You would be forgiven for doing a double take upon reading the poster for the latest production from the Richmond Shakespeare Society (RSS): a premiere? Of a Shakespeare play? And who’s this Cardenio character? Your eye might then be drawn to the other two authors below the play’s title, John Fletcher, a fellow 17thcentury playwright, and Gary Taylor, the highly regarded American Shakespeare scholar, editor of the New Oxford Shakespeare. Though nearly 400 years separate them, this unlikely triad of authors (and others besides) have “collaborated” in a historic UK premiere of this new and “most authentic” version of Shakespeare’s lost play.
The one consensus that has been reached in the world of Shakespeare scholarship, is that no consensus can ever be reached, but yet it is virtually indisputable in modern scholarship that the man we know as William Shakespeare, was not one man at all. Shakespeare had collaborators and is credited alongside Fletcher, who succeeded him as the house playwright for The King’s Men, with The History of Cardenio in a 1653 register of soon to be published plays. However, for reasons it is now impossible to discern, it never appeared in print and was “lost”, not an uncommon fate for a play of this period. Certainly, more work was lost than now survives. In 1727 the play was picked up again by writer Lewis Theobald. Now widely credited as being the first ever Shakespeare scholar, he attempted to re-work Shakespeare and Fletcher’s play, naming it Double Falsehood, and it is here Gary Taylor comes in. For over 20 years Taylor has been unpicking this surviving version of Cardenio, uncovering the cracks in the text that Theobald messily plastered over with his 18th century morality, and bringing his own material to the mix. Using the latest in text technologies and the breadth of his knowledge and scholarship, Taylor has drafted his own “creative reconstruction”. To use Mark Aspen’s analogy from his introductory piece earlier this month, Taylor has “piec[ed] together shards of an Etruscan urn to create, not a reproduction, but the real thing assembled with a little clay for the missing bits… to make Shakespeare’s The History of Cardenio live again”. The US premiere was staged in May of 2012 at Indiana University and Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI), and attended by Twickenham based and established RSS director, Gerald Baker. He offered his feedback – and Taylor asked for ours this afternoon – and became an intrinsic part of the project to further develop the script and stage it here in London.
The truth is that a truly “authentic” Shakespearian History of Cardenio can never be achieved, but does that matter? Or to take a more postmodern approach, who cares about this Shakespeare character and what he did or did not write? Is the play itself actually any good?
Read the review in full on Mark Aspen’s blog site, here…
Photograph credit: Simone Sutton