Shakespeare’s lost play

Literary scholars have always alluded to the fact that there are many plays by brilliant English playwright William Shakespeare that have not seen the light of day and Cardenio might be the most popular of them all.

Most scholars suggest that The History of Cardenio often simply called Cardenio was written in 1613. As it is one of Shakespeare's later contributions, it is (like many of his later plays) believed to be co-authored.

In the last stages of his career, Shakespeare is said to have been working with a writing partner, English dramatist John Fletcher. The two of them co-wrote ‘The Two Noble Kinsmen’ in 1613 and prior to this had also joined forces to write a history play, ‘Henry VIl’l which is also known as ‘All is True’.


The argument of dating the play to 1613 is supported by the fact that the records of the treasurer of the King’s chamber to King James state that two payments were made to Shakespeare’s drama company King's Men in 1613 for plays called "Cardenna" and "Cardenno" These two records are presumed to refer to the same play (Cardenio) as rules for spelling were not standardised in Shakespeare's time. Therefore, these records are taken as evidence that Cardenio was written around 1613.

The titular character of this play is also a recurring figure in one of the most influential works of Spanish literature Miguel de Cervante’s Don Quote. Written and published in 1605, the first English translation of this Spanish classic came around 1612. Therefore, it is fairly safe for us to assume that Shakespeare and Fletcher would have taken inspiration from this translated version of the novel.

Never published

For some reason, John Heminge and Henry Contell did not include Cardenio in the First Folio (1623), which was the first significant compilation of the English playwright’s works. As a result, the play was never published or made available to the general public.

Lost and forgotten

Many scholars and researchers have come up with theories to justify why this play was not included in the First Folio and how or why it got lost.

One of the possible answers for excluding it can be that it was written in collaboration, but the folio does include co-authored plays such as Henry VIII and Two Gentlemen of Verona, so this cannot be the reason.

Another suggestion is that they did not include it as they did not have a written copy - because the manuscript was destroyed in the fire that burnt down Shakespeare's Globe Theatre on June 29, 1613. Or perhaps the play, fresh from its early performance at the King's court in 1613, was new enough that no copy had been made of text and that the only text of the manuscript was in the Globe when it burnt to the ground. Although it is hard to specify how Cardenio's original text was lost, it is certainly fascinating to know how through the years numerous playwrights, actors, and directors have tried to reconstruct and recover this play.

In 2009, British academic Bernard Richards reconstructed Cardenio on stage. More recently in 2011, English director Gregory Doran crafted his own version of the play for production at the Royal Shakespeare Company's Swan Theatre.

Musing about Cardenio in an interview with the Wall Street Journal in 2009, Canadian novelist Stephen Marche said "This work would have been a direct link between the founder of the modern novel and the greatest playwright of all time, a connection between the Spanish and British literary traditions at their sources, and a meeting of the grandest expressions of competing colonial powers..."

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What's in Shakespeare's first folio?

Published seven years after William Shakespeare's death in 1616, the first folio is credited with sustaining the legacy of the playwright and ensuring that generations could enjoy the bard's plays.

What is a folio?

A folio is a large book made by folding sheets of paper in half, with each sheet forming four pages. This format was usually reserved for weighty historic or religious subjects. Shakespeare's first folio was the first of its kind published in England devoted exclusively to plays.

Shakespeare's first folio Published in 1623, the full title of Shakespeare's first folio is Mr William Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies.

The word folio refers to its considerable size. Plays prior to this were considered too trivial to be printed in such a large format. Assembled and edited by the playwright's friends and fellow actors John Heminge and Henry Condell, the first folio contains 36 Shakespearean plays, 18 of which had never been printed before. Were it not for their appearance in the folio, they would most probably have been lost forever - they include As You Like It. The Tempest, Julius Caesar, and Macbeth.

It is believed that 800 copies of the first folio were produced, out of which 233 still exist. Each copy is said to be unique because the manuscripts were proofread and corrected while the printing was in progress.

Sold for a pound

The original selling price for a copy of Shakespeare's first folio was one pound and like most books of that era, it was sold unbound so the buyers needed to have it bound in leather. Today, an original copy of this book can fetch more than two million pounds. It is easily the most important collection of plays ever published and valued throughout the world.

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Shakespeare's lone known portrait

Seventeenth-Century English playwright Ben Jonson once said William Shakespeare, was "Not for an age but for all time". This statement has often been repeated since, as even today, more than 400 years after his death. Shakespeare is considered to be one of the most influential poets and playwrights of all of human history.

