; for though
In Graves none walk upright (proudly to face
The Stars) yet there we move again, when our
Corruption makes those worms in whom we crawl.
Perhaps the spirit (which is future life)
Dwells salamander-like, unharmed in fire:
Or else with wandering winds is blown about
The world.

He retains, as a faint echo, the driving force of Shakespeare’s imagery, the claustrophobic entrapment of the body and soul in the never ceasing motion and torment of death. But whereas Shakespeare drives Claudio’s thoughts forward in a single, driven, obsessive sentence, D’avenant turns Claudio’s cry into a pendantic disquisition interrupted by “for though”, and “yet there” and “perhaps” and “or else”, “but if”, turning Shakespeare’s Claudio into Rowen Atkinson’s Blackadder.

D’avenant first interrupts the cascading terror of Shakespeare’s speech by essentially putting a period after “Where long our motion is not stopt”. D’avenant understands that small part of Shakespeare’s imagery, that our motion doesn’t stop, but utterly misses the the paradoxical horror of both entrapment and violent motion captured by Shakespeare. Instead he makes the comically trite observation that no one walks upright in the grave whilst proudly facing the stars. Whereas Shakespeare draws us into the experience of death, appealing to our sense sight, organic and kinesthetic sensation, D’avenant draws us out of the experience by making us observers: “yet there we move again, when our Corruption makes those worms in whom we crawl”. The imagery is entirely visual. But then, most egregious of all (and probably the entire reason for D’avenant’s monkey-Jesus) is the following: “Perhaps the spirit (which is future life)/ Dwells salamander-like, unharmed in fire”. One has to assume that D’avenant’s religious and Restoration sensibilities were offended by the decidedly un-Christian fate of Shakespeare’s soul and worried for the sensibilities of the audience. D’avenant utterly undercuts the terror of Shakespeare’s passage by reassuring the audience that the soul remains our “future life” and nothing, after all, can harm it. In short, D’avenant sacrifices the dramatic effectiveness of Elizabethan Drama for the sake of 17th century religious prudery and propriety. It was a strain of piousness that would ruin much poetry in the 18th and 19th century. Finally, D’avenant closes this disastrous revision with the utterly bland and clichéd “wandering winds” rather than the powerful “viewless winds”—the latter suggesting both the invisibility of the winds but also the soul’s helplessness and purposelessness in such aimlessness.

Finally, whereas Shakespeare offers no hope, adding that the fear of death even drives us to imagine fates—too horrible!—worse than the worst we already imagine howling, D’avenant piously reassures us that such a fate only applies to the “condemned” by writing—”if condemned”. We can all relax. The Claudio of D’avenant’s play indulges in a mere rhetorical aside.

So, getting back to Beaumont and Fletcher, whose speed of thought and temperaments were much more congenial to the fastidious and pious Restoration poets, if a collaboration between Shakespeare and Fletcher were to fall into their hands, which poet do you think they would edit out of the play? Well, it’s a curious thing, about Cardenio (or Double Falsehood) as it comes down to us through Theobald. The portions of the play that appear to be intact are Fletcher’s, whereas all those portions of the play that hint at Shakespeare:

I do not see that fervour in the maid
Which youth and love should kindle. She consents,
As 'twere, to feed without an appetite;
Tells me she is content and plays the coy one,
Like those that subtly make their words their ward,
Keeping address at distance. This affection
Is such a feign'd one as will break untouched;
Die frosty ere it can be thawed; while mine,
Like to a clime beneath Hyperion's eye,
Burns with one constant heat.


O do not rack me with these ill-placed doubts,
Nor think though age has in my father's breast
Put out love's flame, he therefore has not eyes,
Or is in judgement blind. You wrong your beauties.
Venus will frown if you disprize her gifts
That have a face would make a frozen hermit
Leap from his cell and burn his beads to kiss it,
Eyes, that are nothing but continual births
Of new desires in those that view their beams.
You cannot have a cause to doubt.

Bear all the marks of having been butchered by a poet like D’avenant or Tate. In short, the instinct of Restoration poets was to edit out the Shakespeare and to keep intact the Fletchers, Beaumonts and Massingers. And that’s why, for a period of time, the folios of Beaumont and Fletcher were more highly praised than those of Shakespeare.

Perhaps the only lines of Shakespeare that survive intact in Double Falsehood are the following:

Violante ...Home, my lord.
What you can say, is most unseasonable; what sing
Most absonant and harsh, nay, your perfume,
Which I smell hither, cheers not my sense
Like our field-violet's breath.
Henriquez Why this dismission
Does more invite my staying.

And why a D’avenant, a Tate, or possibly Theobald saw fit to leave these lines unmolested remains a mystery.

But getting back to Beaumont, most every discussion of Beaumont involves Fletcher to the same degree that discussions of Lennon involve McCartney. Beaumont is generally considered the greater poet, wrote the tragic and comic-satiric portions of any given collaboration and possessed greater insight into personality. Whereas Fletcher’s character’s were often plot driven, Beaumont’s plots were character driven. In A Short View of Elizabethan Drama, Thomas Marc Parrott and Robert Ball put it this way:

Fortunately the work of Beaumont is marked by such individual characteristics that it is comparatively easy to distinguish his hand from Fletcher’s, although when they worked together it is not always possible to assign a play scene by scene to one of the other. Beaumont’s verse is more regular than Fletcher’s, patterned apparently on the verse of Shakespeare in the The Merchant of Venice and Julius Caesar. It is marked by an abundance of run-on lines, and a frequent use of rhyme. As his mood changes from grave to gay, he shifts from verse to prose, which Fletcher seldom uses. A stronger mind, apparently, though younger than his friend, he seems to have been the guiding force in their collaboration. The serious, tragic, and pathetic scenes in their joint work are as a rule his: so too are the comic-satiric scenes, for Beaumont was a disciple of Jonson as well as a lover of Shakespeare.

p. 185-186

And it’s Beaumont’s comic-satiric gifts that shine in The Knight of the Burning Pestle. The play is the first full length satire in the history of English drama. In it, Beaumont, ever the aristocrat at heart, lampoons and satirizes the tastes of the common London playgoers. What strikes me as applicable to our modern day? Anyone who watched the dramatization of Game of Thrones is probably aware of the fan-criticism that attended the close of series. Some fans went so far as to altogether rewrite the closing season. The Star Wars series has also been shaped by criticism from its audience—and to its detriment according to other fans and critics.

