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.

- 4 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Anon

    Just out of interest; have you verified any of this with the company? Or is this all just conjecture?

    22 Oct 2010, 18:09

  2. Hi Anon,

    I haven’t spoken to the company, but nor is this “conjecture” in the sense of “making stuff up” – it’s a critical and informed reading of the production’s marketing. A play called Cardenio was not registered for publication in 1611; the plot description bears no relationship either to the play academically accepted as a reconstruction of Cardenio (Double Falsehood); and Thomas Middleton has never been associated with a play called Cardenio.

    However, The Lady’s/Second Maiden’s Tragedy was registered for publication in 1611; it has (throughout the 1990s) been performed under the name of Cardenio following a widely-discredited theory; and it is now accepted as the work of Thomas Middleton. On the basis of the information provided on the website, this is the only play that fits the facts.

    It’s a much better play than Double Falsehood though, so I do hope no-one’s put off going! But I do think it’s worth alerting people to the fact that, again based on the available information, the Cardenio this company are putting on is not the same play/story that, for example, the RSC will be putting on under the same name next year.

    22 Oct 2010, 18:58

  3. Should also say, though, I’m obviously very keen to be corrected if I’ve got any of the above wrong!

    23 Oct 2010, 06:55

  4. Duncan

    Michael Billington enjoyed the play but agrees with your assessment of its provenance:

    09 Nov 2010, 12:35

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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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