Recently I read a copy of Charles Hamilton’s edition of the purportedly lost Shakespeare play, “The History Of Cardenio.” After reading this book I believe it is the lost Cardenio. The original tale of Cardenio is from from Cervantes novel ,”Don Quixote.”
Cervantes writes how a nobleman named Don Fernando marries a woman Dorotea, but once he “enjoys her” loses interest and starts courting his close friend’s since childhood lover Luscinda, thus betraying their friendship. Shakespeare’s Cardenio cuts out Dorotea and makes both Cardenio and Don Fernando Kings. In Shakespeare’s play Don Fernando is known as The Tyrant. Shakespeare’s script doesn’t term the love interest of the story Luscinda but merely The Lady. It starts out with Cardenio being deposed with The Lady as the usurping King’s mistress. Cardenio acknowledges the sometimes fickle nature of friendship in the second speech of the play:
“So much can the adulterate friendship of mankind, false fortune’s sister, bring to pass on Kings, and lay usurpers sunning in their glories like adders in warm beams.”
This strikes me as a starkly Shakespearean line.
In the opening scene the Tyrant sends the deposed King Cardenio to prison after he revokes banishment reasoning that, “There is some combination betwixt thee and foreign plots,” this being after The Lady has rejected The Tyrant, yet he still allows The Lady to follow. His reasoning for letting The Lady do as she please for the time being:
“It[my affection] must come gently and kindly, like a debt of love, or ’tis not worth receiving.”
At least he is trying to pretend to be a decent human being.
In the original story Luscinda married Don Fernando reluctantly, but later that night “she was instantly assailed by a terrible accident that struck her into a trance, and her spouse approaching to unclasp her bosom that she might take the air; found a paper folded in it, written with Luscinda’s own hand, wherein she said and declared that she could not be Don Fernando’s wife, because she was already Cardenio’s, who was, as the man told me, a very principal gentleman of the same city; and that if she had given her consent to Don Fernando, it was only done because she would not disobey her parents.” “The paper made also mention how she had a resolution to kill herself presently after the marriage.”
In Shakespeare’s Cardenio the story is different but still similar. She never marries Don Fernando The Tyrant to appease her father, but The Lady and Cardenio rather confront her father and abruptly so. In a very powerful and dramatic scene Cardenio discharges a pistol to startle and petrify her father when the Lady’s father tries to remain resolute on her marrying The Tyrant. Cardenio professes:
“O, hadst thou been anything beside her father, I’d made a fearful seperation on thee. I would have sent thy soul to a darker prison than any made of clay, and thy dead body as a token to the lustful King thy master.”
He further chides her father:
“Is there a dead feeling of all things fatherly and honest in thee? Can promotion’s thirst make him so base to buy his honors with his daughter’s soul?”
In Shakespeare’s play The Tyrant and Luscinda never marry, but she asks Cardenio that “For honor’s sake dispatch me!” She makes this request as soldiers are on their way from The Tyrant’s command to, “Seize her for our use.” Cardenio faints at the task and she bemoans the burden left on her with what seemed to be his quick departure[death], “Left all the work upon my head, and stole away so smoothly.” She then herself finishes the heavy task.
In Cervantes’ tale since the marriage to Luscinda was meaningless being that he was already married to Dorotea, and furthermore never got a chance to “enjoy” Luscinda and consummate the marriage since shortly after the marriage she fell into a trance. Shakespeare’s version mimics that theme as neither did The Tyrant get to “enjoy” The Lady as her suicide is carried out before his soldiers tried to seize her.
We get vivid details from Shakespeare that Cervantes much more vaguely enumerates.
“I carry hidden about me a poniard secretly, which may hinder more resolute forces by giving end to my life, and a beginning to thee, to know certain the affection which I have ever borne and do bear unto thee.” *Cervantes
Cervantes never puts this plot device into the actual story; it’s just mentioned as a possibility that never takes place.
After the death of The Lady, Shakespeare takes the story into a whole new direction. The Tyrant purloins her tomb for purposes of necromancy. Her ghost appears to Cardenio proclaiming:
“The peace that death allows me is not mine. The monument is robbed! Behold, I’m gone, my body taken up!” *Shakespeare
The rest of the story deals with preserving The Lady’s Honor. The topic of Honor was a main concern of Luscinda’s in Cervantes’ story, as is shown through her unrelenting devotion to Cardenio and her interest in reading books about chivalry.
In Shakespeare’s play Cardenio gets unprecedented access to her body by winning the unmitigated Trust of the Tyrant, disguising himself as a painter hired to make, “Art hide death upon her face.” Cardenio manages to do a fine job as The Tyrant Promulgates:
“O, she lives again!”
Cardenio surreptitiously paints her lips with venomous elixir. As The Tyrant touch lips, he immediately feels unwell. Cardenio reveals that it was poison with a vindictive maliciousness that makes the Tyrant promptly perish. The Tyrant dies at an instant after his once loyal subjects shout aloud:
“Live Cardenio long our virtuous King.”
Cardenio vows to give The Lady a proper resting place:
“Unto the house of peace from whence she came, as queen of silence.”
In both versions of the story The Lady’s or Luscinda’s faithfulness to her true beloved is a big part of the story. Like all of Shakespeare’s romances, honesty in the virtuous sense is a principal theme.
Shakespeare’s Cardenio closes with these two unforgettable lines:
“I would those ladies that fill honor’s rooms might all be borne so honest to their tombs.”
Based on one of the greatest Novels of all time[Don Quixote]. A brilliant masterpiece that could only have been written by the Sweet Swan of Avon.