Re-imagining Cardenio

Curiosity piqued

December 21, 2010
Alexandra Gilbreath and Jasper Britton in The Tamer Tamed - photo Donald Cooper

Alexandra Gilbreath and Jasper Britton in The Tamer Tamed - photo Donald Cooper

In 1996 I directed the Shakespeare/Fletcher collaboration, All is True in the Swan. It was my first Shakespeare for the company. An academic called Gordon McMullan sat in on rehearsals, as he was editing the play for the new Arden edition. Gordon is a Fletcher fanatic and I asked him for his top five Fletcher favourites. I have since done two of them: TheIsland Princess, as part of a season of rarely performed Elizabethan and Jacobean plays in the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon Avon in 2002, and The Tamer Tamed, or TheWoman's Prize, in tandem with a production of The Taming of The Shrew in 2003.

It was during this last production that I became intrigued by what was possibly the first Shakespeare/Fletcher collaboration, Cardenio, and having learnt about Lewis Theobald's DoubleFalshood, decided that we would mount a rehearsed reading of that play with the Tamer Tamed company, and other actors working at Stratford that season. It was a great cast including Anton Lesser, Emma Fielding, and Rory Kinnear. Our rehearsed reading provoked a number of reactions: that the play had a Fletcherian vitality, some wonderful characters and comedy, and occasionally language that was uplifting and memorable; but that problematically there were two scenes missing: a seduction and an abduction from a convent. No doubt Theobald left them out in deference to the nicer sensibilities of the eighteenth century London audience. But without these scenes the play was for us unperformable.

So what to do? Abandon the idea of exploring it further, or try and reconstruct the missing scenes? I became hooked on the story and the mystery of the 'lost Shakespeare'. But I'm rushing ahead. Let's go back to the beginning again...

In a previous blog post I described my visit to the magnificent Bodleian Library in Oxford to see the Court records for 1612-13. So what was happening that Christmas, when Cardenio was first performed? And if Shakespeare was the author (or co-author) why did he choose a Spanish subject?...

by Greg Doran  |  No comments yet


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