Some things never change. It was far from uncommon for Elizabethan audiences to interfere in the progress of the play and even confuse, then as now, the play with reality. Larry Hagman, who played JR on Dallas, was often accosted by fans who treated him as though he were the character. Elizabethan acting troupes, accustomed to such audiences, were always prepared to change the endings of scenes and plays on the spot. It was also
“not uncommon for an aspiring amateur to take over a leading part.” Ibid. 187. Authorial integrity mattered less to them than the income of a successful performance (unless you were Ben Jonson, who complained incessantly about the fools to whom he was forced to subject his plays ).

Beaumont’s play satirizes this impulse by having two characters, playing members of the audience (a citizen grocer and his wife), immediately interrupt the play, demanding that their own preferences and subject matter be adopted.

Enter Speaker of the Prologue. 
S. of Prol. From all that's near the court, from all that's great, 
Within the compass of the city-walls— 
We now have brought our scene—" 

Citizen leaps on the Stage. 

Cit. Hold your peace, goodman boy ! 
S. of Prol. What do you mean, sir ? 
Cit. That you have no good meaning : this seven years 
there hath been plays at this house, I have observed it, you 
have still girds at citizens; and now you call your play " 
The London Merchant." Down with your title, boy ! 
down with your title ! 
S. of Prol. Are you a member of the noble city? 
Cit. I am. 
S. of Prol. And a freeman? 
Cit. Yea, and a grocer. 
S. of Prol. So, grocer, then, by your sweet favour, we intend no 
abuse to the city. 
Cit. No, sir ! yes, sir : if you were not resolved to play 
the Jacks, what need you study for new subjects, purposely
 to abuse your betters? why could not you be contented,
 as well as others, with "The legend of Whittington," or "The
 Life and Death of Sir Thomas Gresham, with the building
 of the Royal Exchange," or "The story of Queen Eleanor, with
 the rearing of London Bridge upon woolsacks?
S. of Prol. You seem to be an understanding man : what
would you have us do, sir ?

And so it begins. The citizen and his wife (his wife who constantly mistakes the play for real events) ceaselessly interfere in the progress of the play going so far as to force the acting troupe to include their prentice, Ralph, as the character of the the Knight of the Burning Pestle. Now, if you read the opening above and scratched your head, saying to yourself—Well, I guess you had to be there—you’re in luck. Listen to this performance of the opening scene and tell me you don’t laugh:

It’s worthy of Monty Python, and this was written by Beaumont in 1608. And here’s Part 2.

Apparently, the play didn’t go ever well with Elizabethan playgoers. While playgoers may not have appreciated being the butt of the joke, I more suspect that they didn’t like the illusion of reality being constantly undermined. Audiences, then as now, probably wanted to forget themselves, to be swept up in the story, not constantly reminded that the play was just a put on and that they were all the dupes. Alas that Beaumont died at such a young age. Twenty years later the play was revived by the Queen’s Company with great success.

Being satire, and being primarily comedic, the play doesn’t give much scope for flights of poetry, but there’s a fun and charming moment when the grocer’s wife demands that Ralph Dance the Morris, at which Ralph randomly appears on stage dressed as a May-lord:

London, to thee I do present the merry month of May;
Let each true subject be content to hear me what I say : 
For from the top of conduit-head, as plainly may appear, 
I will both tell my name to you, and wherefore I came here. 
My name is Ralph, by due descent though not ignoble I 
Yet far inferior to the stock of gracious grocery ; 
And by the common counsel of my fellows in the Strand,
With gilded staff and crossed scarf, the May-lord here I stand. 
Rejoice, oh, English hearts, rejoice! rejoice, oh, lovers dear! 
Rejoice, oh, city, town, and country! rejoice, eke every shere! 
For now the fragrant flowers do spring and sprout in seemly sort, 
The little birds do sit and sing, the lambs do make fine sport; 
And now the birchen-tree doth bud, that makes the schoolboy cry; 
The morris rings, while hobby-horse doth foot it feateously; 
The lords and ladies now abroad, for their disport and play, 
Do kiss sometimes upon the grass, and sometimes in the hay; 
Now butter with a leaf of sage is good to purge the blood; 
Fly Venus and phlebotomy, for they are neither good; 
Now little fish on tender stone begin to cast their bellies, 
And sluggish snails, that erst were mewed, do creep out of their shellies
The rumbling rivers now do warm, for little boys to paddle; 
The sturdy steed now goes to grass, and up they hang his saddle; 
The heavy hart, the bellowing buck, the rascal, and the pricket, 
Are now among the yeoman's peas, and leave the fearful thicket: 
And be like them, oh, you, I say, of this same noble town, 
And lift aloft your velvet heads, and slipping off your gown, 
With bells on legs, and napkins clean unto your shoulders tied,
With scarfs and garters as you please, and " Hey for our town ! " cried.
March out, and show your willing minds, by twenty and by twenty,
To Hogsdon or to Newington, where ale and cakes are plenty; 
And let it ne'er be said for shame, that we the youths of London
Lay thrumming of our caps at home, and left our custom undone. 
Up, then, I say, both young and old, both man and maid a-maying, 
With drums, and guns that bounce aloud, and merry tabor playing!
Which to prolong, (Sod save our king, and send his country peace, 
And root out treason from the land ! and so, my friends, I cease.

