Cardenio or Double Falsehood

April 15, 2010 in Community, Musings, News, Releases

There’s been a bit of a stir in the Shakespearian community recently, what with the release of a new play by the Bard. To be fair, it is not quite so sensational as it sounds: the possibility that part of *Cardenio* or, as the Arden edition entitles it, *Double Falsehood* might be by Shakespeare goes back to at least the 18th Century.

What’s new is that textual and historical evidence is now available that confirms this play to be from some time in the early 17th century. It contains, for example, the word “absonant”, which is found only in texts by Shakespeare…and by his successor as writer for the King’s Men, Fletcher. Thus the play is most likely a collaborative work between the two, as was perfectly normal for the period. Other Shakespeare/Fletcher collaborations include *King Henry VIII*, and possibly parts of *Pericles*.

I post this news here because such a claim was only made possible thanks to advances in technology dealing with texts. New databases of texts make searches for references to a play far faster and easier, whilst new stylometric algorithms make the most of such databases to pick up minute differences in vocabulary usage that allow an author’s DNA to be distinguished. For the curious, Shakespeare uses “thee” and “hath“, whilst Fletcher, being fifteen years his junior, uses the more modern “ye“.

Perhaps one day, The Open Shakespeare Project will contribute to such breakthroughs. Until then, we have a separate issue to deal with: do we add *Cardenio* / *Double Falsehood* to our site?

What do you think? Could you write an introduction to it?

3 responses to “Cardenio or Double Falsehood”

  1. Marie Merkel says:

    Could you please tell me where we will find the word “absonant” in Shakespeare?

    Thank you,

    Marie Merkel

  2. James Harriman-Smith says:

    Dear Marie,
    I think you may have caught me out…I drew my information from an article in The Saturday Times, and must confess only checked the ‘ye’ / ‘thee’ proof, which was very convincing.

    Since your message, I have been trying to find the word ‘absonant’ in Shakespeare to no avail. Either The Times was misleading its readers, or it exists as a variant of another word. Jonathan Bate’s ‘The Genius of Shakespeare’ discusses the relevant passage in Double Falsehood, and refrains from calling ‘absonant’ Shakespearean, instead terming it “a rare sixteenth-century word” (p.81).

    This last hypothesis seems to be the truest to me. There are many rare words Shakespeare only employed once, and ‘absonant’, to judge from the OED entry, is certainly not from Theobald’s era but from the 16th and early 17th centuries. Even though (variants notwithstanding) it occurs nowhere else in Shakespeare, it is of his time.

    I hope this answers your question,


  3. Marie Merkel says:


    Thanks for your response, which I only now discovered when searching for something else.

    I’m thinking that what might have happened is some sloppy transmission during the interview process. Here’s one version of Hammond’s comments, as posted in the Telegraph:

    “Some words in Double Falsehood were not in any of Theobald or Fletcher’s other works,” he said. “A small example is the word ‘absonant’ which appears in the first act of Double Falsehood. It means displeasing to the ear, harsh or discordant.

    “This word does not appear in Theobald or Fletcher’s work but it does appear to be a word that was invented by Shakespeare,” says Hammond.” [end quote]

    But I also found this version, in the Times, also from Hammond:

    "Passages in the first half of the play, before Fletcher took over, “have the density, metrical sophistication and metaphorical richness” characteristic of Shakespeare. There are also words “that you won’t find anywhere else (again characteristic of Shakespeare) such as ‘absonant’ which means ill-sounding, not pleasant to the ear." [end quote]

    After reading Bate on “absonant” (turns up right away in an online search), it does seem as if this is where Hammond had taken his cue on the possibly Shakespearean quality of the word.

    Could Hammond have forgotten that the word wasn’t actually used by Shakespeare, only “like” him? I doubt it. Seems to me that the journalist didn’t transcribe his actual words. The Times quote shows that he knows it’s only “characteristic” – whatever that means!


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