A day or so ago this news story posted, and it's been making the rounds among several of my colleagues. The short version is simple: a lost Shakespeare play, The History of Cardenio, has been found.

That would be huge news. Shakespeare studies are some of the most difficult in the fields of drama and English to give any new insights into simply because Shakespeare has been studied to death. Just about the only way to create a meaningful contribution on Shakespeare now is to invent an entire method of critique and apply it to him. That or find one of his lost plays and become the big name in Shakespeare studies for the rest of your career.

The story sounds plausible. The History of Cardenio is known to have been written, but it has not been discovered in any manuscript. Lewis Theobald in the early 18th century claimed to have discovered three manuscripts of the play and redacted them into his version of the play, entitled Double Falsehood. The play follows the plot of an episode from Don Quixote. Scholars have been at work trying to discover what Shakespeare remained in Double Falsehood, since Theobald's manuscripts have disappeared and the play is generally considered not to have good enough writing to really be Shakespeare.


If that last bit sounds weird to you, that's because Shakespeare studies have a long history of assuming that Shakespeare was capable of nothing less than perfection. If it was written by him, every line, nay, every word had purpose behind it. If it wasn't very good and was attributed to him, it was often considered to be a false Shakespeare. Titus Andronicus once suffered under this prejudice, until it was proven to be undoubtedly Shakespeare. Nowadays critics say that it is unpolished, but point all over the play to the flashes of genius it exhibits and the seeds of good writing Shakespeare would develop in later works. Shakespeare can do no wrong in the critics' eyes, so much so that bad plays just aren't accepted as his (and if they are, suddenly they're subtly genius all along).

So this story promises something great. If we have the original History of Cardenio we can skip Theobald entirely. And it sounds plausible. The pages date to the 16th century! Sir Humphrey McElroy's estate had it! But sometimes a story looks too good to be true, and this is one of them.


First of all, World News Daily Report is the only site reporting on this at all (it is also akin to The Onion, but not funny, and we'll ignore that for now). Shakespeare's big enough that this would have gotten some traction in the day or so since they posted the story.

Secondly, I can't find any evidence of the existence of a baron named Sir Humphrey McElroy in Brighton anywhere. Anywhere except that news story, that is.

Last, and most damning, is the date of the ink and paper given. The 16th century sounds great. Until you remember that this play is meant to be an adaptation of an episode from Don Quixote. When was that novel published? 1605, the 17th century. A late 16th century print, as reported here, could never be the History of Cardenio, especially considering that the novel was not translated into English for the first time until 1612.

All told, it's a nice little hoax we've had perpetrated on us by this story. I didn't catch it right away, not until I looked closely at the dates claimed and started looking toward other parts of the story, and then at the site at large. Some of my colleagues didn't catch it either. Well-played, World News Daily Report, but I've got my eye on you now. And you're not pulling this one again.