I can’t help but hear a touch of Shakespeare, much admired by Beaumont. And that’s that. There’s much more one could write about The Knight of the Burning Pestle, including its parallels with Don Qixote (which by that time was just beginning to reach the wider populace in a new English language translation) but maybe that gives just a little taste.

The only other observation might be the relationship between the grocer and his wife. The wife’s enthusiasm and the grocer’s indulgence of his wife’s whims and enthusiasms bespeaks a relationship as loving and fun-loving as any portrayed in an Elizabethan play before or after—when it seems that all Elizabethan men and women could think of was killing each other. One gets the sense that we loved each other then just as much as now.

And with that I leave you with a lovely little line, a little piece of pure poetry, by Beaumont:

Sorrow can make a verse without a muse.

April 25th 2020 ❧ upinVermont

Double Falsehood Revisited

Mea Culpa

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a while.

Ideally, I try not to be hide bound about the rightness of my opinion, preferring to find out whose opinion is right. Whenever I make a mistake, better to correct it or have it corrected (whether I like it or not). If evidence conflicts with my beliefs, then beliefs must change. So, in the spirit of keeping this blog honest, I’m revisiting my last two posts on Double Falsehood: Double Falsehood • It’s not Shakespeare and the second Double Falsehood • Tho. Dekker & Tho. Middleton?. My efforts in both these posts were rewarding (in terms of what I learned by writing them) but I made some mistakes and new information (to me) deserves to be aired.

Tho. Middleton or John Fletcher?

I thought I made a good argument for Middleton, as far as it went. I still do. Some evidence does indeed suggest Middleton, but the stronger evidence suggests Fletcher. Keeping Middleton in the running might be reasonable at the outset (when considering possible authors) but the probable author is Fletcher. The evidence supporting Fletcher comes from an article by Stephan Kukowski entitled The Hand of John Fletcher in Double Falsehood.

Among the reasons for crediting Fletcher, the most compelling is a habit of Fletcher’s composition called elocutionary afterthought. At, you can find an E-Book of Charles Mills’ publication, Francis Beaumont: Dramatist. Beaumont and Fletcher were the Simon and Garfunkel of the Elizabethan era. Once they met and began to collaborate, they changed the history of British theater. So much so that during the decades immediately following their deaths, their plays were considered superior to Shakespeare’s and Jonson’s. Naturally, a book on Beaumont is going to say something about Fletcher—first and foremost, how does one differentiate their collaboration? What parts of a play are Fletcher’s, what parts Beaumont?

Interestingly, Mills offers us the following passage. I include most of it because that seems simplest. I’ve bolded the passages which most plainly parallel passages in DF.

Here we have blank verse, distinctively Fletcherian with its feminine endings and its end-stopped lines. But, widely as this differs from the earlier rhythm of The Faithfull Shepheardesse and its more lyric precipitancy, the qualities of tone and diction are in the later play as in the earlier. The alliterations may not be so numerous, and are in general more cunningly concealed and interwoven, as in lines 2 to 4; but the cruder kind still appears as a mannerism, the “fire and fierceness,” “hopes,” “hang,” and “head.” The iterations of word, phrase, and rhetorical question, and of the resonant “all,” the redundant nouns in apposition, the tautological enumeration of categories, proclaim the unaltered Fletcher. The adjectives are in this spot pruned, but they are luxuriant elsewhere in the play. The triplets,–“this man, my son, this nature,”–“admit,” “admit,” “admit,” find compeers on nearly every page:

Shew where to lead, to lodge, to charge with safetie,–[163]

Here’s a strange fellow now, and a brave fellow,
If we may say so of a pocky fellow.–[164]

And now, ‘t is ev’n too true, I feel a pricking,
A pricking, a strange pricking.–[165]

With such a sadness on his face, as sorrow,
Sorrow herself, but poorly imitates.
Sorrow of sorrows on that heart that caus’d it![166]

In the passages cited above there happen to be, also, a few examples of the elocutionary afterthought:

You come with thunders in your mouth _and earthquakes_,–

As arrows from a Tartar’s bow, _and speeding_.–

To this device, and to the intensive use of the pronominal “one” Fletcher is as closely wedded as to the repetition of “all,”–

They have a hand upon us,
A heavy and a hard one.[167]

To wear this jewel near thee; he is a tried one
And one that … will yet stand by thee.[168]

Other plays conceded by the critics to Fletcher alone, and written in his distinctive blank verse, display the same characteristics of style: _The Chances_ of about 1615, _The Loyall Subject_ of 1618 (like _The Humorous Lieutenant_ of the middle period), and _Rule a Wife and Have a Wife_ of the last period, 1624. I quote at random for him who would apply the tests,–first from _The Chances_,[169] the following of the repeating revolver style:

Art thou not an Ass?
And modest as her blushes! what a blockhead
Would e’re have popt out such a dry Apologie
For this dear friend? and to a Gentlewoman,
A woman of her youth and delicacy?
They are arguments to draw them to abhor us.
An honest moral man? ‘t is for a Constable:
A handsome man, a wholesome man, a tough man,
A liberal man, a likely man, a man
Made up by Hercules, unslaked with service:
The same to night, to morrow night, the next night,
And so to perpetuity of pleasures.


