Much Noise No Nuts, Part 1

Banner - Dore Cardenio tavern noisy climax

23 April 2022
· Shake-Speare’s connection to Cervantes via Cardenio, or not ·

nuts and nutcrackers in bowlMy comedy Much Ado About Nothing is set on the island of Sicily, the football beside Italy’s toe. Italians call the play Molto rumore per nulla, while Spaniards use the expression Mucho ruido y pocas nueces. Lots of noisy cracking, few nuts. The English title also hides a second meaning, but my racy wordplay has been nearly forgotten in time as well as lost in translation.

This is what I was working on when my pen-thieving ex-character Lolofernes made me stop what I was ado-ing to translate his Catalan al·lucinació. Now grown into multiple posts, the whole thing is a big bowl of noise about not much, but that’s the point of it.

Hallucinations bookFebrile BardologistsWhat’s a Bardologist? What’s In A Name? have long dreamt of finding a connection between Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547–1616) and William Shakspere (1564–1616). They want it so much.

Happy Calendar-Finagled Coincidental Death Or Burial Day, by the way.

Bardology: Want to flesh out some of Young Will’s missing whatever-could-he-have-been doings in the late 1580s? Hey presto, send him across the Channel to meet Miguel in Spain, somehow, somewhere. See Tangent: Impossible Dream, With Subtitles, also posted today, for an example of one such fever dream made into a movie.

Bardology: Perhaps that’s a trip too far at the time, what with the cost, the lengua española, that pesky Armada getting in the way. So wait until 1605. Though you might figure Primetime William would have his hands full at the Globe (acting, managing, Othello, Lear, and Macbeth all in progress), go ahead and punch his ticket to Valladolid as part of the upper-crust diplomatic embassy sent by King James to celebrate the ratification of the Treaty of London and the birth of the future Philip IV. Was Cervantes in town too? His just-published book was selling like tortitas calientes. Two now-successful writers, both top of the pops. Think of the publicity.

Bardology: In any case, Shakspere is home with his feet up in his big house in Stratford by the time Thomas Shelton’s English translation of The History of the Valorous and Wittie Knight-Errant Don Quixote of the Mancha is published in 1612. The Bard borrows a copy from someone who owns books. After getting through its 600+ pages he is inspired to sharpen his pen and commence work on a new play based on the story of Cardenio found within the novel. Despite his retirement and the distance from London (three days on a horse, six on foot, no email) he burns midnight candles with next-generation playwright John Fletcher, and between them they bang out The History of Cardenio in time for the King’s Men to perform it at James’s court in January or February of 1613, then again in June for guests of the Lord Mayor. What a shame that the play was left out of the First Folio in 1623and the Second in 1632 and the Third in 1664 and the Fourth in 1685 and now it’s lost, except for whatever shreds remain in Lewis Theobald’s Double Falsehood of 1727.

Thus the Bardologists, or some of them anyway. You could spend the rest of your life and beyond reading orthodox disquisitions on the subject of Cardenio. The less something exists, the more they write about it. Double Falsehood has even been dismantled by computers programmed to extract what they think are the Shakespearey bits, then those bits reassembled, re-edited, and restaged with a new third name under the reassumed Cardenio title. Theobald Redux.

My turn.

Shake-Speare did not read Cervantes’s book The Adventures of Don Quixote while he was alive, because he shuffled off his mortal coil before the book was published in any language. Nor was Shake-Speare involved in writing a play based on the book’s character Cardenio, for the same reason.


All you need is a timeline.

New Century Book of Facts24 June 1604: Two months into my fifty-fifth year, the surly sullen bell gave warning to the world that I was fled. Dead. At King’s Place in Hackney, the home I shared with my wife Eliza, were my boxes of words, the accomplishments of many years that I spent my last decade making fit for publication, posterity, or what you will. Most of the plays were in decent shape, a few were not. What became The Two Noble Kinsmen were only pieces of a leftover from my youth, not even a draft. Henry VIII needed holes filled and stage directions, but my notes were good. Timon of Athens was a mess– miserable to work on, written more in black bile than ink. Eliza would hide the box when she saw the melancholic dog upon me. She’d have liked to toss the pages on the fireGrahamLike the modern art burned in the night in the back garden of Lady Churchill’s secretary’s brother. but she knew how much of me was in them, and she understood the importance of my presence in my work, in all my humours. When your name isn’t on the outside, the inside is all you have.

