Last modified on 12 April 2015, at 08:50

The History of Cardenio

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] The play is 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.

Two existing 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]


Although there are records of the play having been performed, there is no 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 FalshoodEdit

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 a 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] In 2012 Terri Bourus directed a production of Gary Taylor's "unadaptation" of Cardenio, an attempt to reverse Theobald's alterations of the original. Taylor's text along with detailed evidence supporting the view that Theobald had used the original playscript was published in a collection of essays the following year.[11]

Charles Hamilton and The Second Maiden's TragedyEdit

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.[12] 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 (Chps. 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 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.[13]

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.[14]


  1. ^ Chambers, E. K. The Elizabethan Stage. 4 Volumes, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1923. Vol 2, page 17.
  2. ^ Richard Wilson, Secret Shakespeare: studies in theatre, religion and resistance, Manchester University Press 2004 (p.233 on Google books). This source refers to Michael Wood's claims regarding Shakespeare's authorship of "Woods, rocks, and mountains".
  3. ^ Dominik, Mark (1985). William Shakespeare and 'The Birth of Merlin' (1991 ed.). New York: Philosophical Library. p. 270. ISBN 0-945088-03-5. 
  4. ^ Maltby, Kate (1 February 2011). "Fake Shakes(peare)". The Spectator (London). Retrieved 28 May 2011. 
  5. ^ A. Luis Pujante, "Double Falsehood and the Verbal Parallels with Shelton's Don Quixote," Shakespeare Survey, Vol. 51 (1998), pp. 95–106.
  6. ^ Wood, Michael (2003). In Search of Shakespeare. London: BBC Worldwide. pp. 201; 315; 330. ISBN 0-563-53477-X. If Shakespeare does not lie behind that, it is hard to think who else might 
  7. ^ "1612: The Lost Play", In Search of Shakespeare series, PBS.
  8. ^ Wood (2003: 330) The song in question, "Woods, Rocks and Mountains" has survived in a manuscript in Oxford.
  9. ^ "'Lost' Shakespeare play Double Falsehood published". BBC News. 15 March 2010. Retrieved 16 March 2010. 
  10. ^ Billington, Michael (28 April 2011). "Cardenio – review". The Guardian. p. 12. Retrieved 3 May 2011. 
  11. ^ Terri Bourus and Gary Taylor, eds. 2013. "The Creation and Re-Creation of Cardenio: Transforming Shakespeare, Transforming Cervantes. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9781137344212.
  12. ^ Lavagnino, John (6 December 1994). "Shakespeare's Voices; The Second Maiden's Tragedy". Retrieved 4 December 2010. That view has ... been the general consensus for the last fifty years; we haven't found anything in Hamilton's work to make us change our mind.  Dr Lavagnino co-edited The Collected Works of Thomas Middleton for the Oxford University Press and he was able to draw on the experience of his 63 contributors.
  13. ^
  14. ^ Billington, Michael (9 November 2010). "Macabre and luridly enjoyable – but no cosmic burst of the Bard". The Guardian. p. 38. Retrieved 12 November 2010. [Hamilton] claimed...that a piece known as The Second Maiden's Tragedy was really the elusive Cardenio; and it is a newly edited version of this – boldly attributed to Shakespeare, Fletcher and a third co-author, Middleton – that is currently being performed in Croydon....the play is more Middleton than Shakespeare. 

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