Finally, from _Rule a Wife_, a few instances of the iterations, three-fold or multiple, and redundant expositions. In the first scene[171] Juan describes Leon:

Ask him a question,
He blushes like a Girl, and answers little,
To the point less; he wears a Sword, a good one,
And good cloaths too; he is whole-skin’d, has no hurt yet,
Good promising hopes;

and Perez describes the rest of the regiment,

That swear as valiantly as heart can wish,
Their mouths charg’d with six oaths at once, and whole ones,
That make the drunken Dutch creep into Mole-hills; …

and he proceeds to Donna Margarita:

She is fair, and young, and wealthy,
Infinite wealthy, _etc._

Now compare these example to the two found in the Fletcherian portions of DF:

……………….This is a fine Hand,
A delicate fine Hnd, – Never change Colour;
You understand me, – and a Woman’s Hand (DF 4.I.168-70)

And dare you lose these to becomer Advocate
For such a Brother, such a sinful Brother,
Such an unfaithful, treacherous, brutal Brother? (DF 5.I.16-18)

To my knowledge (and reading), there are no comparable examples in Middleton. Of all the reasons for believing that Theobald might have had a manuscript (of some kind), this is, for me, the most compelling. This mannerism is obviously typical of Fletcher. Given that Theobald initially tried to pass off DF as entirely Shakespeare’s (and if he fabricated the entirety of the play) why on earth would he so cleverly and cunningly imitate Fletcher? It makes no sense. I find it easier to believe that Theobald did, indeed, have a manuscript on which he based DF.

But why is Fletcher’s probable hand so evident and Shakespeare’s so lacking?

Why Fletcher Survived

Kukowski, the writer of The Hand of John Fletcher in Double Falsehood, is sympathetic with the possibility that Theobald might have had a manuscript, but speculates that it was already a later revision of an Elizabethan original. Kukowski writes (in reference to a Davanant revision of the Shakespeare/Fletcher collaboration, The Two Noble Kinsmen):

It is interesting that Davenant’s revision of this play left not a line of  the passages most confidently ascribed to Shakespeare intact, although several of Fletcher’s passages survive with only minor alteration. Thus, even if Theobald is being scrupulously honest, he may well have had his possession no more than an already much adulterated version of Cardenio.

This, in  a nutshell, encapsulates the reasoning of those Shakespearean scholars willing to concede that Double Falsehood might have been a revised Cardenio. An unidentified author, like the Restoration dramatist Davenant, might have already “improved” the Shakespearean portions. Why would Restoration revisionists single out Shakespeare rather than Fletcher? Shakespeare’s style was considered too turgid for the stage – too figurative and opaque. In a book called Shakespeare Improved , by Hazelton Spencer, Spencer sums up Davenant’s editorial intervention this way:

…by far the largest number of D’Avenent’s explicable alterations are due, apparently, to his zeal in elucidation . Shakespeare’s text seemed full of obscurities in language and thought, and for the sake of making it transparent to the audience at Lincoln’s Inn Fields the Laureate was willing to sacrifice metre, imagination, or anything else. [p. 169]

And in an earlier passage Hazelton writes:

The Restoration adapter was not trying to restore his text, the professed aim of the long line of later tamperers, but to improve it. From changing a phrase  in order to make its meaning clearer, to changing it because one things of a better phrase, is an easy step/ D’Avenent took it with complete aplomb.

He regarded Shakespeare, I imagine, almost with affection; but he was the victim of his age. The cocksureness of the Restoration intelligentsia is almost incredible. The England of Elizabeth seemed barbarous to the England of Charles II, though less than sixty years had elapsed between the great queen’s death and the accession of that graceless king. In the presence of the masterpieces of old drama, the Restoration critics (all but Rymer) experienced a certain awe; they recognized vaguely a grandeur that was not characteristic of their own art. Dryden wrote:

Out age was cultivated thus at length,
But what we gain’d in skill we lost in strength.
Our builders were with want of genius curst;
The second temple was not like the first.

The Restoration temples were constructed, supposedly, according to the French rules for classical architecture; squared by these, the Elizabethan monuments were seen to be abounding in errors. Thus the critic and adapter of Shakespeare in the later seventeenth century, though he might sincerely enough protest his admiration for the whole, found, when he actually came to consider details, so many faults crying for correction, that while he eulogized in general he had little but condemnation in particular. He was to concede greatness of soul to Shakespeare, but neither a civilized taste nor a competent craftsmanship.

That this D’Avenent’s view is shown by the character of his alterations. [pp. 145-146]

Fletcher’s verse, being much easier, more mellifluous, less figurative and rhetorical than Shakespeare’s, was far more likely to survive, in part and in whole, the restoration scalpel. For this reason, and due to prior example, it makes sense that Double Falsehood could have been a restoration revision of  Cardenio; and that Shakespeare’s poetry would have been heavily edited while Fletcher’s verse remained relatively intact.  Most interestingly, Theobald claimed that Davenant’s prompter, John Downes, was likely to have transcribed Double Falsehood. This doesn’t mean Davenant ever saw the play, but as with so much else surrounding DF, the information gives ground for speculation. [Double Falsehood, p. 85]

Anyway, that’s the theory.

It gives little reason to include Double Falsehood (DF) in Shakespeare’s canon (any more than any other Restoration revision Shakespeare). The passages, if they ever were Shakespeare’s, are no longer.

Why, then, do scholars care?

