“Double Falsehood”

Charles Nicholl writes:

Lewis Theobald’s Double Falsehood had its premiere at the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane on 13 December 1727. It was a romantic tragicomedy in a Spanish setting; the story was from an episode in Don Quixote. Theobald’s statement that it met with ‘universal applause’ is untrue, but it certainly created a buzz. The play ran for ten consecutive performances – no mean feat in the quick-change repertoire of those days – and the first edition, published in January 1728, sold out in a few weeks. This stir of interest had little to do with Theobald’s reputation as a playwright, which was rather middling: his most recent employment was as a librettist of light operatic pantomimes. Nor was it due to the drawing power of the celebrated Barton Booth, who had been billed to play the lead role of Julio but was too ill from jaundice to appear. What drew the crowds to Double Falsehood was the involvement (in a manner of speaking) of another, even bigger theatrical star, for it was Theobald’s remarkable claim, teasingly publicised over the previous months, that his play was based on a hitherto unknown work by Shakespeare. ‘It is my good fortune to retrieve this remnant of his pen from obscurity,’ he says with studied modesty. He calls it ‘this orphan play’, and ‘this dear relick’. On the title page Double Falsehood is described as ‘A Play … Written Originally by W. Shakespeare; and now Revised and Adapted to the Stage By Mr Theobald’.

(LRB 2 December 2010)