The Ghost of Cardenio

I’ve now had a chance to read Brean Hammond’s edition of Double Falsehood, and it’s an intriguing volume, even if I think the verdict “not proven” might be excessively lenient. First and foremost, it seems Theobald lost faith in the play himself, since it doesn’t appear in his edition of Shakespeare. Where the actual manuscripts went is still a mystery: Malone read the printed edition, but not the MS copy supposedly in Covent Garden Library. Hammond argues, quite persuasively, that Theobald may have been working from a version already redacted: the original Cardenio may have been adapted, revised and altered – he suggests – by William Davenant and Thomas Betterton, so Theobald’s version is a version of a version.

Hogarth's Distressed Poet, supposedly an image of Theobald

On the plus side, there are some lines that have a Shakespearean tinge to them. “But I by fears  weighing his unweigh’d course” seems especially close – the neologism “unweigh” as well as the kind of self-consuming rhetoric that becomes frequent in the late plays. There is Julio / Cardenio’s madness (not in itself a topic unique to Shakespeare) but the use of assuaging music recalls Pericles. Although there are other broad narratological similarities (transvestism, the rogue who loves one woman and weds another, and suchlike) what strikes me is the lack of certain elements that typify the late plays. There’s no theophany, there’s no reconciliation between generations and the use of an arras is perhaps the only example of Shakespeare’s (hypothetical) desire in the late plays to re-run events from the tragedies but with non-tragic conclusions.

The idea of a mid-17th century version explains the lack of comic relief, and some inelegant moments of plotting, as well as the “honour” fixation that became the norm of heroic drama. It also means that an echo of a genuine Shakespeare play is dimmer and dimmer. Perhaps the most damning evidence, as far as my hunches go, is the preponderance of lines akin to Hamlet,  the very play Theobald analysed to show Pope’s slackness as an editor.

If nothing else, it would be a fine result if this led to more plays from the period being edited and produced. I’m maybe in a minority of one in admiring Ben Jonson’s Sejanus, a play with the most shockingly brutal ending, where the chorus with whom we’ve identified become a baying pack of monsters. But I’d also like to see more of Fletcher and Beaumont’s plays, and not just the gorier highlights of Webster and Middleton. Actually the one I’d like to see most is Dryden and Davenant’s crazy version of The Tempest – The Enchanted Isle. It adds a female monster, and a man who’s never seen a woman (to contrast with Miranda). It also has my favourite exchange in 17th century drama:

Dorinda: What is the soul?

Hippolito: A small blue thing that runs about within us

Dorinda: Then I have seen it in a frosty morning run / smoking from my mouth



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