Re-imagining Cardenio

In the Bodleian Library

December 1, 2010
An Emporer's head on the Sheldonian railings

An Emporer's head on the Sheldonian railings

"And what exactly are you researching?" the admissions officer enquired. "I'm looking for the evidence of a play said to be written by Shakespeare and based on Cervantes." I said. "Hmmm..." she mused, and perched me on a chair by her desk, while she decided how to process my rather unusual application. I am not an academic, or a student. I stared out of the window at the bright blue early September morning. Oxford looked beautiful. The heads of the Emperors stared immemorially down from their pedestals on the railings around the Sheldonian Theatre next door, looking as startled as when Zuleika Dobson's landau rolled by in the opening pages of Max Beerbohm's Oxford Love Story.

Eventually my papers were passed to another lady who informed me that the book I wanted was held in the Special Collections at the Radcliffe Science Library while the Bodleian itself was being renovated, and she gave me a map. The rules meant I could not use pens, not take in a bag, and of course no food. She suggested I ate my banana on my way up the road. She passed me a laminated card, and asked me to read the oath written on it out loud, which I duly did: "I hereby undertake not to remove from the Library, or to mark, deface, or injure in any way, any volume, document, or other object belonging to it or in its custody; nor to bring into the Library or kindle therein any fire or flame, and not to smoke in the Library; and I promise to obey all rules of the Library."

The first reference to such an oath goes back to 1400's, the lady said, and she ran through a brief history of how the oath had changed over the years. It used to be in Latin, and since 1609 has been declared out loud, and more recently any reference to Almighty God was removed, due to the widening of the readership among different faiths and the secular.

Eventually, after about half an hour, and having paid my fiver, and clutching my new photo ID reader's card, I headed back into the sunshine and off up Parkes Road. I was finally going to see the evidence that a play called Cardenio existed.

by Greg Doran  |  No comments yet

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