Cardenio – June 2011


By: Very good question – lots and lots of people, but probably not Shakespeare (see below)

Directed by: Greg Doran

Venue: Swan Theatre

Date: Saturday 11th June 2011

Our view was obscured again tonight as a pillar blocked a fair bit of the stage, and being so far round one side meant we couldn’t see the balcony scenes on that side. The cramped leg room didn’t help either. However, this play was much more accessible than The City Madam – we knew who every character was from an early stage, and the plot developments were clear throughout, not to mention very familiar from a lot of other sources.

First, the authorship question. We attended a talk this afternoon by Greg Doran and Tiffany Stern, hosted by Paul Edmonson, at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (listen to the podcast at The historical evidence, limited as it is, was unequivocal; there’s no definite evidence that Shakespeare ever co-wrote a play called Cardenio, or any other play based on the story of Cardenio as told in Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Of course, there were lots of caveats and perhapses during the afternoon, but having seen the version presented by the RSC at this time, of a play adapted from an earlier play which may have been based on a possible manuscript of a play that may have been in the vicinity of Fletcher and/or Shakespeare at some time, my conclusion is that any hypothetical input Will may have had has been so squeezed out by the reworking that it’s almost a breach of the Trades Descriptions Act to put his name anywhere near the play’s title on the advertising, two inserted Hamlet lines notwithstanding. Having said that, I’m very fond of the RSC, and in these difficult times I see no real harm in them milking this ephemeral ‘connection’ for all it’s worth.

And as it happens, they’ve come up with quite a good play, Shakespeare or no. I don’t know the original story, which isn’t told in proper sequence anyway, so I can’t comment on that, but after a short spell of introducing the characters and setting up the plot, there was a great deal to like about this piece. Cardenio, the son of Don Camillo, is a friend of Fernando, the ne’er-do-well second son of Duke Ricardo, a very important man. This duke, by the way, likes to stage dry runs of his own funeral, so as to leave nothing to chance, and the opening of the play has Fernando, unknown to us at this time, sneaking on stage to have a practice go in the empty coffin. This was both weird and puzzling, but we were soon into the dialogue so I let it go.

The duke and his elder son, Pedro, are concerned about Fernando, who’s off on a horse-buying spree. Pedro has found out that Cardenio is Fernando’s friend, and also involved in the horse purchasing, so the duke sends for Cardenio to enlist his help in monitoring Fernando’s activities. The timing is a bit unfortunate, as Cardenio has just got up the courage to ask for his father’s approval of his choice of bride – Luscinda, a neighbour’s daughter and a real feisty woman as well – but the duke’s summons and his father’s excitement at the potential for preferment, get in the way. When Cardenio and Fernando end up in the vicinity of Luscinda during their travels, Cardenio takes the opportunity to visit her, and shows her off to Fernando, and that’s where the problems begin.

Fernando has already impressed us with his fickleness, rampant lust, etc. He’s wooed a young woman, Dorotea, of too low a class to be considered suitable as his bride. Using promises and a ring, he gets a chance to have sex with her, and it’s not entirely clear whether she’s given reluctant consent or none at all. With the deed done, Fernando’s love is gone, so he’s primed and ready to ‘fall in love’ again, this time with Luscinda. The ins and outs of his attempts to wed Luscinda, her attempts to put him off, Dorotea’s experiences as she follows Fernando, and Cardenio’s suffering make up the rest of the play.

There was plenty of humour throughout the performance. The subject matter – betrayal, with a side order of rape – was serious, but still there was a lot to laugh at. Alex Hassell as Fernando did a particularly good job of getting the humour out of the part without becoming either a fop or a buffoon, and all the other performances were good too. The situation was resolved in a neat manner, although I have serious doubts about Fernando and Dorotea’s marriage surviving, never mind being happy. So we’re looking forward to seeing this again, from a better position, and I’ve no doubt we’ll get even more out of it next time.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at

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