For the same reason that a few fossil fragments pique the curiosity of paleontologists. If DF is indeed the lost Cardenio, then at least we know what Cardenio might have been like. If the Fletcherian parts can be shown to be, in all likelihood, by Fletcher, than that circumstantially (if only slightly) strengthens the case for Shakespeare (who was known to have collaborated with Shakespeare around this time). If the remaining text were by Middleton (as I suggested) then the case for Shakespeare is mildly weakened.

  • Shakespeare collaborated with Middleton in the writing of Timon of Athens. In the now (what I consider) unlikely event that Middleton were shown to be the author of DF, Acts III-V, Shakespeare still wouldn’t be out of the question. A Fletcher ascription, however, does make Dekker (more on that next) less likely.

Fletcher Matters

Since the non-Fletcherian parts of DF are so hopelessly mangled, the best evidence for Shakespeare is to identify DF as Cardenio by, in part, showing that Acts III-V are by Fletcher. And that is exactly what Brean Hammond, in his introduction to Double Falsehood, emphasizes. Hammond writes:

With Theobald’s own further alterations engrafted upon DF, what we now have is a palimpsest or pentimento — at all events, nothing that is straightforwardly Shakespeare-Fletcher. Nonetheless, sophisticated recent analysis of authorship based on linquistic and stylistic analysis lends support to the view that Shakespeare’s hand, and even more plainly Fletcher’s, can be detected in the eighteenth-century redaction. [p. 6]

Hammond doesn’t tell us what sophisticated recent analysis he is referring to. Fletcher? Yes. Shakespeare? I remain very skeptical and I think Brean overstates the case for Shakespeare when he compares the stylometric

Elizabethan Dramatist John Fletcher

evidence to that supporting Fletcher. To my knowledge, none of the Shakespearean scholars (with an established reputation in stylometrics) have demonstrated reasons for favoring Shakespeare. Brian Vickers, author of ‘Counterfeiting’ Shakespeare, writes:

“There is the doubtful tradition that Lewis Theobald acquired the manuscript, adapting it for his own Double Falsehood (1727), but the arguments claiming that Theobald’s text preserves something of Shakespeare and Fletcher’s original seem to me unconvincing.”

Ward Elliot and Robert Vaenza peg Double Falsehood with 11 Discrete Rejections. This puts DF far outside the realm of Shakespearean authorship (on another planet they would say). (To be fair, it appears that they didn’t examine the “Shakespearean” portion separately.)

Only MacDonald Jackson believes that ‘the case for supposing The Double Falsehood to preserve something of the Shakespeare-Fletcher Cardenio is quite strong’. Whether Jackson is basing this statement on stylometrics or Hammond’s claims is unknown. That said, Jackson’s endorsement is qualified. On the last page of the introduction to the Arden edition of Double Falsehood, Brean adds the following:

Yet the concentration of diverse Shakespearean characteristics in, for example, 1.3.53-6 brings Jackson out on the side of [Shakespeare’s] presence in the play. Jackson reserves the right, however, to test a hypothesis that what Theobald owned was a collaboration between Beaumont and Fletcher  rather than Shakespeare and Fletcher. [DF, p. 160]

By the close of the introduction, Hammond himself seems to qualify his earlier confidence. He writes:

“The evidence for Shakespeare’s hand is, as we know, much scantier — in truth very scanty.”

The best evidence for Shakespeare appears to be Fletcher.

William Shakespeare or Tho. Dekker?

One of the theories I advanced in my previous posts was that the playwright Thomas Dekker was as good a candidate for the “Shakespearean” parts of DF (if not better) than Shakespeare. After writing the posts, I received the following correspondence from Matthew Partridge, one who was involved in a production of Double Falsehood. He wrote:

I have recently been involved in a production of “Double Falsehood”, which has got me interested in the whole debate around Shakespeare’s authorship of the play. I was intrigued by the two posts on Double Falsehood in your blog Poem Shape. While I don’t necessarily agree with your conclusions, since it is possible to find examples of Shakespearean imagery that corresponds with each of your categories, and examples where he clumsily repeated a word in a speech, they were still thought provoking.

I asked him for examples and he provided them. So, let’s go over them. (This probably won’t interest most of my readers unless, like me, you peculiarly enjoy forensic poetry.) I present Mr. Partridge’s responses, not to argue with them, but so that a reader can more easily weigh the validity of my previous posts.

eyes & their beams

Here’s what I wrote:

Hope’s methodology contributes to identifying authorship, but can’t be the final word (as he himself would assert). There are other reasons for my thinking that Dekker is behind the first two acts. Consider beams. It was as commonplace during Elizabethan times, that the eyes saw by projecting beams. Poets were quick to make use of this conceit, except for Shakespeare. Only once, in his Sonnet 114, does Shakespeare play on this conceit. There are 25 usages of beams in his plays but not one of them is in the context of the eyes’ beams. The beams are always in reference to the sun, the moon, or candles – always in reference to an object that gives off light. By contrast, consider the following from Double Falsehood (Act I Scene i:

Eyes, that are nothing but continual Births
Of new Desires in Those that view their Beams.
You cannot have a Cause to doubt.

This flies against Shakespeare’s practice. (My theory is that Theobald probably would have kept the imagery of the original author, who I believe to be Dekker, while dolling it up with figurative language.) However, Dekker did make use of this conceit in his imagery (from The Shoemaker’s Holiday):

Why, tell me, Oateley : shines not Lacy’s name
As bright in the world’s eye as the gay beams
Of any citizen ?

The Honest Whore Part I:

If ever, whilst frail blood through my veins run,
On woman’s beams I throw affection…

Partridge was able find one other example of the use of “beams” in Shakespeare’s plays. I too, however, found another example of beams in Dekker’s play Old Furtunatus (see below). More importantly, he found further examples wherein Shakespeare played on the conceit. Here are his examples (all comments are his):

Love’s Labour’s Lost has a direct reference to “eye-beams”.

