Faking Shakespeare (Part 4): The Tragedy of Louis XVI

In my last post on the William Henry Ireland forgeries, I looked at a 1799 copy of Ireland's fake Shakespeare plays Vortigern and Henry II -- a copy that included several pages of the authentic and authenticated handwriting of the notorious forger himself. Most of this authenticated forgery consisted of draft pages of a history play based on the (quite recent at the time) reign of Louis XVI of France. That last post included images of those pages, which I've since had time to transcribe -- and the images along with the transcriptions can be found below.

Ireland had a lifelong fascination with France -- he lived abroad there for several years, both as a child and as an adult, and wrote several books on France and French history. Figuring out the specific relationship between this manuscript fragment and his more formal intellectual projects would be (will be?) a lengthy task. And of course his engagement with Shakespeare is also crucial here -- Ireland thought his fake Shakespeare play Henry II to be far superior to his first (and notoriously derided) effort Vortigern, and on at least one occasion harbored an ambition to fill out Shakespeare's cycle of history plays with additional plays covering the reigns of monarchs Shakespeare had neglected.

I'll leave it to the great variety of readers to determine the aesthetic appeal of Ireland's fragment -- it is an admittedly maudlin piece of work, with a few Shakespearean allusions and pseudo-Shakespearean flourishes, the  most obvious being the one I pointed out in the last post: the concluding gesture towards Horatio's lament over Hamlet's death. The various farewells among the royal family are melodramatic, but in Ireland's defense, he does come up with some strikingly gruesome images of a personified Death in the king's opening soliloquy. Not bad, we might say, for a story ripped from the headlines, as it were. As you can see, he also took the time to insert stage directions and, on two occasions, to strikethrough a word, inserting a correction in the right margin.

I've re-posted the relevant images below, so that you can compare them with my transcription, which can be found here.

[UPDATE: You can also download a PDF of this transcription at my Academia.edu profile here]

The fragment is untitled, but I think we can safely give it a name:

The Tragedy of Louis XVI

2v - 3r
3v - 4r