Re-imagining Cardenio

The first clue?

December 1, 2010

The special collections room of the Bodleian Library is being housed temporarily on the second level underground at the Radcliffe Science Library. I settled at a table with my prize, a grey box folder containing the Treasurer's accounts for 1612-1613.

That winter great Court festivities were held to celebrate the marriage of the Prince Frederick, Elector Palatine, to King James' daughter Princess Elizabeth. The King's Men gave twenty performances, including seven plays by Shakespeare, one by Jonson, and four by Fletcher (reflecting his growing popularity with audiences).

A girl asked me to use the grey foam book supports provided, and I opened the box. The large vellum account book had lettering inked on the front. Inside each page was marked up with two parallel lines down the centre of which were itemised the various expenditures of King James' court.

I suddenly realised just how unprepared I was. I had no idea where in this large book two simple accounts would be, and furthermore I couldn't read the hand writing, a swirling copperplate hand - which could be what they call scribe's hand.

The penmanship was beautiful; brown ink in extravagant flourishes. But the short hand and indeed the spelling was hard to read. What seemed to read 'Spoon' I realised was 'upon', although spelled with double 'p'. And 'the' seemed to bear no semblance to the actual word, or any word I recognised.

I pored through the book page by page. Each item transports you back in time. Here were payments to his majesty's watermen, and footmen, for 'apparellings'; for the musical Bassano family, for lute strings; to the keeper of his majesty's gardens at Theobalds; wages for messengers and the like. Occasionally a word is written in a particular clear hand. For example one of the grooms of the chamber is paid 'for keeping and feeding, an ARMADILLO'. Presumably it was a gift to his majesty from one of the early trips to Virginia.

Then suddenly at the bottom of one page, in accounts for the court at Greenwich, I read: 'Item paid to John Heminges*... for himself and for his fellowes... his majesties players... for performing a playe.... before the Duke of Savoyes embassador... on the June 1613'. And then in the most extraordinary script the word 'Cardenna'. The initial C looks like a hot cross bun, a sort of O with a cross through it. The word seemed to have its own enigmatic calligraphic flourish.

And this is the start of the journey.

At the top of the next page there are two items paid to John Heminges, the first for presenting fourteen several plays, at Whitehall. There are references to Fletcher's Philaster, MuchAdo about Nothing, The Maid's Tragedy, The Merry Devil of Edmonton, The Tempest, A King and No King, The Winter's Tale, Sir John Falstaff, The Moor of Venice, Caesar's Tragedy, and one other called Love's Lies a bleeding (which I thought was the subtitle to Philaster, but which seems here like a separate play, or perhaps just records a second performance of that play).

I can make out quite clearly The Tempest. It is wonderful to see the names of these plays which are so familiar to us now, but which were new then, and which have gone through so many productions in so many languages in so many parts of the world 'in states unknown and accents yet unborn' all written by quill, at the time of the original performance. The direct connection, the rush of immediacy catches my breath.

The next item lists six several plays, including The Alchemist (the Ben Jonson play) TheHotspur (presumably Henry IV Part One) and a second performance of Much Ado here called Benidicte and Betteris. But one name glows off the page for me: 'one other Cardenno'.

The Duke of Savoy's ambassador is referred to again on the next page, where there is a payment for bear baiting in his honour in July. I need to find out who this man was, and why he was granted the privilege of a special command performance.

I drive back to Stratford pondering 'Cardenno'. So at least there is evidence that this play existed, although the court records attributes no writers' names next to these entries, so they provide no evidence of Shakespeare's authorship of such a play, only that it was in the repertoire of his company. The account book spelling seems to suggest that the Spanish pronunciation of the name Cardenio is correct and that the play should be called Car-den-io, and not Car-deen-io, which is what to date, we had all been saying. So we may not have the actual play, but at least we now know how to pronounce it. Well, it's a start!

(*John Heminges, like many other Jacobeans, spelled his name in a variety of ways, even within the same book. In the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays, which he produced with his friend Henry Condell, he spells name Heminge in the dedicatory epistle, and Hemmings in the list of players! In the Court records, just to confuse things even further, he is referred to as John Heminges, which is how we'll refer to him throughout these blogs.)

by Greg Doran  |  No comments yet


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