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The History of Cardenio, often referred to as merely Cardenio, is a lost play, known to have been performed by The King's Men, a London theatre company, in 1613.[1] It was attributed to William Shakespeare and John Fletcher in a Stationers' Register entry of 1653. The content of the play is not known, but it was likely to have been based on an episode in Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote involving the character Cardenio, a young man who has been driven mad and lives in the Sierra Morena. Thomas Shelton's translation of the First Part of Don Quixote was published in 1612, and would thus have been available to the presumed authors of the play.

It has been claimed that material from The History of Cardenio has survived. Two plays have been put forward as being related to the lost play. Also, a song, "Woods, Rocks and Mountains", set to music by Robert Johnson, has been linked to it.[2]

Cardenio in Don Quixote

In the novel, Don Quixote, the character Cardenio is first encountered by Don Quixote and Sancho wandering in the desolate mountains of Sierra Morena. He at first avoids the Knight and Sancho, appearing as a long-haired, half-clothed, and long-bearded hermit (the two refer to him as "The Ragged One") leaping over crevices and hiding in trees. The Knight finds Cardenio's notebook, full of poetry and letters reprimanding a lover who has scorned him, and resolves to find the owner and bring about justice for him. They manage to hail Cardenio, and entreat him to tell his story.

Cardenio was born to a wealthy family in Andalucia. He fell in love with Luscinda, daughter of another noble family at a young age, and grows up with her until they reach maturity and her father gently suggests that for the two to continue their public rapport would invite scandal. Comparing their love to that of Pyramus and Thisbe, the two frequently exchange letters, and Cardenio writes verses to her. Cardenio asks Luscinda's father for her hand in marriage, to which her father kindly suggests Cardenio follow custom and have his father ask permission. Cardenio agrees, but when he approaches his father, he is given a letter from the Duke Ricardo, asking for his immediate services as companion to his son, promising Cardenio a higher rank for his troubles. Cardenio gives an emotional farewell to Luscinda, and requests that her father wait until Cardenio has settled his summons with the Duke. Cardenio is well received at the court and the Duke's son, who readily accepts his companion. Cardenio is surprised, however, at the earnestness with which the Duke's younger son, Don Fernando seeks his friendship. Don Fernando confides in Cardenio his great desire for a young and beautiful girl of lower rank, greatly seeking to become legally engaged to her. Cardenio urges Don Fernando not to do so, but is unable to do so, Don Fernando ultimately keeping Cardenio from telling the Duke. Don Fernando then suggests that he and Cardenio travel to Cardenio's father's house to purchase some horses, to distract Don Fernando from his lovesickness. Cardenio agrees, hoping to briefly see Luscinda during the visit. In truth, Don Fernando has already "enjoyed" the girl he desires, gaining agency to do so by claiming to be her husband, and hopes to tell Cardenio outside of the Duke's palace. When they arrive at the city, Cardenio immediately sees Luscinda and confides in Don Fernando his relief. Don Fernando insists on seeing Luscinda based on Cardenio's praise and the two watch her from a window at night. The next day, Don Fernando finds one of Cardenio's verses to Luscinda and becomes, by sight and Cardenio's convincing praise, madly in love with her. Luscinda also requesting a copy of Amadis the Gaul during this time. The story is briefly interrupted when Don Quixote stops Cardenio to praise the virtue depicted in the book, to which Cardenio flies into a rage, and runs off.

Cardenio is next found by Sancho, the Curate and Barber when they return to find Don Quixote. Finding Cardenio, singing an interpolated song decrying moral systems that punished him, they entreat him to finish his story. In Cardenio's timidity of asking his father to ask for Luscinda's hand, Don Fernando offers to ask Cardenio's father for him. Cardenio returns to the Duke's court to request an end to his employment, and the Duke's son requests Cardenio stay for a week until his father's arrival. Being a good servant, Cardenio stays, unaware of Don Fernando's perfidity happening at the time. During the wait, Cardenio receives a letter from Luscinda telling him that Don Fernando has abducted her with plans of marriage. Cardenio rushes to Luscinda's house, and in secret she tells him that while the marriage is about to occur, she has hidden a dagger and plans to impale herself before saying her vows. However, at the marriage ceremony Cardenio hears Luscinda say her "I Do". Here, madness takes Cardenio and he leaves for the Sierra Morena, and the novel continues in the present.

Though criticised in the second false continuation of Don Quixote as being too peripheral to the plot to be included in the novel, the story is a notable turn of the Quixote theme, with Don Fernando being driven to erotic madness by the reading of love literature written by Cardenio.

The first volume of the novel—in which the Cardenio episode occurs in its entirety—was published in 1605, and translated into English by Thomas Shelton in 1612. However, Fletcher's earlier collaborator Francis Beaumont had already dealt with many of the novel's themes in his play The Knight of the Burning Pestle in 1607, possibly indicating his familiarity with the novel in the original Spanish, or circulation of the story or novel in translated manuscript.


Although there are records of the play having been performed, there is not any information about its authorship earlier than a 1653 entry in the Stationers' Register. The entry was made by Humphrey Moseley, a bookseller and publisher, who was thereby asserting his right to publish the work. Moseley is not necessarily to be trusted on the question of authorship, as he is known to have falsely used Shakespeare's name in other such entries.[3] It may be that he was using Shakespeare's name to increase interest in the play.[4] However, some modern scholarship accepts Moseley's attribution, placing the lost work in the same category of collaboration between Fletcher and Shakespeare as The Two Noble Kinsmen.[5] Fletcher based several of his later plays on works by Cervantes, so his involvement is plausible.

