Re-imagining Cardenio

Betsy Baker's pie dishes

January 12, 2011

Humphrey Moseley left his business to his wife Anne, and a daughter (also called Anne) and they carried on his business after his death. But of course if he did have a copy of the manuscript of Cardenio, and his wife still possessed it after the restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, there was then a very good reason that such a manuscript could have disappeared: the Great Fire of London.

Six years after King Charles I came to the throne his capital was engulfed in an appalling conflagration. As I mentioned in my last blog, many of the stationers who had their stalls in St Paul's Churchyard kept their stock in one of the crypts of St Paul's. If Moseley did, and his wife Anne continued this practice, then it is probable that Cardenio went up in flames, as St Paul's burned.

However, much of Humphrey Moseley's collection of old play manuscripts and his copyrights came into the possession of a man called Henry Herringman (the first man to publish Dryden's works) and he had a reputation as a bookseller who actually profited from the Great Fire of London in which so many of his colleagues lost their stock. So perhaps Cardenio in his hands survived where so much else was destroyed. And if so what happened to it then?

Well, there is good news and bad news.

Many of Moseley's dramatic manuscripts were sold, and eventually came into the possession of one John Warburton. Warburton was the Somerset Herald of Arms in Ordinary at the College of Arms and also a collector of old plays. But he made the mistake of leaving a pile of fifty or so of these manuscript copies in his kitchen one day. A year later he came looking for his collection, only to discover that Betsy Baker, his cook, had used them all as either fire lighters or as linings to the pie dishes. All of them had disappeared. One has to ask why Warburton had left such a valuable pile of treasures in his kitchen?

Mortified, Warburton did at least have the grace to list the plays he thought the star-crossed pile contained. There are thirteen by Philip Massinger, plays by Cyril Tourneur, John Ford, Robert Greene, and Thomas Dekker. There's even one attributed to Marlowe although the title The Maiden's Holiday, sounds rather an unlikely subject for the hell-raiser, atheist, and spy Christopher Marlowe. As an act of vandalism it can scarcely be believed. And it clearly demonstrates just how easily these plays could become 'lost'!

However, in addition to Henry I, and The Duke Humphrey play registered by Moseley, Warburton does also make mention of 'A Play by William Shakespeare' but does not elaborate. So if it survived the Globe Playhouse Fire in 1613, did Cardenio survive Betsy Baker's pie dishes?

by Greg Doran  |  No comments yet

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