The Boy Who Would be Shakespeare: A Tale of Forgery and Folly

The Boy Who Would be Shakespeare: A Tale of Forgery and Folly


By (author) Doug Stewart

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  • Publisher: Da Capo Press Inc
  • Format: Hardback | 256 pages
  • Dimensions: 140mm x 210mm x 23mm | 354g
  • Publication date: 1 April 2010
  • Publication City/Country: Cambridge, MA
  • ISBN 10: 0306818310
  • ISBN 13: 9780306818318
  • Illustrations note: 12 page b/w photo insert
  • Sales rank: 907,320

Product description

This is the true story of how a quiet, unremarkable, 19-year-old clerk almost pulled off the greatest literary hoax of all time. In the winter of 1795, a frustrated young writer named William Henry Ireland stood petrified in his father's London study as two of England's most esteemed men of letters, in powdered wigs, interrogated him about a tattered piece of paper that he claimed to have found while rummaging in an old trunk. It was a note from William Shakespeare-a memorabilia collector's equivalent of the Crown Jewels. Or was it? In the months that followed, Ireland produced a torrent of Shakespearean fabrications: letters, deeds, poetry, drawings-even an original full-length play, Vortigern and Rowena, that would be hailed as The Bard's lost masterpiece and staged at the famous Drury Lane Theatre. The documents were hastily written and forensically implausible, but those who inspected them were blind to their flaws. They ached to see firsthand what had flowed from Shakespeare's quill. And so they did. In this dramatic and improbable story of Shakespeare's teenaged double, Doug Stewart takes us to 18th century London and brings us face-to-face with the most audacious literary forger in history.

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Author information

Doug Stewart writes frequently about history and the arts for Smithsonian magazine. A freelance journalist, his articles have also appeared in Time, Discover, and Reader's Digest. He lives in Ipswich,

Review quote

"Library Journal," 3/15/10 "A vivid dissection of the folly of human nature. This is a great book club choice and an excellent selection for readers of literary thrillers, history, or social science." The Bookbag website, April 2010 "[A] totally gripping account of one of literature's greatest hoaxes...As a non-fiction thriller, this is absolutely first class...Beneath all the excitement, though, there's a rather tender story of a boy, unsure of his place in the world, pining for his father's affection and yet knowing that his actions could eventually have dire consequences for that same father--it's almost Shakespearean itself, and Stewart draws on this beautifully. In the course of a tightly focused narrative, the author also manages to provide a lot of really interesting information on life in Elizabethan times, and the power of the theatre and the press in the Georgian era...Highest possible recommendation for anyone interested in Shakespeare, Georgian England, or true life thrillers." "Publishers Weekly," 3/22/10 "Stewart's exhaustively researched examination of the Irelands' rise and fall is as entertaining as it is informative; modern readers, accustomed to Shakespeare's place of reverence, will be surprised to learn how ignorant Georgian England was of his work. Where Stewart's research truly shines is in accessing Ireland's human motivations--his desire for approval and artistic legitimacy, not profit, distinguishes him from other cons, making him neither wholly despicable nor pitiable. History and literary enthusiasts will be delighted with this smart investigation into a high-minded hoax." "Booklist," 4/15/10 "Stewart's fascinating history recounts William-Henry's short, frantic rise and fall, his brush with fame, and his subsequent lifelong infamy. He places William-Henry's remarkable achievement, which for a time fooled many of England's literary and other notables, including James Boswell, in the context of eighteen