You may or may not know the story of Cardenio, or Double Falsehood. Briefly, and avoiding the repetition of claims of forgery, mis-attribution etc, it runs that late in his career William Shakespeare may have collaborated with the younger playwright John Fletcher on several plays, one of which was the lost Cardenio.
These late collaborative plays pose a problem to the romantic, shapely arc often assigned to Shakespeare’s writing career. This suggests that, having written the theatre’s greatest histories, comedies and tragedies, Shakespeare’s art rarefied to romance, a second childhood of shipwrecks, fathers and daughters reunited, evil queens and gods descending from the heavens to untangle confusion. This theory crests with The Tempest, where Prospero – virtually Shakespeare himself striding onstage to put everyone straight about a thing or two – rounds off two miraculous decades in art by ‘drowning’ his book and renouncing magic (for which read writing plays). Prospero/Shakespeare then retreats to Stratford to a dignified retirement of grain hoarding and minor litigation.
Except he doesn’t. Instead, he writes one, possibly two, possibly three plays with John Fletcher. Continue reading