The History of Cardenio, often referred to as merely Cardenio, is a lost play, known to have been performed by the King's Men, a London theatre company, in 1613. The play is attributed to William Shakespeare and John Fletcher in a Stationers' Register entry of 1653. The content of the play is not known, but it was likely to have been based on an episode in Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote involving the character Cardenio, a young man who has been driven mad and lives in the Sierra Morena. Thomas Shelton's translation of the First Part of Don Quixote was published in 1612, and would thus have been available to the presumed authors of the play.
Although there are records of the play having been performed, there is no information about its authorship earlier than a 1653 entry in the Stationers' Register. The entry was made by Humphrey Moseley, a bookseller and publisher, who was thereby asserting his right to publish the work. Moseley is not necessarily to be trusted on the question of authorship, as he is known to have falsely used Shakespeare's name in other such entries. It may be that he was using Shakespeare's name to increase interest in the play. However, some modern scholarship accepts Moseley's attribution, placing the lost work in the same category of collaboration between Fletcher and Shakespeare as The Two Noble Kinsmen. Fletcher based several of his later plays on works by Cervantes, so his involvement is plausible.
After a few adventures together, Don Quixote and Sancho discover a bag full of gold coins along with some papers, which include a sonnet describing the poet's romantic troubles. Don Quixote and Sancho search for the person to whom the gold and the papers belong. They find him; it is Cardenio, a strange bare-footed character who leaps about from rock to rock like a mountain goat and whose clothes are in shreds. Cardenio, who lives in the hollow formed in a cork tree, rants and rages in anger regarding one Don Fernando.
Cardenio then relates to Don Quixote and Sancho the miserable story of his love for the wealthy and beautiful Luscinda: after Cardenio had received a letter from Luscinda suggesting that she might accept his proposal of marriage, he asks his wealthy and noble friend Don Fernando to arrange the wedding. Don Fernando has recently seduced and agreed to marry a young woman named Dorotea, but when he meets Luscinda he decides to steal her from Cardenio. To do this, he sends Cardenio away on an errand. Luscinda then writes a letter to Cardenio to alert him to the fact that he is being double-crossed, and that her father has agreed to have her marry the wealthy Don Fernando. She tells Cardenio that she is in her wedding gown, and that "the traitor Don Fernando", along with her father and witnesses, are all assembled for the wedding. She secretly has a knife hidden in the folds of her dress, and she intends to commit suicide. Cardenio arrives and hides behind a tapestry to watch the nuptials. When it comes time to exchange the vows, Luscinda pauses, and then in a dismayed voice says "I will". The bridegroom goes to kiss his bride, but she swoons. Cardenio, upset, hops on his donkey, leaves town, and becomes an angry man living in the mountains.
Luscinda runs away to flee her new husband. The story ends with all the principals being brought together, including Dorotea, who had also run away from Don Fernando, and with loose ends being tied up: Don Fernando repents and apologizes to a forgiving Cardenio. Cardenio is reunited with Luscinda, and Don Fernando is reunited with Dorotea.
In 1727, Lewis Theobald claimed to have obtained three Restoration-era manuscripts of an unnamed play by Shakespeare, which he edited, "improved", and released under the name Double Falshood, or the Distrest Lovers. Double Falshood has the plot of the "Cardenio" episode in Don Quixote.
It has been suggested that Theobald was unable to publish the original script, because of Jacob Tonson's exclusive copyright on Shakespeare's plays. But that contention has been discounted, as the Tonson copyright applied only to the plays he had already published, not to any newly discovered play by Shakespeare; and Theobald edited an edition of the complete works for Tonson, whose commercial interests would have been substantially bettered if he had been able to advertise the edition as containing a hitherto "lost" play. (A prior instance of commercially "enhancing" an edition of Shakespeare's plays by adding new ones was the second reprint of the Third Folio of 1664, which added seven plays, only one of which (Pericles) has been accepted as at least partly by Shakespeare.)
The fate of Theobald's three alleged manuscripts is unknown. The very existence of three genuine manuscripts of that age is problematical, and Theobald was said to have invited interested persons to view the alleged manuscript, but he then avoided actually displaying them. These facts have led many scholars to conclude that Theobald's play was a hoax written by himself. However, more recent stylometric analysis may lead to the conclusion that Double Falsehood was based on one or more manuscripts written in part by Fletcher and in part by another playwright. The open question is whether that second playwright was Shakespeare. The text does not appear to contain many passages that may be even tentatively attributed to Shakespeare, but it is possible that Theobald so heavily edited the text that Shakespeare's style was entirely submerged.
In the late period represented by Shakespeare's known collaborations with Fletcher in Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen, his style had become so involved that it is difficult for a listener or even a reader to catch the meanings of many passages on a quick hearing or a first read, so Theobald might have found it necessary to alter the text in a way that made Shakespeare's voice unrecognisable. However historian Michael Wood has found an "idiosyncratic" verse in the Theobald adaptation which he believes could only have been written by Shakespeare. Wood also asserts that the lyrics of at least one song by Shakespeare's regular collaborator, composer Robert Johnson, are related to Double Falsehood, indicating that Theobald had access to a genuine original text. As "Double Falsehood" is substantially shorter than any other play of Shakespeare's and is completely lacking in a subplot, which all other Shakespearean plays have, it is likely that one of Theobald's revisions was to remove a subplot from his manuscript version.
