The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0253 Friday, 2 May 2008
Date: Friday, May 02, 2008
Subject: Staging Cardenio
Behind this month's staging of a 'lost' Shakespeare play
'Cardenio,' a seldom-staged work attributed by some to the Bard
Opens May 10 in Cambridge, Mass.
By Iris Fanger
Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
From the May 2, 2008 edition
Playwright Charles L. Mee remembers the phone call. A Harvard scholar,
Stephen Greenblatt, had been awarded a $1.5 million grant from the
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and wanted to use the funds to explore how a
dramatist crafts a play. Professor Greenblatt had chosen to observe Mr.
Mee at work, noting that Mee's cut-and-paste methods of "resituating and
appropriating" materials reminded him of William Shakespeare's manner of
"I'm the biggest thief," says Mee, who was honored this past year with
the staging of an entire season of his plays at New York's Signature
Theatre. He recalls telling Greenblatt that the project wouldn't be fun
unless the pair wrote a play together - and then asking Greenblatt if he
knew of any lost plays by Shakespeare.
"His answer?" says Mee, " 'Oh yes: 'Cardenio.' "
The duo's take on that play - a reconstruction of a work attributed by
some to William Shakespeare and John Fletcher - opens May 10 at the
American Repertory Theatre, in Cambridge, Mass.
"Cardenio" was performed only twice during Shakespeare's lifetime but
never printed. Little is known about the play beyond its title. An
18th-century version, produced at London's Drury Lane Theater, was said
to be based on Shakespeare's text, but the theater and its records -
including, perhaps, the original - burned in the early 19th century.
"Cardenio" almost certainly came from Cervantes's novel, "Don Quixote,"
says Greenblatt, author of the bestseller "Will in the World," a
comprehensive study of Shakespeare's methods of transforming his life
and milieu into the stuff of his plays. "What's fascinating and bizarre
is when Shakespeare and Fletcher sat down to read the Cervantes novel,
they weren't interested in the character, Don Quixote, but [in] the
tragicomedy romance of Cardenio folded within the work," he says. "The
story is one that Shakespeare had been trying to tell all his life: the
relationship between two men and one love object. I'm very interested in
these larger patterns in Shakespeare's career."
The framing plot of Greenblatt and Mee's "Cardenio," set in modern
times, concerns two young men, Will and Anselmo, on Anselmo's wedding
day. Doubting his bride's devotion, he asks Will to try to seduce her.
Just then, Anselmo's parents, a pair of traveling actors, arrive with a
lost Shakespearean play that they intend to produce as part of the
wedding festivities. The cast will be drawn from among the guests.
[ . . . ]
Greenblatt doubts that a true lost Shakespearean play will ever surface.
"We're not talking about the sands of Egypt. We're talking about the
climate of northern Europe where even good vellum lasts maybe 500 years.
But if you happen to hear of someone who's found something...."
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