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The Quest for "Cardenio": Shakespeare, Fletcher, Cervantes, and the Lost Play ed. by David Carnegie and Gary Taylor (review)

From: Comparative Drama
Volume 47, Number 2, Summer 2013
pp. 266-268 | 10.1353/cdr.2013.0025

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

This volume is an account—and a symptom—of what one of the contributors calls "Cardenio fever," a malady of long standing that has had a notable recent outbreak following the appearance of Brean Hammond's edition of Lewis Theobald's play Double Falsehood in the Arden Shakespeare series (2010). A play called Cardenno or Cardenna was performed at the English court in 1613; Humphrey Moseley registered ownership of a manuscript play called The History of Cardenio "by Mr Fletcher. & Shakespeare" in 1653; Theobald declared repeatedly that his play, performed in 1727 and published in 1728, was based on a Shakespeare manuscript inherited from a Restoration theater; and the plot of Double Falsehood does indeed follow the narrative strand in Don Quixote that involves a character called Cardenio. This chain of connections is strong, but not so strong that there is not room for doubt whether in fact there are any traces of Fletcher or Shakespeare in Theobald's play.

In an interesting turn of events, the question of authentic Shakespeare in Double Falsehood—authentic Shakespeare, rather than authentic Fletcher, because it is of course the Shakespeare link that provides the bacillus of Cardenio fever—has prompted a series of modern revisions of the play that aim to reverse Theobald's postulated changes and recreate the original. It seems that the best antidote to Theobald's presumed pastiche and adaptation is more pastiche and adaptation. Stephen Greenblatt, Gary Taylor, and Bernard Richards have all worked in this way. Theirs is a remarkable fusion of scholarship, creativity, and performance. Doubtful authorial origins, for instance in collaborative plays, have often stymied interpretation, but the radical uncertainties in the Double Falsehood story have unleashed striking energies of their own. These are charted in lively reviews of performances in the last part of the collection. One interesting question that arises is: how much evidence do the experiments of performance offer for the nature of the original text? Is a play like Taylor's The History of Cardenio moving closer to a postulated original text as it is progressively refined so as to make dramatic sense for a twenty-first-century audience? Methodological purists would answer the question in the negative, but we are moving into an era when making and performing texts are coming closer to the mainstream of scholarship, and releasing all sorts of energies and possibilities.

All this is generously covered in the collection. There are twenty-one contributors, and twenty-six essays, dealing with the ghostly 1613 play and its slightly more corporeal performance then, the intervening life of Moseley's listing, the alleged Restoration survival of the manuscript, Theobald's work, and the modern editions, revisions, and performances, as well as the internal evidence in word use and metrics that can be used to try to detect Shakespeare's and Fletcher's hands in Double Falsehood.

Taylor, ever the skilled advocate, has a long, detailed essay with a bravura archaeological reconstruction of a section of the lost original History of Cardenio that must have included a song with words by Fletcher and music by Robert Johnson, and a demonstration that the meter and language of a passage from Double Falsehood betray its Shakespearean origins, confirmed by a swag of unique parallels with Shakespeare in phrasing. MacDonald P. Jackson in his essay takes E. H. C. Oliphant's division of the Theobald play among authors as his starting point and finds unmistakable traces of both Fletcher and Shakespeare, but with the difference that hardly any of the latter's lines are likely to have survived unaltered. Richard Proudfoot follows a single line of evidence, the polysyllabic words that appear at the end of decasyllabic lines, and finds that the patterns of Double Falsehood fit the hypothesis of a Fletcher-Shakespeare adaptation better than the notion of a newly created play. Intriguingly, the attributionists in the collection believe it is Fletcher who provides the main link between the older History of Cardenio and the newer Double Falsehood, but meanwhile it is Shakespeare, the lesser partner in terms of perceptible traces, who has brought the scholars to the problem in the first place and who keeps interest in the play we have alive...

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