Re-imagining Cardenio

A Royal Wedding - Christmas 1612

December 21, 2010

The recent announcement, that Prince William is to marry Kate Middleton has generated a great deal of excitement in the media. The wedding proposed for the spring will keep the papers full of speculation for the intervening months. Such also was the excitement in 1612 at the prospect of the wedding of King James's beloved daughter, Elizabeth, to the handsome Frederick.

In the winter of 1612, King James I had welcomed the arrival of Frederick Elector Palatine to England. The Protestant prince was to marry his beloved daughter Bess. As the sixteen-year-old Frederick sailed up the Thames that October, crowds thronged the banks to meet the handsome young prince. Some 150 boats arrived in his flotilla, and were joined by many more. They were saluted by a twenty gun salute from the Tower. It was to be a very grand Royal wedding indeed.

There were not only plays that Christmas, but the latest fashion for masques was now traditional seasonal fare. This festive season, it was the turn of the playwright and scholar George Chapman to pen a court masque, with music by Robert Johnson. Like all masques, The Memorable Masque of the Middle Temple and Lincoln's Inn (as it was called) had a political message at its heart: the importance of the colonization of the New World. The masque was performed in the Great Hall of Whitehall, and presented a troop of Virginian Indians with tobacco pipes in their hands, welcoming the glory of King James, a celebration of the success of the now flourishing American colony. It cost Lincoln's Inn over a thousand pounds to mount, for just one night.

As the happy couple, Frederick and admired Elizabeth, sat in the Banqueting Hall at Whitehall to watch the King's Men perform The Tempest, there must have been a frisson of recognition as the goddesses in the masque blessed the union of Prince Ferdinand and the admired Miranda (both bride and groom had turned sixteen that August). But Frederick was a German prince, and one of the staunchest Protestant princes in Europe. What on earth was Shakespeare doing adapting the latest hit novel from Catholic Spain?

There's another clue: the second entry for the lost play in the Court Records at the Bodleian Library (see prevous post). On June 8th, the following year, 1613, there's a payment to the King's Men's for a single performance of 'Cardenna'. It costs £6 31s and 8d, and it is scheduled to entertain 'the Savoyard Ambassador'. Who was this command performance for, and why was he accorded such an honour?

by Greg Doran  |  No comments yet


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