Shakespeare published 38 plays, 154 sonnets and several poems during his lifetime. His works have been translated into every single language of the world, making him one of the few writers who are universally loved and acknowledged. But do we really know what he looked like?

The only signed and dated portrait of William Shakespeare created during the bard's lifetime had recently gone on sale for more than 10 million pounds sterling and has been displayed in West London's Grosvenor House Hotel.

This portrait is attributed to the outstanding English portrait artist Robert Peake who was the official court painter to King James I. It is also signed and dated 1608.

Sold in a private treaty without an auction, the owner, of this work of art, wishes to stay anonymous. However, it was disclosed that before 1975, the picture hung in the library of a stately home (that once belonged to the Danby family) in the north of England. Since then it has been in private ownership.

Duncan Phillips, an art expert who examined the work ahead of the sale said "There is more evidence for this portrait of Shakespeare than any other known painting of the playwright." Over the years, the legitimacy of the available paintings of the playwright has been subjected to numerous claims and counterclaims. However, only two posthumous artistic renditions of the legendary author, are generally recognised as accurately portraying him. The first of the two is the engraving that was published in 1623 on the title page of his First Folio, and the second one is the sculpture at his funeral monument erected in Stratford-upon-Avon following his death in 1616 at the age of 52.

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How did Shakespeare spell his last name?

The spelling of William Shakespeare's surname was not fixed until well into the 20th Century. There are supposedly 80 different ways to spell the bard's name including 'Shappere' and Shaxberd'. The standard spelling of his surname as "Shakespeare" was the most common published and printed signature on his earliest works. However, it was not the one used in his own handwritten signatures.  It was, however, the spelling used as a printed signature to the dedications of the first editions of his poems Venus and Adonis in 1593 and The Rape of Lucrece in 1594. It is also the spelling used in the First Folio, the definitive collection of his plays published in 1623, after his death.

The spelling of the name was later modernised, "Shakespear" gaining popular usage in the 18th century, which was largely replaced by "Shakspeare" from the late 18th through the early 19th century. In the Romantic and Victorian eras the spelling "Shakspere", as used in the poet's own signature, became more widely adopted in the belief that this was the most authentic version. From the mid-19th to the early 20th century, a wide variety of spellings were used for various reasons; although, following the publication of the Cambridge and Globe editions of Shakespeare in the 1860s, "Shakespeare" began to gain ascendancy. It later became a habit of writers who believed that someone else wrote the plays to use different spellings when they were referring to the "real" playwright and to the man from Stratford upon Avon. With rare exceptions, the spelling is now standardised in English-speaking countries as "Shakespeare".

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How has Shakespeare inspired movies?


           Thousands of films have taken inspiration from Shakespeare. Akira Kurosawa, renowned Japanese filmmaker, directed Throne of Blood, which is an adaptation of Macbeth. His Ran, directed in 1985, is inspired by King Lear. My Own Private Idaho, by Gus Van Sant, is influenced by Shakespeare’s Henry IV. Laurence Olivier is probably the most famous filmmaker and actor who have successfully adapted Shakespeare’s play. His Henry V, Hamlet and Richard III are popular films.

           Shakespeare has wielded his influence in India too. Vishal Bharadwaj’s Omkara, Maqbool and Haider have been both popular and critical successes. Jayaraj’s Kannaki, Kaliyattam and Veeram are popular Shakespeare adaptations from Kerala.

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Have Shakespeare’s plays been adapted?


      Shakespeare has been a perennial inspiration for writer for centuries. Innumerable novels, stories and films have been born out of Shakespearean literature. Many films that you have watched may have unacknowledged, uncanny similarities with Shakespearean plots.

      Many of Shakespeare’s plays have been written as short stories and novels without changing their names. Many modern novels are inspired by him. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville is said to be inspired by Macbeth and King Lear.

      Aldous Huxley’s A Brave New World has its roots in The Tempest. The same play is the inspiration for Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed. E. K Johnston’s Exit, Pursued by a Bear is inspired by the famous line from Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale.

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The Two Gentlemen of Verona by William Shakespeare

      Some scholars think that The Two Gentlemen of Verona is Shakespeare’s first play; and therefore, it is not as promising as his later plays.

      The play is centred on the love, perseverance and determination of a young girl named Julia who went to extremes to win over her love. Valentine and Proteus were close friends. Valentine set out on a journey and Proteus did not follow him because he had fallen in love with Julia. However, when Proteus went to meet Valentine, he met Valentine’s lover Silvia and fell in love with her at first sight.

      He forgot about Julia completely. Now, the play takes the viewer through many events, in which adventure, luck and velour become prominent themes. Julia, in order to win back Proteus, disguised herself as a man and followed him around. Finally, Proteus, realizing his mistakes, apologized to Valentine and everything ended on a happy note.

