Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Curious History of Cardenio...

I have to give a shout-out to Jeffrey Gantz for his excellent treatment of the whole vexed question of Cardenio, so often tagged as "Shakespeare's Lost Play," in The Phoenix. A Boston company is mounting a new play inspired by...well, lots of stuff, including Theobald's play Double Falsehood and material from Don Quixote.

Gantz recounts the entire history of the search for Cardenio, and brings a healthy scepticism to the table. I am always a bit surprised at how willing people are to accept the idea of Cardenio as a Shakespeare collaboration, when all we have to support that are two exceptionally dubious attributions well after the fact. (Attribution one is from bookseller Humphrey Mosely, and is worthless. Attribution two is from theatre impressario Louis Theobald, who was obliged to climb down when he printed Double Falsehood.)

There is even a Middleton connection, thanks to an eccentric book published by handwriting analyst Charles Hamilton in the 1990's: he examined the manuscript of the play I guess we're supposed to call The Lady's Tragedy now, but has traditionally been referred to as The Second Maiden's Tragedy, and pronounced it Shakespeare's long-lost Cardenio--even though it's not the right story from Quixote and everyone else believes Middleton wrote it. No one took that attribution seriously except for the odd company looing to stage a curiousity; Gantz calls Hamilton's book "dismally argued." I agree--I'm no expert, but it seems to me that Hamilton managed to convince himself that the English "secretary hand" was the same thing as "Shakespeare's handwriting."

I'll come back to The Lady's Tragedy in the fullness of time, as it is naturally included in the lavish new Middleton. I haven't read it before, but it seems to get a lot of praise--not from Gantz, who pronounces it "neither very good nor very Shakespearean." I'll give him the latter, but hope he's wrong on the former.

6 comments:

Mark Scroggins said...

Oddly enough, one of the "odd companies looking to stage a curiosity" was directed by a friend of mine down here in So. Florida -- they put on Cardenio as by Shakespeare. Said friend went on to study with -- of all people -- Gary Taylor himself at Alabama. I think Gary's tutelage managed to calm his flamboyance a bit.

Enjoying the careful, thoughtful read-thru. Wish I could keep up!

Craig said...

To be called "thoughtful" by a professional thinker is praise indeed. I would have enjoyed seeing that production of the play in question, whatever they called it. But if it takes Gary Taylor's influence to calm someone down...well, you can insert your own quip. One usually doesn't think of him as a mellowing agent!

kyrillevin said...

you have a very nice blog! :)

i'm a fan of shakespeare, and i once played as a Gratiano in one of his plays, The Merchant of Venice.

hahah! keep up!

Craig said...

Thanks for the kind words--come back anytime! I'm at a conference this week, but looking to write more when I get home.

wheel alignment said...

shakespeare was great writer he was writing great books

kitchen cabinet said...

i'm a fan of shakespeare, and i once played as a Gratiano in one of his plays, The Merchant of Venice. I would have enjoyed seeing that production of the play in question, whatever they called it. But if it takes Gary Taylor's influence to calm someone down...