Investigating lost Shakespeare

I am interested in the ‘lost Shakespeare play’ called Cardenio. The Royal Shakespeare Company are staging a re-construction later this year. Director Greg Doran has been blogging about his preparation in ‘Re-imagining Cardenio‘. How much can be found out about the play and its story from resources available to De Montfort University students?

No one knows when the Shakespeare-Fletcher collaboration for the 1613 Season disappeared, but it looks likely that it went up in flames. That could have been in the fire that burnt down the Globe Theatre on June 29th that year, the fire that engulfed London in 1666 or used as firelighters in someone’s kitchen soon afterwards?

Various people got drawn into the story of the play and its demise. The biographies of at least the British ones can be found in the Dictionary of British Biography. You would expect to find the big names like: William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, who wrote the original play, and Lewis Theobald who put on an adaptation as ‘The Double Falsehood’ in 1727. But others who played a key role are also included, like Henry, Prince of WalesThomas Shelton, Sir William Davenant, Thomas Betterton, and John Downes.

There are literary databases that will uncover articles about the play: you could check out the results listed in MLA International Bibliography or ‘LION’ Literature Online.

Shakespeare’s play itself may be lost, but two key texts do survive. Anyone wanting to re-imagine what it would have been like would need to look closely at the English translation of Cervantes Don Quixote that was the source for the story (you can find this in Early English Books Online) and the adaptation Lewis Theobald claimed was based on Shakespeare and Fletcher’s original: ‘The Double Falsehood’ (and you can find that in the LION database.)

About Philip Adams

Senior Assistant Librarian at De Montfort University. I am interested in digital preservation and the use of data to measure a library's impact. All comments own.
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