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Cardenio is a lost play, known to have been performed by the King's Men, a London theatre company, in 1613. It is believed to have been written by William Shakespeare, probably in collaboration with John Fletcher. The play may have been lost with the burning of the Globe Theatre in 1613.
The content of the play is not known, and only one song survives. However, it is likely based on incidents in Don Quixote, of which the 1612 translation by John Shelton would have been available to the authors. Fletcher is known to have enjoyed the work of Miguel Cervantes.
Lewis Theobald and Double Falshood
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. (In Theobald's time, Shakespeare was always adapted to the tastes of contemporary theatergoers, so there is nothing particularly odd about that, however much we may regret it; and Theobald was also unable to publish the original script, because of Jacob Tonson's exclusive copyright on Shakespeare's plays.) The Double Falshood story has the plot of the "Cardenio" episode in Don Quixote, and present scholarly opinion is that Theobald did indeed use the lost Cardenio as his original. The fate of Theobald's three manuscripts is unknown; they may well have passed to John Warburton , who had worked with Theobald, and if they did, they probably perished at the hands of his infamous cook.
Charles Hamilton and The Second Maiden's Tragedy
In 1990, Charles Hamilton, a handwriting expert, after seeing a 1611 manuscript known as The Second Maiden's Tragedy, usually attributed to Thomas Middleton, identified it as the missing Cardenio with names changed. This attribution is not generally accepted by experts on Shakespeare.
Capitalizing on Hamilton's attribution, The Second Maiden's Tragedy has been performed and published as Shakespeare's Cardenio, usually ignoring its disputed status. For instance, a recent performance in Oxford's Burton Taylor Theatre in March 2004 claimed to have been the first performance of the play in England since its recovery.
Neither Double Falshood nor The Second Maiden's Tragedy would rank among the more important works of Shakespeare, if they had been written by him. A likely cause of popular fascination with the play is the mystery surrounding a lost work by such an esteemed figure.
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