Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Shakespeare at Otterton Mill?

News of the staging of a ‘lost’ Shakespeare play is always guaranteed to bring in audiences keen to judge whether it matches work by England’s best-loved playwright.

Cardenio, performed on Saturday 20 June by TACT, a brand new, Cambridge University-based theatre company in the courtyard of Otterton Mill, just a few miles from Budleigh, is now so well-known as a lost Shakespeare play that there are even popular novels about it: last year saw the publication of Jean Rae Baxter's Looking for Cardenio and Jennifer Lee Carrell's The Shakespeare Secret.

Cardenio’s plot revolves around four lovers: Henriquez, libertine; Violante, abandoned; Julio, betrayed; Leonora, pursued. “Love has never been so complicated,” say the production team. The original re-working of the play by Bernard Richards is perhaps as close as we will ever get to the truth about this ‘lost’ Shakespeare work.

Its origins are, as they say, shrouded in mystery. It seems to have been performed at Court in 1612, but no copy, either handwritten or printed, of this play survives, and we next get to hear of it in1653 when The History of Cardenio was entered on the Stationers' Register as having been written “by Mr. Fletcher. & Shakespeare.”

If it was genuine it is likely to have been something like other works which Shakespeare produced in collaboration with John Fletcher, such as Two Noble Kinsmen and All is True (Henry VIII). Cardenio is not heard of again until 13 December 1727, when a version of it by Lewis Theobald, entitled Double Falshood; or, The Distrest Lovers was put on at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane.

Theobald claimed to have possessed various manuscripts of the play, but the version he had printed in 1728 was, it seems, heavily edited and rewritten. A manuscript of the play was last heard of in March 1770, when it was alluded to in The Gazetteer as one of the treasures in “the Museum of Covent Garden.” It was probably burnt in the fire of 19 September 1808.

Tickets are £17.50, which includes a barbeque supper on the sun-terrace prior to the performance plus strawberries and cream in the interval.

To book your tickets for this exciting evening of al fresco food and entertainment, please call Otterton Mill on 01395 568521.

Above: A scene from Cardenio.
Photo credit: Tom Moriarty;

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