Ireland forgeries



  • One of the most famous of all literary forgeries. William HenryIreland (1777 - 1835) was the son of a bookseller and amateurantiquarian. At the age of only 19, young Ireland produced a numberof seemingly ancient leases and other documents purporting to be inShakespeare's handwriting, including a love poem to 'Anna Hatherrawaye'.Emboldened by their acceptance, he forged manuscripts of King Learand Hamlet and even two 'lost' Shakespeare plays - Vortigernand Rowena and Henry II.

    Ignoring the suspicions of Kemble, Sheridan producedVortigern and Rowena at Drury Lane in 1796. Mrs Siddonsand Mrs Palmer walked out during rehearsals and when it came to theperformance Kemble helped to ensure that the play was laughed offthe stage. When he spoke the line "When this solemn mockeryis o'er", the house yelled and hissed until the curtain fell.Meanwhile the critic Edmond Malone had studied the MiscellaneousPapers, said to be Shakespeare's, and had declared them forgeries.Ireland confessed later that same year. His motive appears to havebeen a craving to secure the regard and admiration of his father,whose antiquarian interests amounted to an obsession.

    The forgeries (of Vortigern and Rowena and Henry II) cannow be seen in the British Museum. see also Shakespeareana.