Biography of William Henry Ireland and the "Lost Works" of Shakespeare Part 1

About the famous or infamous English Forger William Henry Ireland, his biography as he attempted to pass off forgeries as the lost works of Shakespeare.

WILLIAM HENRY IRELAND (1777-1835).

English forger.

William Shakespeare wrote 37 plays in his lifetime. Not one, or even a fragment of one, written in his hand survived him. Even Shakespeare's signature was scarce. The 3 existing on the 3 sheets of his will became national treasures. Not a shred of correspondence from Shakespeare to a publisher, producer, patron, fellow writer actor, or friend existed. And documents concerning Shakespeare--not by him but about him--were extremely rare. There were documents to be seen on his marriage, the baptism of his 2 daughters and son, the death of his son at age 11, his performance as an actor in court, the purchase of his large house, and a few others relating to real estate investments. But there was not a single document giving evidence of Shakespeare's activities between 1585 and 1592, among the peak years of his career. The lack of documentation by and about Shakespeare was a loss to humanity and scholarship.

William Ireland's claim to fame--or notoriety--was that he tried to make up this loss. When he was 17 and 18 years old, Ireland stunned and thrilled the world by bringing forth a mass of papers, written by or about Shakespeare, that he had found. For 2 years, an excited world paid homage to these priceless papers and to young Ireland himself.

There was only one problem, as it turned out: The bonds, deeds, leases, letters, plays written by Shakespeare had been written not by the Bard but by the precocious Ireland himself. The forgeries were among the most daring and successful in the history of literature.

Young Ireland's father, Samuel Ireland, was a well-known London engraver, as well as a dealer in rare books and antiques. The boy grew up among the musty treasures of the past. One day, finding in his father's collection an ancient volume bearing the crest of the royal family's library, William Ireland prankishly penned a dedication on the flyleaf from the author to the long-dead Queen Elizabeth. William was shaken when his father unquestioningly accepted the fake inscription as genuine. With that success, William learned two things: that he possessed a natural gift for forgery, and that it was possible to deceive an expert totally.

A combination of 3 events turned the boy to Shakespeare. A visit to Stratford-on-Avon proved inspirational. There, too, he learned of the severe shortage of original Shakespeare papers. Finally, brief employment as a conveyancer's clerk allowed him to handle early documents, which provided him with the models for the undertaking that was stirring in his head.

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