16 January 1605: El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha (later to be known as the First Part) by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra was published in Madrid. In Spanish, of course.

1608 to 1610-ish: Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher co-wrote The Coxcomb, based on César Oudin’s 1608 French translation of the novella the Curious Impertinent within Don Quixote. Fletcher was thus adapting Quixote well ahead of the book’s publication in English. (It took Oudin until 1614 to translate the entire First Part into French.) The Coxcomb was performed at court around the end of this period.

1 April 1609: Eliza sold King’s Place to Fulke Greville, the royal administrator and poet. She moved back to town, downsizing at Canon Row, Westminster.

1609 Sonnets GIF title/dedication sm20 May 1609: Thomas Thorpe registered SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS with the Stationers. Publication followed before year’s end. Eliza had that box too. Here I can only surmise –I may be deceased but I’m not omniscient– that Thorpe knew that intimate ‛new’ poems by the ever-living dead Shake-Speare would sell, while Eliza knew that Thorpe’s hinky reputation in the publishing business would cover the quarto with the convenient camouflage of a bootleg. Even if an intermediary served as adviser or cutout, any decision to publish would have been Eliza’s. I no longer had a vote.

Unlike my Cecil wife Anne, Elizabeth Trentham was no naïve teenager when she married me at the end of 1591. She was a pragmatic, clear-eyed spinster of 32 who knew what she was getting. She loved me anyway, for which I loved her in return. When she needed funds (see next item), it would have amused her no end to let Thorpe and the public have my private poems for a price, knowing that the money would end up in the hands of the very people most put out by them. Incomparable woman.

8 July 1609: Eliza purchased the Honour of Castle Hedingham from my three Cecil daughters, co-owners since the death of their grandfather Burghley in 1598. This returned the ancestral de Vere estate in Essex to the Oxford earldom in the person of our son Henry, 18th Earl, now sixteen years old. It’s not a stretch to figure that the proceeds from the sale of King’s Place and the Sonnets went directly into the Hedingham purchase. Bonus feature: Eliza cocking a snook at Uptight Uncle Rob and the rest of the Cecil clan, if the sale was done and dusted right before the Sonnets appeared in Aspley’s and Wright’s front windows.

19 January 1611: Shelton’s translation of Don Quixote was registered with the Stationers, though not yet published. Registration gave a publisher exclusive rights to print and sell a work after it was licensed by the crown, but it did not guarantee publication.

1611-ish to 1613-ish: Did Eliza give the young court dramatist John Fletcher a shot at cleaning up Henry VIII and doing whatever he could with the pieces of The Two Noble Kinsmen? It doesn’t require tortured logic to posit this, and again (you’ll have to trust me) it sounds like Eliza. Fletcher had a good reputation as a collaborator with Beaumont and others, which would have recommended him to her. Timon was left out of the job– either Eliza held it back, or Fletcher chose not to deal with it. Can’t blame either one for that. Of course Fletcher was busy with his own work too. Dates vary (don’t they always) but during this same period he may have been writing The Woman’s Prize, or the Tamer Tamed, his sequel to my Shrew play. Up to his eyeballs in the ever-living poet.

Wikitedia last 3 entries Shx chronologyThe tail end of Wikipedia’s incorrect Shakspere
chronology, contributed by the usual Wikisuspects.

Two authors collaborating on a work needn’t sit in one room sharing pens and ink. They needn’t even both be alive, although complications tend to arise if neither is. Nothing in any presumed history of Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen rules out the idea of Fletcher completing what I had begun years before. Did his contributions merit co-authorship? That ultimately depends on your definition, but H8 went into the First Folio as mine alone, while 2NK and the hypothetically co-written Cardenio didn’t go in at all. If Fletcher did minor script-doctoring on H8, most of the work on 2NK, and all of the work on Cardenio, those decisions were correct.

