Vortigern and Rowena

Vortigern and Rowena

"Vortigern and Rowena", or "Vortigern, an Historical Play" is a play that was touted as a newly-discovered work by William Shakespeare when it first appeared in 1796. It was eventually revealed to be a piece of Shakespeare Apocrypha, the product of prominent forger William Henry Ireland. Its first and only performance was April 2, 1796, when it was ridiculed by the audience. Its titular protagonists, Vortigern and Rowena, are figures from Britain's traditional history.


Ireland had produced several earlier documents he claimed represented the writings of Shakespeare, but "Vortigern and Rowena" was the first and only play he attempted. Hearing of a newly recovered "lost" Shakespeare play, Irish playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan purchased the rights to the first production at Drury Lane Theatre in London for 300 pounds and the promise of half the revenues to Ireland's family. After reading the play, Sheridan noted its relative simplicity compared to Shakespeare's known works. Actor John Philip Kemble, the manager of Drury Lane, and who would play the title role in the play's only production, had serious doubts about "Vortigern"'s authenticity. Irish Shakespearean scholar Edmond Malone published "An Inquiry into the Authenticity of Certain Miscellaneous Papers and Legal Instruments" on March 21, 1796, about the authenticity of "Vortigern" and the other documents "discovered" by Ireland.

When "Vortigern and Rowena" opened on April 2, 1796, Kemble used the chance to hint at his opinion by repeating Vortigern's line "and when this solemn mockery is o'er," and the play was derided by the audience. It was never performed again. Some early critics accused William Henry Ireland's father Samuel of the forgery, though William assumed responsibility in two printed confessions. Neither Ireland's reputation recovered from the fiasco, and William eventually moved to France, where he lived for several decades. He tried to publish "Vortigern and Rowena" as his own work when he returned to England in 1832, but met with little success.


Like other apocryphal plays attributed to Shakespeare, "The Birth of Merlin" and "Locrine", "Vortigern and Rowena" takes as its subject the Matter of Britain, drawing especially from Geoffrey of Monmouth's "Historia Regum Britanniae". Shakespeare used Britain's mythical history in several of his plays, including "King Lear" and "Cymbeline", based on the stories of Leir of Britain and Cunobelinus, respectively.

The story concerns Vortigern, who usurps the throne of Britain from the rightful king Constantius. He eventually falls in love with Rowena, the daughter of the Saxon king Hengist. He finally receives his comeuppance from Constantius' brothers Aurelius and Uter (Uther Pendragon, King Arthur's father).


*Ireland, William Henry (1805). "The Confessions of William Henry Ireland". [http://www.elibron.com/english/other/item_detail.phtml?msg_id=10024805] Reprinted 2001. Elibron Classics. ISBN 1-4021-2520-8.
*Ireland, William Henry. [http://www.vortigernstudies.org.uk/artlit/vortigern.htm"Vortigern, an Historical Play"] . From Vortigernstudies.org.uk. Retrieved May 26, 2007.

External links

* [http://www.museumofhoaxes.com/ireland.html William Henry Ireland's Shakespeare Forgeries]
* [http://www.vortigernstudies.org.uk/artlit/vortigern.htm A text of "Vortigern and Rowena"]

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