      One of the most controversial episodes in Shakespearean plays appears in this play. Convinced of Proteus’ repentance, Valentine appears to hand his love, Silvia, to Proteus.

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Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare

      What would happen if someone decides that he would have nothing to do with women and no women would be allowed within one mile of his home? Love’s Labour’s Lost, one of Shakespeare’s early comedies, has misogyny as its central theme.

      Ferdinand, the King of Navarre, and his friends decided that women were not allowed inside their palace for three years, because they wanted to devote their time and energy to learning and research. However, their plans were thwarted when the Princess of France and her ladies arrived for a diplomatic mission to the Court. The Princess, insulted without an entry to the palace, camped outside the court. In the events that ensued, the King fell in love with the beautiful princess and his friends with other women. They eventually relinquished the vow and realized that the ultimate knowledge was the knowledge of love and understanding.

      As the play ends, the marriages are planned and they would take place in a year’s time.

      This is one of Shakespeare’s original plays. Scholars opine that he has not consulted sources that he used for his other plays. Abounding in sophisticated wordplay, the play contains lines such as: ‘Love is a familiar; love is a devil. There is no evil angel but love’.

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Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare

      Some scholars have categorized some of Shakespeare’s plays as problem plays. There are three of them: All’s Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure and Troilus and Cressida.

      These plays are characterized by their complex sensibilities and confusing plots. There are elements of tragedy and comedy in such plays. Measure for Measure centres around sensuality and depravity in Vienna.

      The Duke of Vienna took a break from ruling and appointed a strict judge Angelo as the interim ruler. A citizen named Claudius was convicted of impregnating a woman he was to marry and was ordered to be executed. Claudius’ sister Isabella, a nun, rushed to plead with Angelo who asked her to submit to his will, if Claudius was to be released. Angelo had been betrothed to Mariana whom he did not marry because she had no dowry.

      As it turned out the Duke, in fact, had not left the palace and was disguised as a friar. He saw to it that justice was served to everyone and the guilty were punished. The play’s main themes include justice, morality and mercy.

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Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare


      Troilus and Cressida is a tragedy. The source of its plot is from Iliad, the great Greek epic by Homer. The play is set during the years of the Trojan War. The story centers on the Trojan Prince Troilus’ wooing of Cressida, another Trojan.

      Troilus was the son of Priam, the legendary king of Troy. He professed his profound love for Cressida. However, during the war between the Trojans and the Greeks, Cressida was exchanged as a prisoner of war. Troilus tried hard to meet Cressida; and when he finally succeeded realized that Cressida had deceived him. He went back to the war to fight even more determined.

      While the story of Troilus and Cressida constitutes only a small part of the play, there are leaders of the war such as Agamemnon, Priam, Ajax, Hector and Achilles who appear and play vital roles in the play.

      Troilus and Cressida are considered a special play by Shakespeare because of the treatment of the themes like love, honour and power.

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King John by William Shakespeare

      Shakespeare’s history plays abound with stories of power hungry kings and royal men. They fight, betray and kill each other so that somehow power stays with them. King John, one of Shakespeare’s well-known history plays is about politics, war and bloodshed.

      King John was threatened by the French King Philip to renounce his throne in favour of his nephew Arthur. However, King John did not relent and sent forces against him. Although the war was fierce, there was no decisive victory to suggest a clear winner between them.

      In the meantime, Cardinal Pandolf arrived with the message that John had disobeyed the Pope and therefore, he was excommunicated. While trying to escape from the prison, Arthur died and that was enough for the nobles to withdraw their support for King John. There was war again and many of John’s enemies rejoined him. John, however, was poisoned to death and his son, Prince Henry, becomes the next King.

      The date of the play’s composition is not yet ascertained; however, it is believed to have been written between 1587 and 1588.

      The famous lines ‘Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale, vexing the dull ear of a drowsy man’ are from King John.

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Coriolanus by William Shakespeare

      Shakespeare’s Coriolanus is based on the life of the legendary Roman leader Caius Marcius Coriolanus.

      The people of Rome were agitated because there was no food available. While Menenius Agrippa, a popular senator, managed to calm them, the arrogant and fiery young general, Caius Marcius, aroused their emotions again by confronting them.

      Marcius led the Roman army against the Volscian forces, led by Tullus Aufidius, which were threatening Rome. Marcius defeated the Volscian in their own city, Corioli, with great personal velour, and was given the title of ‘Coriolanus’. When he returned to Rome the senate elected him succeed, Comenius Consul. He accepted the honour but refused to subject himself to the endorsement of the common people in the market place. Coriolanus was contemptuous towards people and denied them their right to corn free of cost. Eventually, he was expelled from Rome.