24 May 1612: Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, died at 48, possibly from cancer but certainly from overwork. The Regnum Cecilianum came to an end after fifty-four years.

Frontispiece engraving Shelton Quixote(sometime in) 1612: Shelton’s Don Quixote was published in London. Cervantes’s opus was finally accessible to English readers. It’s easy to see Fletcher, already familiar with the French excerpt, buying the new book hot off the press. It’s easy to see him drawn to the Cardenio story, another mini-drama within the larger work. It’s easy to see him jumping on the Quixote bandwagon, clearing his desk to write his adaptation for the King’s Men to perform ASAP. Already well versed in amending and extending Shake-Speare, it’s easy to see his quick-marched Cardenio being stylistically similar. It wouldn’t even need to be intentional.

6 November 1612: Henry, Prince of Wales, heir apparent to the thrones of England and Scotland, died of typhoid fever at the age of eighteen.

January or February 1613: A play listed as Cardenno was performed by the King’s Men at court. Marriage festivities took place at this time, following the period of mourning for Prince Henry that had postponed his sister Princess Elizabeth’s wedding to Frederick V, Elector Palatine. No authorship was given for Cardenno, no manuscript survives.

14 February 1613: Bessie and Fred were finally wed. From their Hanoverian grandson George I down to the present sovereign, British monarchs descend from this marriage.

8 June 1613: Cardenna, presumably the same play as Cardenno, was performed by the King’s Men for a Savoyard ambassadorial party at the home of London’s Lord Mayor. Again no attribution, no manuscript.

1613-1653: Forty years elapsed with no further mention of Cardennx. The Second Part of Don Quixote was published in Spanish in 1615, and in English (again translated by Shelton) in 1620. Shakspere and Cervantes died (more than a week apart) in April 1616, James I in March 1625, Fletcher (only 45) that August. Puritans gained political power; in September 1642 all public stage performances were banned. The ban would last until 1660. Civil war led to the execution of Charles I in January 1649. By the end of 1653, Oliver Cromwell was Lord Protector.

9 September 1653: Publisher and bookseller Humphrey Moseley entered into the Stationers’ Register a group of plays including The History of Cardenio, by Mr Fletcher. & Shakespeare. Its alphabetical listing under F and the full stop after Fletcher suggest that the & Shakespeare was not original. Was this the King’s Men’s Cardenno/Cardenna from forty years before? Nobody knows, because Moseley’s play was never published (what a shame). This phantom registration was the first claim of any connection between a Cardenio play and Shakespeare, and the only such claim made in the 17th century.

Moseley was one of a gathering of publishersNathaniel Butter, Thomas Creede, Thomas Dewes, Thomas Pavier, John Helme, William Jones, Francis Kirkman, Henry Marsh… who would sometimes put variants of the name W Shakspeare or the initials WS under the titles of other playsOne they sold. During the years of padlocked theatres, reading plays became a substitute for forbidden live performances. The population was growing more literate, and economies of scale made printed works more affordable for the non-elite. Publishers with flexible scruples knew that a Shakspeare credit would boost a play’s sales among readers who couldn’t tell the difference between Juliet and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter. My pseudonym had metamorphosed into a misspelled knockoff advertising brand.

Fletcher writing Cardenio as I have theorised would explain why Moseley might have succeeded with his ruse this time, if what he had was actually Fletcher’s play and he had managed to get it into print. Fletcher’s Cardenio would have been so much more like a Shake-Speare play than any of the other bogus Shakespeares. One of Moseley’s other fakes, registered in 1660 but never published or now lost (what a shame!) was Iphis and Iantha, or A Marriage Without a Man, a Comedy, based on one of the stories in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. At least he was trying.