So sweet a kiss the golden sun gives not / To those fresh morning drops upon the rose / As thy eye-beams, when their fresh rays have smote / The night of dew that on my cheeks down flows:” (LLL.4.3)

Additionally, a lot of the imagery involving women and light centres around the brightness/lustre of their eyes.

Her eyes, like marigolds, had sheathed their light (Rape of Lucere)

For she hath blessed and attractive eyes. / How came her eyes so bright? Not with salt tears (MND.2.2)

‘if you can bring Tincture or lustre in her lip, her eye (WT.3.2)

How and which way I may bestow myself / To be regarded in her sun-bright eye. (TGV.3.1)

The ape is dead, and I must conjure him / I conjure thee by Rosaline’s bright eyes (RJ.2.1)

Although it involves a slightly different context, the following extract from Henry V also refers to eyes, lustre and breeding in a way that closely parallels Double Falsehood.

That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not / For there is none of you so mean and base / That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.(H5.3.1)

So, I was flatly wrong in my assertion that Shakespeare never played on this conceit. I was right, however, to the extent that Shakespeare’s use of the word beams in reference to eyes is exceedingly rare: once in his sonnets and once in the entirety of his plays. Does any of this diminish my argument for Dekker? No, but it ups the chances for some small vestige of Shakespeare. On the other hand, the reference to beams could just have easily been an interpolation by a Restoration poet or Theobald’s own meddling. We’ll never know until Cardenio is found.

the image cluster of heat, cold, the eye, frost, burning, kindling, thawing, sun/Hyperion

Double Falsehood

Jul. I do not see that Fervour in the Maid,
Which Youth and Love should kindle.  She consents,
As ’twere to feed without an Appetite;
Tells me, She is content; and plays the Coy one,
Like Those that subtly make their Words their Ward,
Keeping Address at Distance.  This Affection
Is such a feign’d One, as will break untouch’d;
Dye frosty, e’er it can be thaw’d; while mine,
Like to a Clime beneath Hyperion’s Eye,
Burns with one constant Heat.  I’ll strait go to her;
Pray her to regard my Honour:  but She greets me.–

Now here is Dekker from Shoemaker’s Holiday:

And for she thinks me wanton, she denies
To cheer my cold heart with her sunny eyes.
How prettily she works, oh pretty hand!
Oh happy work! It doth me good to stand
Unseen to see her. Thus I oft have stood
In frosty evenings, a light burning by her,
Enduring biting cold, only to eye her.
One only look hath seem’d as rich to me
As a kings crown; such is loves lunacy.
Muffled He pass along, and by that try
Whether she know me.

In response to these parallels, Partridge offered his own. He wrote:

There are plenty of extended Shakespearean image clusters related to heat, cold, burning etc. Three examples are:

To flaming youth let virtue be as wax, / And melt in her own fire: proclaim no shame / When the compulsive ardour gives the charge / Since frost itself as actively doth burn (Hamlet.3.4)

His falchion on a flint he softly smiteth, / That from the cold stone sparks of fire do fly; / Whereat a waxen torch forthwith he lighteth, / Which must be lode-star to his lustful eye; / And to the flame thus speaks advisedly, / ‘As from this cold flint I enforced this fire, / So Lucrece must I force to my desire. (Rape of Lucere)

‘Such devils steal effects from lightless hell; / For Sinon in his fire doth quake with cold, / And in that cold hot-burning fire doth dwell; / These contraries such unity do hold, / Only to flatter fools and make them bold: / So Priam’s trust false Sinon’s tears doth flatter, / That he finds means to burn his Troy with water.’ (Rape of Lucere)

Some shorter instances:

Thou wouldst as soon go kindle fire with snow / As seek to quench the fire of love with words. (Verona.2.7)

Gods, gods! ’tis strange that from their cold’st neglect / My love should kindle to inflamed respect.(Lear.1.1)

A largess universal like the sun / His liberal eye doth give to every one, / Thawing cold fear, that mean and gentle all, (H5.4.Pro)

Against love’s fire fear’s frost hath dissolution. / The eye of heaven is out (Rape of Lucere)

The following extract from Henry V is also notable since it (1) involves an image cluster of heat, sun & frost (2) is an instance of Shakespeare using the word “frosty” (3) is an example of Shakespeare clumsily repeating a word – (in this case “frosty”).

Is not their climate foggy, raw and dull, / On whom, as in despite, the sun looks pale, / Killing their fruit with frowns? Can sodden water, / A drench for sur-rein’d jades, their barley-broth, / Decoct their cold blood to such valiant heat? / And shall our quick blood, spirited with wine, Seem frosty? / O, for honour of our land, Let us not hang like roping icicles / Upon our houses’ thatch, whiles a more frosty people / Sweat drops of gallant youth in our rich fields! (H5.3.5)

Similarly, as well as involving heat, burning, sun and eye, the lines below also associate dew with coldness.

From forth day’s path and Titan’s fiery wheels: / Now, ere the sun advance his burning eye, / The day to cheer and night’s dank dew to dry (RJ.2.3)

My illustration of the image cluster wasn’t so much meant to exclude Shakespeare, but to demonstrate that this sort of image cluster was also typical of Dekker. (I have a soft-spot for Dekker – the most poetic dramatist after Shakespeare.) Whereas some patterns of thought can be atypical, I meant to show that the imagery of DF could also be found in Dekker’s work. So, while the imagery doesn’t exclude Shakespeare, it also doesn’t exclude Dekker. To balance the many examples from Shakespeare, here are some more by Dekker (notice the combination of eyes, burning, and night):

Come therefore, good father, let’s go faster, lest we come too late: for see, the tapers of the night are already lighted, and stand brightly burning in their starry candle-sticks: see how gloriously the moon shines upon us.

