There was no Facebook or Twitter or Perez Hilton in the mid-1800s. But if there had been, some of the celebrity gossip of the time would probably have centered on whether William Shakespeare did, in fact, write each of the 38 plays credited to him. More than 200 years after his death in 1616, Shakespeare’s detractors – known as the anti-Stratfordians – began espousing the theory that several other writers, including Christopher Marlowe, probably penned the great bard’s plays. (The 2011 feature film “Anonymous” centered on this very theme as well.)
While most historians apparently don’t take much stock in these theories, it is believed that at least two of Shakespeare’s last plays were likely co-written with John Fletcher. Among the plays now believed to have been written with Fletcher is “Cardenio,” sometimes referred to as Shakespeare’s “lost” play.
The play “invites audience to decide is this a hoax, or is this Shakespeare?”
Hoax or genuine article?
Described as “Zorro meets Shakespeare” by director Jon Ciccarelli, the artistic director of the Hudson Shakespeare Company, “Cardenio” will close out the theater group’s Shakespeare in the Park 2012 season.
The production is an adaptation of the play “Double Falsehood” said to be penned by Shakespeare and Fletcher. The play is based on three original handwritten manuscripts of “The History of Cardenio,” the original title of “Cardenio.” “Double Falsehood,” and the handwritten manuscripts that were supposedly used as the basis of the play, were for centuries considered a hoax.
According to the BBC Magazine, Gary Taylor, a Shakespeare scholar and professor of English at the University of Florida, has spent the last 20 years trying to sort out the authorship of “Cardenio.” According to the magazine, Taylor ultimately concluded that the play was written by Shakespeare and Fletcher, but had been significantly altered over the years. Using historical documents and an early version of “Double Falsehood,” Taylor has tried to pull out the fragments of text he believes were actually written by the two men.
The Hudson Shakespeare Company production of “Cardenio,” said Ciccarelli, “invites the audience to decide, is this a hoax, or is this Shakespeare?”
“This play has a somewhat controversial pedigree,” Ciccarelli noted. “The play has the bard’s fingerprints on it and it has all the hallmarks of his work. It is clearly influenced by him. But the participation of other writers can’t be ignored.”
Cardenio will be played by David Rosenberg. Michael Hagins will play the part of Fernando. Noelle Fair has been cast as Luscinda and Melissa Meli will play Dorotea, Fernando’s jilted lover.
Off the beaten path
Founded in 1992, the Hudson Shakespeare Company uses classical and eclectic theater esthetics to reinterpret Shakespeare’s plays for contemporary audiences and is known for its work with emerging directors.
The company’s 2012 season, its 21st, stays true to its mission, according to Ciccarelli.
“Last year we decided to depart from the typical Shakespeare productions you would generally see at most Shakespeare festivals,” said Ciccarelli. “Each season we try to produce at least one play that you’ve either never heard of, or we put a different spin on known works of Shakespeare. ‘Cardenio’ is this season’s entry in that category.”
While staying true to the bard’s intensions, Ciccarelli and the Hudson Shakespeare Company are not afraid to incorporate modern or multicultural elements to reach its diverse and eclectic audiences in Jersey City and Hoboken. The company’s production last year of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” for example, included dance sequences that were performed to African and Indian music.
“Our audience is as broad and diverse as Hudson County itself,” said Ciccarelli. “Yes, I could see some playgoers being jarred or put off by some of the elements of this production, but not in Hoboken or Jersey City. These are audience members who are already seeing shows and interesting sophisticated theater productions in New York. Part of our mission is to keep up with that standard because that’s what our regular audience members want. It’s what they’re accustomed to.”
“Cardenio” will be performed in Jersey City’s Van Vorst Park, at Montgomery Street and Jersey Avenue, on Friday, Aug. 3 at 7 p.m. Repeat performances will be given in Hoboken’s Sinatra Park, at 410 Sinatra Dr., on Monday, Aug, 6 and Monday, Aug. 13, also at 7 p.m.
In the event of rain, the Jersey City performance will move to Van Vorst gazebo. The Hoboken performances will have to be cancelled if it rains.
It is suggested that audience members bring lawn chairs and blankets.
All performances are free.
For more information on the Hudson Shakespeare Company, visit www.hudsonshakespeare.homestead.com or call (973) 449-7443.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.