1653-1727: There was no further reference to any Cardenio play for the next seventy-four years. Charles II assumed the restored throne in 1660. He was followed by James II, the Glorious Revolution, William & Mary, Anne, George I, and in June 1727, George II.

Title page 1728 quarto, Double Falshood13 December 1727: Double Falshood; or, The Distrest Lovers opened at the Theatre Royal. Lewis Theobald’s plot followed Cervantes’s Cardenio story, with changes to the names. Theobald claimed to have based his improved version on three manuscripts Written Originally by W. SHAKESPEARE. He published his adaptation, and it has survived. The same cannot be said for the three manuscripts. No one else ever set eyes on them before they vanished, to verify their provenance, their authenticity, or their existence. What a shame.

Did Theobald adapt the phantom play registered but not published by Moseley in 1653? Did he get hold of Fletcher’s 1613 manuscript, or prompt copies used by the King’s Men? Did he make the whole thing up?

1728-present: The rest isn’t silence. From the Old Thatch Tavern to Bullwinkle’s Saloon, Bardologists in their cups have held forth on Shakspere and Cardenio/Double Falsehood. It’s all landfill.

My non-collaboration with John Fletcher on his lost play The History of Cardenio renders moot (unless you’re Fletcher) the question of how much damage Lewis Theobald did by whatever revisions he made to whatever sources he worked from, by answering the more fundamental question of how much actual Shake-Speare is in any iteration of Cardenio or Double Falsehood.

The answer is none.

Much ado about nothing.


• I don’t have positive things to say about inappropriately applied statistical computer programs used to ‘discover’ collaborative authorship. I don’t say them here. Theobald Redux heads the cast. Something, Something, and Statistics, posted 21 March 2017.

• Digital stylometry also makes its way into lyrics I wrote for a cover version of an Elton John tune. I still need someone to record it for me. (Interested?) Willy and the Strats, posted 6 June 2018.

• Could Willy have hand-written the 900,000 words that make up my work? You’d think that by the time he signed his will his penmanship would have been up to scratch instead of just scratched. Compare his with mine: Doodling and Noodling, posted 24 August 2017.SOURCES AND ADDITIONAL READING

  • • Banner: Don Quixote, Cardenio story
  • · Revelations at the inn
  • · Illustration by Gustave Doré, 1880-81 edition
  • Shakespeareish []
  • · by Colin Burrow
  • · London Review of Books, 25 March 2010

Burrow wittily lambastes Arden Shakespeare’s decision to publish Double Falsehood as if it was Hamlet. “Reading the whole play through, you experience repeated drunken lurches in literary history: 18th-century Shakespearean pastiche dissolves into Restoration heroic drama which then melts into something that could be Fletcher trying to sound like Shakespeare.” (emphasis added)
[jump return]

  • Fake Shakes(peare) []
  • · by Kate Maltby
  • · written for The Spectator, 1 Feb 2011
  • Cardenio entry, Folger Lost Plays Database []
  • · For what it’s worth. Consider the source.

Cardenio entry at LPD
you really should if you haven’t already

A number of English translations of The Adventures of Don Quixote exist online. Newer ones in copyright cost money, but unless you need the latest analysis or up-to-the-minute vocabulary, an old free one will do just fine, and provide more historical flavour. The 1742 translation by Charles Jarvis (Jervas) at Google Books, reissued in 1852, has modern orthography and a decent EPUB for reading on your mobile. The Internet Archive has the 1885 translation by John Ormsby with its extensive introduction, or read it here in chaptered web pages. The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine has an archive of Gavilan College’s chaptered web pages of Shelton’s 1612 and 1620 translations, spelling modernised. (The pages are no longer found at the original location.)

If you want to immerſe yovrſelf in yͤ paſt try Google’s colour page scans of the 1617 Shelton second edition (Part One only), readable in your browser. The downloadable PDF omits the colour. If your Spanish and your eyes are up to the task, no translation can beat Cervantes’s 1605 and 1615 originals at the Biblioteca Digital Hispánica.

DQ meets Cardenio, illust by Walter Crane

illustration by Walter Crane, 1919 · [source]