      Coriolanus went to the Volscian city of Antium in disguise and was welcomed by his former enemy, Aufidius. Coriolanus joined forces with Aufidius to challenge Rome.

      All diplomatic attempts to stop him failed until his mother, his wife, Virgilia, and his young son, approached him. He is unable to resist their entreaties and agrees to make peace. However, when he returned to the Volscian capital, he was killed by conspirators.

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Cymbeline by William Shakespeare

      Will anybody challenge a stranger to test his wife’s fidelity? Shakespeare’s Cymbeline follows the story of a man who foolishly places a bet over his wife’s faithfulness and suffers a great deal over it. The play deals with the themes of innocence and jealousy.

      Cymbeline was the King of Britain whose wife had an arrogant illegitimate son called Cloten. Cymbeline arranged the marriage of his beautiful daughter, Imogen, to Cloten; however, she defied him and married the poor but worthy Posthumus Leonatus.

      Cymbeline banished Posthumus, who went to Rome. Before he went, Imogen gave him a diamond ring and he presented her with a bracelet Posthumus, living in Italy, had a challenge with lachimo that the latter would seduce the chaste Imogen and bring Posthumus proof of her adultery. Lachimo, though unsuccessful in wooing Imogen, brought proof through cunning and deception. This caused distrust between the lovers. In the ensuing events, several plot lines follow, involving disguises, mistaken identity, deceit, treachery and poison.

      The play ends in a traditional comic note. Lachimo confesses to his treachery, the characters who are thought to be someone else reveal themselves, all the misunderstandings are resolved and the lovers are reunited.

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The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare

      What if someone whom we had loved very much died but came back to life later? Shakespeare’s play, The Winter’s Tale tells the story of two friends who, out of misunderstanding, fell out with each other. The play whose date of inception is not clearly known is categorized as both comedy and romance.

      King Leontes of Sicily and King Polixenes of Bohemia were old friends. Polixenes had made a visit to Sicily and was about to return home after a long stay. Al though he was anxious to go, Leontes’ wife, Hermione, persuaded him to stay longer at the bidding of her husband.

      However, Leontes became obsessed with the idea that his pregnant wife has been unfaithful to him with Polixenes. He arranged with a Courtier to poison Polixenes but the servant warned the king of Bohemia and Polixenes and the Courtier, Camilla, escaped together. Furious, Leontes accused his wife of infidelity and the child Hermione was bearing, illegitimate. He threw her in prison and she was reported to have died.

      The king abandoned the child, Perdita, on the coast of Bohemia. He lost his son too. Leontes was heart-broken and repentant over whatever happened in his life. Meanwhile, time passed and after sixteen years, Florizel, Polixene’s son fell in love with Perdita, who was living as a shepherd’s daughter. In the end, the lovers marry each other. Hermione, who was thought to be dead, comes back to life and everything turns out well.

       One of Shakespeare’s most famous stage directions can be found in this play. In one scene, Antigone’s who abandons Perdita is chased out of the stage by a bear. The instruction reads ‘Exit, pursued by a bear’. It is not known whether Shakespeare used a real bear from the London bear-pits, or an actor in bear costume.

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Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare

      Antony and Cleopatra is a heart-rending tragedy of two royal lovers. Shakespeare’s play has its sources in Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, written at the beginning of the second century.

      Mark Antony was one of the three rulers of the Roman Empire after the death of Caesar, Brutus and Cassius. Other rulers were Octavius Caesar and Lepidus. Mark Antony was in love with Cleopatra, the ruler of Egypt and an extremely beautiful woman. From Alexandria, Antony had to come back to Rome, as the empire was threatened by the rebellion of Sextus Pompey, who had been previously defeated by Julius Caesar. He had to marry Octavia, the sister of Octavius, in order to make peace with him. Cleopatra was jealous, but she realized that Antony did not love Octavia. He soon returned to Alexandria to be with Cleopatra. Caesar is incensed and declared war on Antony and Cleopatra. In spite of being a renowned soldier and strategist, Antony chose to fight Caesar at sea and was defeated. Cleopatra went to her tomb and sent intimation to Antony that she was dead; Antony, devastated, tried to take his life too. He was brought to Cleopatra’s tomb and Antony died in her arms. She too committed suicide by inciting a venomous snake to bite her.

      You must be familiar with the expression ‘my salad days’. It is from Antony and Cleopatra and it means the youthful and inexperienced period in an individual’s life.

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