Shakespeare Club
Portrait of Shakespeare from the First Folio 1623 (by permission of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust)Shakespeare Club 21st Anniversary (by permission of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust)



University of Warwick

Peter Kirwan teaches Shakespeare, theatre and Renaissance Literature at the University of Warwick, where he has recently submitted his PhD on the 'Shakespeare Apocrypha'. He is Associate Editor of the forthcoming edition of disputed plays attributed to Shakespeare and has published several articles and reviews on aspects of Shakespearean authorship. He also writes The Bardathon theatre review blog.

Chasing Windmills: Where Next for Cardenio?

As the RSC's current production of Cardenio draws to a close, so too does a year of lively debate following the publication of Lewis Theobald's Double Falsehood in the Arden Shakespeare series. While the authorship question has made headline news the important issues about how we define Shakespeare extend much further. This talk examines the debates and looks ahead to the future of the Shakespeare canon, asking if there will continue to be a place in it for this enigmatic play.

Lecture Notes

The 863rd meeting of the Shakespeare Club of Stratford-upon-Avon took place at Mason Croft on Tuesday 13 September 2011. The Chair for the evening, Dr Susan Brock, introduced Peter Kirwan whose subject was ‘Chasing Windmills: What Next for Cardenio?’ Mr Kirwan had just completed his doctoral thesis on the Shakespeare Apocrypha and had been recently been appointed Teaching Associate in Shakespeare and Early Modern Drama at the University of Nottingham.

Mr Kirwan began by stating his intention to avoid the question of Shakespeare’s authorship of the play being staged at the RSC as Cardenio. Instead he described the title pages of two recent editions of the play , the Arden Shakespeare edition (2010) and the acting text published by Nick Hern (2011). The first is titled Double Falsehood (2010) and credits Lewis Theobald who published the play in 1727; the second is titled Cardenio: Shakespeare’s Lost Play Re-imagined which illustrates the complexity of authorship, revision and adaptation. He traced the history of the play from a collaboration between John Fletcher and Shakespeare performed by the King’s Men in 1612/13, through a conjectured Restoration adaptation which Theobald then reworked from MSS he claimed to have acquired form an illegitimate daughter of Shakespeare. He argued that it was the publication of the Arden edition with its association with Shakespeare that revived interest in the play, inspiring six productions including the RSC's. But stepping away from the ‘who dunnit’ Kirwan asked ‘What does the play do for the Shakespeare canon’?

With the help of members of the Shakespeare Institute players, Kirwan examined three scenes from the play, the Prologue, the central speech by Henriquez describing his seduction (or rape) of Violante, and the 18th century Epilogue which has not been included in modern productions, arguing that each text reflected contemporary theatrical and moral culture as well as Shakespeare’s status as a writer. Comparing the play to Two Noble Kinsmen and Two Gentlemen of Verona, at either end of Shakespeare’s career, Kirwan concluded that treatment of the rape scene determined the character of the play for each generation and that the inclusion of Cardenio could only enrich the Shakespeare canon.

After questions from the floor and a vote of thanks from the Chair, the meeting closed at about 9pm.


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