[Both kneel.]

1st O. Man.
Peace, fool: tremble, and kneel: the moon say’st thou?
Our eyes are dazzled by Eliza’s beams,
See (if at least thou dare see) where she sits:
This is the great Pantheon of our goddess,
And all those faces which thine eyes thought stars,
Are nymphs attending on her deity.

Here’s another example from Dekker:

The same sun calls you up in the morning, and the same man in the moon lights you to bed at night; our fields are as green as theirs in summer, and their frosts will nip us more in winter: our birds sing as sweetly and our women are as fair…

Dekker’s extent plays are far fewer than Shakespeare’s, and so finding a commensurate number of examples from Dekker isn’t possible.

of dew & flowers

Here’s what I wrote:

When Shakespeare associates dew with flowers, it is refreshing and always life affirming. When searching through Fletcher’s plays, I notice that his imagery also revolves around dew’s restorative powers. Not so, Dekker. Dekker’s associations with Dew are cold and frequently associated with death and illness…

Partridge countered with the following examples:

There are a few Shakespearean juxtapositions of dew, plants and coldness/sadness/death.

And that same dew, which sometime on the buds /Was wont to swell like round and orient pearls / Stood now within the pretty flowerets‘ eyes / Like tears that did their own disgrace bewail.

The herbs that have on them cold dew o’ the night / Are strewings fitt’st for graves. Upon their faces. (Cym.4.2)

Sweet flower, with flowers thy bridal bed I strew / O woe! thy canopy is dust and stones / Which with sweet water nightly I will dew / Or, wanting that, with tears distill’d by moans / The obsequies that I for thee will keep / Nightly shall be to strew thy grave and weep. (RJ.5.3)

Compare these examples with DF:

O Kiss, sweet as the Odours of the Spring,
But cold as Dews that dwell on Morning Flow’rs!

And Dekker:

a sensible cold dew
Stood on thy cheeks, as if that death had wept
To see such beauty alter. [The Honest Whore Part 1]

The frosty hand of age now nips your blood,
And strews her snowy flowers upon your head,
And gives you warning that within few years,
Death needs must marry you… [Old Fortunatus]

I was wrong to write that Shakespeare’s associations with dew and flowers are always life affirming. I might more accurately have written that the preponderance of these associations are life affirming.

women & light

Here’s what I wrote:

Double Falsehood

Th’Obscureness of her Birth
Cannot eclipse the Lustre of her Eyes,
Which make her all One Light.

The Honest Whore Part 1

Those roses withered, that set out her cheeks:
That pair of stars that gave her body light…

Notice the appearance of eyes in both passages. In fact, the habit of thought is almost identical. In both cases, the eyes/that pair of stars give light/Light to her body.

Furthermore, if I search through a Shakespeare concordance, nowhere does Shakespeare equate a woman’s beauty (or body) with light. In fact, Shakespeare usually associates femininity and lightness with… well… being a light-brained wench. The imagery is much more typical of Dekker.

Mr. Partridge countered with the following examples:

Associations of female beauty with light are relatively common in Shakespeare.

‘Tis but her picture I have yet beheld / And that hath dazzled my reason’s light / But when I look on her perfections, (TGV.4.2)

But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? / It is the east, and Juliet is the sun. (R&J.2.2)

For here lies Juliet, and her beauty makes / This vault a feasting presence full of light. (R&J.5.3)

Devils soonest tempt, resembling spirits of light. /O, if in black my lady’s brows be deck’d, (LLL.4.3)

‘Fair torch, burn out thy light, and lend it not / To darken her whose light excelleth thine: (Rape of Lucrece)

My statement that “nowhere does Shakespeare equate a woman’s beauty (or body) with light” is wrong. In fact, I just rechecked my concordance and can’t fathom what I was thinking. I apparently wasn’t? I’d like to blame it on something. What remains though, is the strong parallel between the habit of thought in DF and Dekker’s passage. The parallel by no means diminishes Shakespeare as a possible source, but it also stands in agreement with Dekker.

the fox & her den

Here’s what I wrote:

Spurgeon also points out that Dekker comes nearest to Shakespeare in his imagery of sport and game. Consider the following from Double Falsehood:

Cam. I profess, a Fox might earth in the Hollowness of your
Heart, Neighbour, and there’s an End.

(Notice the anthimeria of earth, probably an addition by Theobald.) None of Shakespeare’s fox imagery seems drawn from actual experience and none refer to the fox’s den or desire to hide. Shakespeare’s references to the fox are more symbolic. Dekker’s fox imagery, on the other hand, seems drawn from real experience:

The Honest Whore Part 1

Faugh, not I, makes your breath stink like the
piss of a fox.

The Honest Whore Part 2

But the old fox is so crafty, we shall hardly hunt
him out of his den.

The Noble Spanish Soldier

Young cub’s flayed, but the she-fox shifting her hole is fled. The
little jackanapes, the boy’s brained.

Partridge responded with the following examples:

There are 37 references to foxes in Shakespeare’s works. Most of them either relate to (1) a predator (2) someone untrustworthy (3) a bad smell. Given the context it seems that Camillo is clearly comparing Don Bernard’s (un)trustworthiness to that of a fox.

