Shakespeare really does seem to be the flavour of the year amongst publishers. First there was a spate of books about who really wrote the plays if it wasn’t a glover’s son from Stratford — all of which I wrote about earlier in the year and got ticked off roundly for the heresy that actually I don’t care much who wrote them. I’m just thankful that someone did.
Now we get news of Double Falsehood which may, at least in part, be by Shakespeare - whoever he was. Discussions have been ongoing since the early 18th century when it popped up in Drury Lane.
Well, Methuen Drama take it seriously enough to have issued a fat new edition as part of its Arden Third Series along with the rest of the canon which is gradually being republished. Brian Hammond of Nottingham University, who has edited and annotated it very thoroughly, argues that the play — whose alternative name is The Distressed Lovers — is definitely not simply a lost play by Shakespeare.
It could be by James Shirley, Philip Massinger or John Fletcher, he says. At best it is a collaborative play by Fletcher and Shakespeare. The eighteenth century impresario Lewis Theobald certainly had a big hand in it. All very intriguing, especially given the rumours coming out of Stratford that Gregory Doran is working on it with a view to staging it - what an education that will/would be.
Also new in the Arden Shakespeare series is a fat revised edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, edited by Katherine Duncan Jones. All drama students - indeed anyone remotely interested in the spoken word - should be deeply familiar with these remarkable poems and this edition provides nice clean text with accessible, useful explanatory notes opposite. I once set myself a project of reading and studying one Shakespeare sonnet a day for five months until I’d worked through them all. This book will probably inspire me to repeat it.
Also on my pile - the best things go in threes - is a ‘new’ biography, Shakespeare: an ungentle life. Actually it was published in 2001 but has now been re-issued in a new edition with additional material. Katherine Duncan Jones (learly a busy woman) may well be Shakespeare’s first female biographer. She is very good at bringing to life - and exploring the historical context - of a figure whose life is notoriously difficult to document because so many facts are missing.