If Cardenio had somewhat survived, it would have been an early example of the adaptation of a novel into a play. During Shakespeare’s time, the play was the dominant art form and the novel was taking its early tentative steps as a serious literary medium. Don Quixote was a grand success across Europe. It incorporated a lot of features of folklore and classic epic narratives. It would have been highly instructive to learn how this expansive genre and the particular work were adapted to the theatre. Given the colorful plot and fluctuating fortunes of the hero in Don Quixote, it would be interesting to find out how these elements of adventure and danger were captured by Shakespeare. If Cardenio had existed, it would have offered key insights into literary theory. It would have opened up knowledge about technical craftsmanship demanded by the two literary art forms. In other words, Cardenio would have offered us the first great case study into Comparative Literature. It is these endless possibilities of its utility and relevance that make the loss very real.
Shakespeare enthusiasts still harbor the hope of somehow recovering the play from its long standing obscurity. The phenomenon is called Cardenio fever, which recently gained in intensity with the appearance in 2010 of Brean Hammond’s edition of Lewis Theobald’s play Double Falsehood in the Arden Shakespeare series. It is acknowledged therein that Humphrey Moseley held registered ownership of a manuscript play called The History of Cardenio by 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.” (Craig, 2013) The Cardenio fever has caught on such fervour that 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.” (Craig, 2013)
Shakespeare lovers can also rejoice from the fact that many contemporary theatre directors are reimagining many of Shakespeare’s plays, both extant and lost. Gregory Doran, now artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), had directed his re-imagining of the Cardenio early in 2011. (Cape Times, 2013) In this context, the story of the appearance and disappearance of the mystery play Cardenio continues to intrigue and fascinate Shakespeare lovers like me.
- Craig, H. (2013). David Carnegie and Gary Taylor, Eds.: The Quest for “Cardenio”: Shakespeare, Fletcher, Cervantes, and the Lost Play. Comparative Drama,47(2), 266+.
- Fox, C., & Walter, M. (2004). Cardenio (the Second Maiden’s Tragedy). Shakespeare Bulletin,22(3), 81+.
- You’ll Love the Bard’s Lost Labour. (2013, January 7). Cape Times (South Africa), p. 9.