All entries for Friday 24 September 2010

September 24, 2010

"Cardenio" at the Warehouse Theatre – WATCH OUT!

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Very excited to see today that Aporia Theatre are presenting a take on Cardenio at the Warehouse Theatre in November.

But wait, what's this?

Written by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher or Thomas Middleton

What's Middleton doing there? Hang on, there's more...

In an unnamed state, the adored ruler Cardenio has been dethroned by the tyrannical Fernando for dubious reasons. What is the cost to the people when their new leader pursues his own dark desires without any check or balance? And just how far can our suspicions govern our judgements? In 1611 a play was submitted to print with highly intriguing penmanship.

They haven't, have they? Yes they have. This isn't Cardenio at all - it's The Lady's Tragedy or The Second Maiden's Tragedy by Thomas Middleton. In his book Cardenio, or, The Second Maiden's Tragedy (Lakewood, 1994), Charles Hamilton made a case - based on palaeography - that this was, in fact, Fletcher and Shakespeare's lost play with the names of characters changed, despite the fact that a) the plot bears no resemblance to the "Cardenio" story and b) we don't have sufficient handwriting samples of Shakespeare to justify these kinds of claims on palaeographic evidence alone (see also - Thomas More). There IS an early connection between Shakespeare and this play - he was one of three possible names pencilled on and then crossed off by George Buc, apparently unsure as to who the author might be - but there is nothing to connect it with Cardenio.

Hamilton's thesis has been widely discredited, and no reputable scholars (that I'm aware of, anyway) follow this argument. Universal consensus accepts that Cardenio only survives (if at all) in severely adapted form as Double Falsehood; and that Lady's Tragedy/Second Maiden's Tragedy is by Middleton alone. However, Hamilton's ludicrous but publicity-friendly claims have survived into commercial culture, and this isn't the first production (apparently oblivious to scholarship) to tout Middleton's play as Shakespeare's/Fletcher's.

It's a real shame. I love Lady's Tragedy, it's one of my favourite of Middleton's tragedies, and it can stand quite well without the Shakespearean "help." It's a frustrating instance of authorship taking priority over play - particularly as, in order to fulfil the "Cardenio" claims, the play has to be entirely repackaged, not least in the renaming of characters. It also sets up a promise which people will ultimately find to be false, particularly if they've been following the ongoing high-profile arguments over the nature of Cardenio in the press this year - of all the times to revive the old spurious argument, to present Lady's Tragedy as Cardenio just as the wider public has become more aware of the strength of Double Falsehood's claims seems the worst.

If you go to this, go to see whatever remains of one of Middleton's finest and most rarely-played tragedies after the adaptors have finished trying to make it fit the theory. Don't go expecting to find Shakespeare, except in the dubious and baseless claims of marketing campaigns.


I’m Peter Kirwan, a final year doctoral student in the English Department at Warwick, and this is my PhD blog.

Conferences, reviews, articles, thoughts and links relating to my interests in the Shakespeare apocrypha, early modern drama, authorship and performance.

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