There’s no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune; nor no more truth in thee than in a drawn fox (H4-1.3.3)

Suspicion all our lives shall be stuck full of eyes; For treason is but trusted like the fox, (H4-1.5.2)

O’ the t’other side, the policy of those crafty swearing rascals, that stale old mouse-eaten dry cheese, Nestor, and that same dog-fox, Ulysses, is not proved worthy a blackberry: they set me up (Cressida.5.4)

false of heart, light of ear / bloody of hand; hog in sloth, fox in stealth (Lear.3.4)

Or at the fox which lives by subtlety (Venus)

In this case, I think my observations hold up. Shakespeare’s references to fox strike me as largely symbolic while Dekker’s seem more drawn from experience. Also, Shakespeare more readily associates the “den” with lions. I couldn’t find an example of Shakespeare meantiong the fox with his “den”. In DF, the den is implied in the phrase “Hallowness of your heart”.

swiftest wing

Here’s what I wrote:

Consider this passage from Caroline Spurgeon’s Shakespeare’s Imagery:

We have seen that Dekker, alone of these five other dramatists, shows in his images something of Shakespeare’s sympathy with the poor and oppressed, especially with prisoners. There is one characteristic seen in another group of images altogether -that of birds- which I may just mention, as it emphasizes this point. This is the quite remarkably large number of images he has from ‘wings’: soaring and riding on wings, being transported on the wind’s swift wings, escaping by putting on ‘winged feet’, clapping on swift wings and the like… ¶ Next to those of Shakespeare, Dekker’s images… seem more alive and human, more charged with his personality and direct experience that those of any other of the dramatists here analysed… [p. 40]

Double Falsehood

Jul. Fear not, but I with swiftest Wing of Time
Will labor my Return…

Mr. Partridge offered a number of examples from Shakespare:

The three word phrase “swiftest wing of” appears in Macbeth

thou art so far before / That swiftest wing of recompense is slow / To overtake thee.

Shakespeare also associated “wing” with swiftness/time in Henry V

Thus with imagined wing our swift scene flies / In motion of no less celerity / Than that of thought.(H5.3.Pro)

He also associated love with wing in Hamlet

I would fain prove so. But what might you think, / When I had seen this hot love on the wing—(Ham.2.2)

Shakespeare also associates “swift” with time

Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleets, And do whate’er thou wilt, swift-footed Time, (Son.19)

Experience is by industry achieved / And perfected by the swift course of time.(TGV.1.3)

And why not the swift foot of Time? had not that / been as proper? (ASYL.3.2)

Let him have time to mark how slow time goes / In time of sorrow, and how swift and short / His time of folly and his time of sport; (Rape of Lucrece)

‘Mis-shapen Time, copesmate of ugly Night / Swift subtle post, carrier of grisly care, (Rape of Lucrece)

As in previous examples (those which have held up), I wasn’t so much claiming that this imagery didn’t appear in Shakespeare, but that another Shakespeare critic, Caroline Spurgeon, had especially noted and appreciated its presence in Dekker.

oaths & exclamations

I picked up a copy of MacDonald P. Jackson’s Studies in Attribution: Middleton and Shakespeare. It was from his work that I concluded that some of the language in the latter three acts of DF were more typical of Middleton than Fletcher. That evidence remains unchanged despite the stronger evidence, in isolated cases, for Fletcher. (The appearance of Middletonian contractions, such as on’t, to’t or h’as/sh’as are not typical of Fletcher. However, their appearance may be due to revision by a Restoration author or may simply be a statistical anomaly. It may also, just to add to the speculation, be because Middleton touched up the original Cardenio? — certainly within the realm of the possible.) Lastly, Dekker, like Shakespeare,  shows a preference for hath and doth. We find the language in the first two acts of DF.

Jackson devotes a chapter to differentiating between Middleton and Dekker. One of the ways he does so is by Dekker’s favored use of oaths and exclamations. For example: in God’s name, alack, sblood, O God, God so, God’s my life, sheart, Godamercy, zounds, by God, God’s my pittikins, tush, snails, marry gup, plague found you, God bless him.

None of these oaths and exclamations appear in the first two acts or anywhere else in the play. That argues against Dekker (or they could have been removed by revision). Is there anything else? Jackson writes:

Dekker does not use by this light, berlady, or with a vengeance in the six plays of his undoubted sole authorship, but I notice that both by this light occur in The Merry Devil of Edmonton, a play which has been attributed to Dekker on a fair accumulation of internal evidence.

In DF, by our light appears in the second act:

D. Bern. Mad; Mad. Stark mad, by this Light.

Is this evidence for Dekker? Maybe. It could also be evidence for Shakespeare, since Shakespeare also preferred this oath. Interestingly, The Merry Devil of Edmonton was thought, by some, to be by Shakespeare and has long been included in Shakespeare “apocrypha”. Dekker’s poetic imagination is similar, in some ways, to Shakespeare’s.

the verdict

The argument for Dekker is diminished once Fletcher is assigned the latter three acts of DF. There are, to my knowledge, no other collaborations between Fletcher and Dekker. While there may be hints of Dekker in the first two acts, those same hints could also be construed as evidence for Shakespeare. If the choice were between Dekker and Shakespeare, and if one accepts Fletcher’s presence in the last three acts, then the evidence more strongly suggests Shakespeare than Dekker. I go where the evidence goes (if reluctantly). So, hat’s off to Mr. Hammond. As he himself states, any attempt to identify the progenitors of Double Falsehood must end with caution.

My thanks to the blog Shaksyear, his post Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Baked Beans, Spam, Egg, Sausage, and Double Falsehood: Hasn’t Got Much Shakespeare in It (Part 1 of 3), for prompting me to finally write my own re-visitation.

Also, I am especially grateful to Matthew Partridge for his corrections and response.

Let’s all hope Cardenio shows up.