Lewis Theobald and Double Falshood

Main article: Double Falsehood

In 1727, Lewis Theobald claimed to have obtained three Restoration-era manuscripts of an unnamed play by Shakespeare, which he edited, "improved", and released under the name Double Falshood, or the Distrest Lovers. Double Falshood has the plot of the "Cardenio" episode in Don Quixote.

It has been suggested that Theobald was unable to publish the original script, because of Jacob Tonson's exclusive copyright on Shakespeare's plays. But that contention has been discounted, as the Tonson copyright applied only to the plays he had already published, not to any newly discovered play by Shakespeare; and Theobald edited an edition of the complete works for Tonson, whose commercial interests would have been substantially bettered if he had been able to advertise the edition as containing a hitherto "lost" play. (A prior instance of commercially "enhancing" an edition of Shakespeare's plays by adding new ones was the second reprint of the Third Folio of 1664, which added seven plays, only one of which (Pericles) has been accepted as at least partly by Shakespeare.)

The fate of Theobald's three alleged manuscripts is unknown. The very existence of three genuine manuscripts of that age is problematical, and Theobald was said to have invited interested persons to view the alleged manuscript, but he then avoided actually displaying them. These facts have led many scholars to conclude that Theobald's play was a hoax written by himself. However, more recent stylometric analysis leads to the conclusion that Double Falsehood was based on one or more manuscripts written in part by Fletcher and in part by another playwright. The open question is whether that second playwright was Shakespeare. The text contains no more than two or three passages which appear good enough to be even tentatively attributed to Shakespeare, but it is possible that Theobald so heavily edited the text that Shakespeare's style was entirely submerged.

In the late period represented by Shakespeare's known collaborations with Fletcher in Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen, his style had become so involved that it is difficult for an listener or even a reader to catch the meanings of many passages on a quick hearing or a first read, so Theobald might have found it necessary to alter the text in a way that made Shakespeare's voice unrecognisable. However historian Michael Wood has found an "idiosyncratic" verse in the Theobald adaptation which he believes could only have been written by Shakespeare.[6] Wood also asserts that the lyrics of at least one song by Shakespeare's regular collaborator, composer Robert Johnson, are related to Double Falsehood, indicating that Theobald had access to a genuine original text.[7][8]

In 2010, the Arden Shakespeare published Double Falsehood in its series of scholarly editions of Shakespeare's collected works. The editor, Professor Brean Hammond, made a case for the Shakespearean origins of Theobald's play.[9] In 2011 the Royal Shakespeare Company presented a version of Double Falsehood as "Cardenio, Shakespeare's 'lost play' re-imagined". The critic Michael Billington believes that this version is more suggestive of Fletcher than Shakespeare.[10]

Charles Hamilton and The Second Maiden's Tragedy

In 1990, handwriting expert Charles Hamilton, after seeing a 1611 manuscript known as The Second Maiden's Tragedy (usually attributed to Thomas Middleton), identified it as a text of the missing Cardenio in which the characters' names had been changed. However, this attribution is not generally accepted by experts on Shakespeare.[11] In fact, the principal plot in this play bears no resemblance to the Cardenio tale in Don Quixote; but the subplot dramatises another tale interpolated in the Cardenio episode of Don Quixote (Chs. XXXIII–XXXV) and it employs some of the imagery from that novel. The play is a gory revenge tragedy. In Act III the heroine commits suicide to prevent her abduction, and her lover murders a minor character. Then, in V.i, there are five killings within the space of 25 lines.

Several theatre companies have capitalised on Hamilton's attribution by performing The Second Maiden's Tragedy under the name of Shakespeare's Cardenio, ignoring its disputed status. For instance, a production at Oxford's Burton Taylor Theatre in March 2004, claimed to have been the first performance of the play in England since its putative recovery (although a successful amateur production had premiered at Essex University's Lakeside Theatre on 15 October 1998). A laboratory performance of the play was given on 17 March 1996 at the Linhart Theatre in New York. Hamilton (who was 82 years old at the time) made a presentation after the performance in which he asserted (contrary to his book) that he did not ascribe this play to Shakespeare based on paleographic evidence, but, rather, because he regarded it as a "Romance", which Shakespeare had turned to at the end of his career.

A full production of the play, which noted the contested authorship, was mounted at the Next Theatre in Evanston, Illinois in 1998. Another production of the play, billed as William Shakespeare's Cardenio, was staged by the Lone Star Ensemble in 2002 in Los Angeles, directed by James Kerwin.[12]

In 2010 the Aporia Theatre began work on a new edit from translator and director Luis del Aguila and director Jonathan Busby which intends to bring the text back to the 1611 version, rather than the Charles Hamilton alteration. It was presented under Busby's direction at the Warehouse Theatre, Croydon, in November 2010. Critic Michael Billington believes this version is more suggestive of Middleton than Shakespeare.[13]


Further reading

External links

  • The Aporia Theatre which produced a new edit of Shakespeare's Cardenio, performed in September 2012
  • Scoop Review: The History of Cardenio, review by Lyndon Hood, 31 May 2009
  • The Alternative Cambridge Theatre's production of "Cardenio", including history of the play and company
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