Saturday, April 11, 2015

Alexander Pope can suck it!

Ready for some thrilling news from the world of forensic theatre analysis? Then buckle your doublets and hold on to your neck ruffles: Shakespeare's got a new play.
Above: The Jacobean age was objectively ridiculous.
He might as well have called it:
Time to Remodel the Kitchen of Dune
You're probably wondering how a dead English playwright whose work's been studied and scrutinized constantly for the last 400 years could possibly write a new play. Well, he didn't and it's not. New that is. Back in 1728, a playwright named Lewis Theobald cranked out a play called Double Falsehood, which he said was an adaptation of a lost play called Cardenio written by Shakespeare and John Fletcher. It's sort of like how Frank Herbert's son somehow keeps finding new, unpublished Dune novels in his father's basement. And like Brian Herbert's many Random Noun of Dune books, Lewis Theobald's work was met with skepticism. When pressed for proof, he claimed that he'd pieced the play together from some original manuscripts he'd found, but they'd been destroyed in a library fire know, just take his word for it.

Despite the fact that this was 1728 and their entire waddle and daub civilization was flammable, the idea that Theobald's manuscripts had been lost in a fire was viewed by some of his contemporaries as a little too convenient so they called shenanigans.
Pictured: A typical Wednesday in Theobald's London. 
Are we sure Pope wasn't on to something?
I mean, c'mon Hamlet, fardels? Seriously?
Theobald's most notable shenanigan-caller was his former friend, poet Alexander Pope, with whom he had a falling out over Pope's attempts to 'improve' Shakespeare's plays by re-writing the parts he didn't like or didn't understand. In response, Theobald wrote the preposterously titled pamphlet: Shakespeare Restored, or a Specimen of the many Errors as well Committed as Unamended by Mr Pope in his late edition of this poet; designed not only to correct the said Edition, but to restore the true Reading of Shakespeare in all the Editions ever published. Yup, that whole thing's the title.

Guess what it was about? Anyway, pamphlets were how you had flame wars in the 18th century and it was on. For three hundred years, the authorship of Double Falsehood was in doubt, and by doubt I mean most scholars assumed Theobald was full of shit because some poet who wrote the first Cliff's Notes couldn't take a little criticism.
"Screw that fancy douche bag..."
-Alexander Pope,
Above: Pope's grave. If you're ever in
London, be sure to point and laugh at it. 
This all changed last year when researchers Ryan L. Boyd and James W. Pennebaker from the University of Texas ran the play through some text analyzing software and discovered that holy shit, maybe Theobald wasn't making it up after all. Their program compared the play to Shakespeare's, Fletcher's and Theobald's other work and found linguistic and psychological similarities that suggest that Shakespeare probably wrote most of it with only some text from Fletcher and just a smidgen of Theobald thrown in.

"Really, there's just very, very little similarity to Theobald that it is practically impossible that he wrote it."

-Ryan L. Boyd, inviting Alexander Pope to suck it

So congratulations Lewis Theobald. I think. I mean, before Boyd and Pennebaker's analysis, everyone kind of thought you were a liar who wrote an incredibly convincing Shakespeare play. Now everyone knows you were telling the truth and we can chalk yet another one up for Shakespeare. It's about time he got some recognition, right? Good for him.
"What, another one? What's that make, thirty-eight masterpieces?
 Thirty-nine? Oh, just put it over there with the others..."

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