Vortigern in and out of the Closet


  • Jeffrey Kahan University of La Verne


The W. H. Ireland forgery Vortigern has been explored repeatedly as an infamous and in some ways scandalous theatrical failure. At the same time, studies of Ireland himself have focused on the toxic nature of his childhood. Yet, no one has entwined these performative and biographical threads. This paper reframes Vortigern as a closet play designed to expose and humiliate the forger's father, Samuel Ireland. It gathers evidence from the hitherto unexplored first draft of the play, which was read aloud by Samuel Ireland at a family gathering. The earliest draft of Vortigern was not a play designed for professional performance; it was, rather, a closet play, a mousetrap in which Samuel Ireland was ensnared, his credulity exposed, and moral hypocrisy uncovered before his counterfeit family.

Author Biography

Jeffrey Kahan, University of La Verne

Jeffrey Kahan is the author of several books, among them Reforging Shakespeare (1998), The Cult of Kean (2006), Bettymania and the Birth of Celebrity Culture (2010), Shakespritualism: Shakespeare and the Gothic, 1850-1950 (2013), The Quest for Shakespeare (Palgrave, 2017), and Shakespeare and Superheroes (ARC, 2018).