In 2010, the Arden Shakespeare published Double Falsehood in its series of scholarly editions of Shakespeare's collected works. The editor, Professor Brean Hammond, made a case for the Shakespearean origins of Theobald's play. In 2011 the Royal Shakespeare Company presented an adaptation of Double Falsehood as "Cardenio, Shakespeare's 'lost play' re-imagined," directed by Gregory Doran. The critic Michael Billington believes that this version is more suggestive of Fletcher than Shakespeare. In 2012 Terri Bourus directed a production of Gary Taylor's "unadaptation" of Cardenio, an attempt to reverse Theobald's alterations of the original. Taylor's text along with detailed evidence supporting the view that Theobald had used the original playscript was published in a collection of essays the following year. This text subsequently received its UK premiere on 18 March 2017 at the Mary Wallace Theatre, Twickenham in a production by Richmond Shakespeare Society in association with Cutpurse.
The stage play Double Falsehood varies its tone from that of the episode in the novel and gives the story a fast-moving comic treatment. This is noted in the preface that Theobald wrote in 1727. All of the characters are given new names for the play: Don Fernando becomes Henriquez, Cardenio becomes Julio, Luscinda becomes Leonora, Don Bernard is Leonora's father, and Dorotea becomes Violante. The play borrows from the novel's plot events leading to and including the wedding: Henriquez is in love with Leonora, who has planned to wed Julio. Julio is sent away on an errand, and Leonora is forced to the altar. She gets a letter to Julio alerting him, and he arrives as the wedding is occurring. The bride has a dagger hidden on her in order to commit suicide. Julio jumps out from behind a tapestry to stop the wedding, but he is overpowered. Earlier on, Henriquez has raped Violante, which motivates him, at the end, to marry her in order to make up for his misdeed. A significant difference between the stage play and the novel, is that the play contains a series of dramatic encounters between the principals that do not occur in the novel.
In 1990, handwriting expert Charles Hamilton, after seeing a 1611 manuscript known as The Second Maiden's Tragedy (usually attributed to Thomas Middleton), identified it as a text of the missing Cardenio in which the characters' names had been changed. This attribution has not gained much support among other authorities.
Several theatre companies have capitalised on Hamilton's attribution by performing The Second Maiden's Tragedy under the name of Shakespeare's Cardenio. For instance, a production at Oxford's Burton Taylor Theatre in March 2004, claimed to have been the first performance of the play in England since its putative recovery (although a successful amateur production had premiered at Essex University's Lakeside Theatre on 15 October 1998).
A full production of the play, which noted the contested authorship, was mounted at the Next Theatre in Evanston, Illinois in 1998. Another production of the play, billed as William Shakespeare's Cardenio, was staged by the Lone Star Ensemble in 2002 in Los Angeles, directed by James Kerwin.
In 2010 the Aporia Theatre began work on a new edit from translator and director Luis del Aguila and director Jonathan Busby. It was presented under Busby's direction at the Warehouse Theatre, Croydon, in November 2010. Critic Michael Billington believes the play is more suggestive of Middleton than Shakespeare.
The main plot of The Second Maiden’s Tragedy borrows from Cervantes's novel the events leading up to the wedding ceremony of Luscinda and Don Fernando. The authors of the play create a series of dramatic encounters between (to use the names in the novel) Luscinda and her father, and Luscinda and Don Fernando, Cardenio and Luscinda's father and Cardenio and Don Fernando. The wedding does not occur; instead, there is a dramatic scene in which the lusting Don Fernando (The Tyrant) sends his soldiers to grab Luscinda (The Lady). When The Lady finds out that soldiers will soon arrive and drag her off to Don Fernando's bed, she asks Cardenio to slay her with his sword. Cardenio draws his sword, aims it at the breast of the woman he loves, runs at her – and this time it is Cardenio who swoons. Luscinda picks up the sword and commits suicide. Her suicide, her dead body, and her ghost, all play a part, as the story hurtles toward a climax of murder and revenge.
If Shakespeare does not lie behind that, it is hard to think who else might
The Second Maiden's Tragedy is presented as the work of Middleton alone in the edition of Middleton's works that sixty-three other scholars and I are currently finishing up for publication by Oxford University Press. That view has also been the general consensus for the last fifty years; we haven't found anything in Hamilton's work to make us change our mind.Dr Lavagnino co-edited The Collected Works of Thomas Middleton for the Oxford University Press.
[Hamilton] claimed...that a piece known as The Second Maiden's Tragedy was really the elusive Cardenio; and it is a newly edited version of this – boldly attributed to Shakespeare, Fletcher and a third co-author, Middleton – that is currently being performed in Croydon....the play is more Middleton than Shakespeare.