Re-imagining Cardenio

Greg Doran

This blog is the story of Greg Doran's quest to understand what might have happened to Shakespeare's lost play, and to test the theatrical possibilities of Cardenio in the crucible of the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Rehearsals begin

February 4, 2011
Pippa Nixon and Olly Rix visit the Swan thumbnail

So finally, after weeks of meeting actors and negotiating with my fellow directors, I have a cast. There are 17 actors in Cardenio (12 men and 5 women). All of them are also in Massinger's The City Madam, which has another 5 actors making a company of twenty two altogether. And we all started on Monday, alongside the parallel company which is rehearsing Macbeth and The Merchant of Venice to open the new Main House.

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The Escorial

January 26, 2011
Niki Turner at the Escorial

As we wander round this humourless mausoleum of a palace, I get a profound sense of death as a central theme in Spanish life. This persistent flavour of mortality gives me a strong sense of the opening of Cardenio where the Duke Ricardo, contemplating his imminent death with a steady gaze, tells his son not to grieve.

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January 26, 2011

Yes, Miguel Cervantes fought at the battle of Lepanto. In fact, as he was suffering from malaria, he should not have fought, and had been told by his captain to stay below. Instead, he positioned himself at the head of twelve men in a fighting skiff, alongside the galley ship, La Marquesa, in a sea tinged red with blood.

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Toledo and the Prado

January 26, 2011
Skull and crown in Toledo thumbnail

I feel as if I already know Toledo, from the famous painting by El Greco, with its violent menace of sky, which he painted at exactly the time that Cervantes published Don Quixote. And it is his painting of The Burial ofCountOrgaz, in the church of San Tome which I greatly want to see. He called it 'my sublime work'.

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Serenatas in Spain

January 21, 2011
Reja grille thumbnail

Apparently Andalucians have another expression for characterising ardent lovers with their heads bent to the bars of the grille of their beloved's window, 'mascar hierro' to chew iron. Daviller goes on to include a number of the classic serenatas, or coplas de ventas (window couplets) which are sung on these occasions.

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Cervantes' birthplace

January 20, 2011

Across the courtyard landing, in the exhibition room, there are copies of Cervantes' famous novel, Don Quixote, from every intervening century, and in many different languages. I look at the English edition and am astonished to find that Thomas Shelton's 1612 edition is open at the very start of the Cardenio episode. We decide to regard that as a good omen.

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Parallel lives

January 19, 2011
Statue of Cervantes thumbnail

Cervantes' statue stands on a plinth in the centre of the little town square in Alcala de Henares. He is dressed in doublet and hose, and neat ruff, and holds an inordinately long quill pen. If you did not know you were in Spain, you would assume this was a statue of his contemporary, William Shakespeare.

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Impressions of Savoy

January 19, 2011

Researching any production takes you off down many interesting side roads, and can find you chasing many an odd trail and tangent. Cardenio offers a whole map of intriguing and potentially irrelevant possibilities, and who better to travel those by-ways with than the irrepressible Thomas Coryate.

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My own quarto!

January 13, 2011

Why would John Downes have written out a complete fair copy of Cardenio? If he had an original manuscript copy he would not have needed to do so; unless of course he was writing out a copy of an adaptation of the play for production. So perhaps what Theobald got his hands on was not an original manuscript of Cardenio, but a version, perhaps by Davenant himself, which Betterton intended to mount?

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Spoiled for an actor

January 13, 2011

The action proceeds and the character of the eunuch Haly appears on stage. The music finishes, and he stands there ready to speak. His mouth opens but nothing comes out. He can see the King, and the Duke of York, and the whole assembly of London's finest and best. The lamps flicker and the house goes silent expecting him to begin. His mouth dries, his brain swims and panic seizes his chest and throat.

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Teaching Shakespeare