Re-imagining Cardenio

The quest begins

November 30, 2010
Receiving the Bellas Artes medal in Cordoba

Receiving the Bellas Artes medal in Cordoba

"Fantastico!" cried the King of Spain when I told him that Shakespeare may have written a play based on Cervantes, the great Spanish novelist. I was representing the RSC in Cordoba, to collect a Bellas Artes gold medal from His Majesty, in the evocative Mezquitte Mosque. The RSC have toured a number of productions to Spain in recent years, including a season of Spanish Golden Age plays, and we now want to take our collaboration further. The beguiling Cardenio might be precisely the work: England's greatest writer inspired by Spain's greatest. If only the play hadn't been lost for the last four centuries.

We know that the First Part of Cervantes' great novel, Don Quixote was published in an English translation in 1612, by Thomas Shelton, and that Cardenio is one of the characters in the book. All the evidence we have for a play on this subject is a reference in the Court records for a payment to John Heminges, the King's Men's business manager, for a performance of a play called Cardenno in 1613. No such play appears in the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays in 1623, but then neither does Pericles, nor do the other plays in which John Fletcher is supposed to have collaborated with Shakespeare: All is True (or Henry VIII) and The Two Noble Kinsmen.

There is no further reference until the publisher Humphrey Moseley applied to publish The History of Cardenio by John Fletcher and Mr Shakespeare, in 1653. And we know that in 1727, Lewis Theobald produced Double Falshood or the Distrest Lovers claiming that it was his adaptation of a lost Shakespeare play based on Cervantes' novel, which had been given into his keeping.

This blog is the story of my 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.

So the quest - and this blog - begins with the first, and maybe the most important question: How do we know there was a lost play at all?

- Greg Doran

by Greg Doran  |  3 comments

Next in Re-imagining Cardenio
In the Bodleian Library »


Feb 15, 12:07pm
Ed Barrett

Phenomenal stuff.

Mar 12, 8:11am
michael woodcock

You know I have studied Shakespeare for years, he is like a man who I have a beer with overnight if I can. Both at Masters level and PhD I have always been entranced and sometimes completely bamboozled by this man. Now there is another enigma inside another enigma (I am sure someone said something like that about a completely different subject.) Can it get more exciting? Yes because I am about to fly over there from a far flung land and see this enigma. Man oh man thanks a lot. Now I won't get any sleep for about three of four weeks.

Mar 12, 8:14pm
Lawrence Battersby

Fascinating. Well done for the research and imaginative work.

Would the fact that there is a single reference to a payment to John Heminges mean that the play only performed on one occassion? Also how confident could one be that even if a play named Cardenno (or Cardenio) had been performed by the King's Men that the play would have involved Will?

best regards


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