In today's blog I am reviewing a book that I would highly recommend to anyone who likes Shakespeare, mysteries, true crime, history, or just loves a good book! As a Shakespearean actor and scholar, I was especially excited about this one!
The Boy Who Would Be Shakespeare: A Tale of Forgery and Folly, recounts an amazing story. And perhaps most astounding, a true story. It is one of those tales that reads like great fiction, but is indeed fact. It tells the tale of William Henry Ireland, a simple law clerk with a rather unimpressive life, who wants to impress his father. To do so, he forges a document that he knows his father would love for his collection, a document signed by William Shakespeare. Like many lies, this one starts off simply and builds and builds until the lie takes on a life of it's own. Before long, William Ireland is producing many documents by Shakespeare, and eventually even pens a play by Shakespeare that he passes off as a new found treasure.
The astounding part of the story is that well respected scholars, leaders and experts all believed that these documents were indeed penned by Shakespeare. Even the fake play that Ireland wrote was accepted by Richard Sheridan, a leading writer and producer at the time, and presented at the Drury Lane Theater to sell-out crowds.Time after time, things that should have shown Ireland up as a fraud take an almost incredible and often comic twist, and wind up convincing people further of the authenticity of the documents.
The Boy Who Would Be Shakespeare was written by Doug Stewart, who I had the pleasure of meeting recently when he gave a talk about the book. It is very well written, and I was especially impressed at how the author fleshed out the work with revealing the emotional motivations behind the players in this story. A boy wanting his fathers love and respect, a collectors passionate pursuit of Shakespeare's signature, and people so desperate to find out more about the Bard that they would act blindly to believe a hoax.
I can't recommend this work enough. It is a fabulous and engaging read, and Mr. Stewart has done a masterful job at making what might have been just a brief historical side-note full bodied and vastly entertaining.
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