On sitting down to read Doran again

by Gary Taylor

“Fantastico!” cried the King of Spain.

That’s how Doran begins. As a modern exclamation the Spanish word means “Great! Fantastic! Terrific!” This is what the Oxford English Dictionary describes as the “trivial use” of the word, dating from 1938. But the earlier meaning of the Spanish fantastico (and the English fantastic) is more relevant to Don Quixote, or to Cervantes and Shakespeare and Fletcher more generally: imaginary, imaginative, eccentric, a product of fantasy. What is so disappointing about Double Falsehood, at the level of both plot and language, is the 1727 text’s paucity of the fantastic. There is little, here, of what Shakespeare and Fletcher would have called “fancy”, let alone “fantasy”.

But back to Doran. “‘Fantastico!’ cried the King of Spain when I told him that Shakespeare may have written a play based on Cervantes.”

You can see here, and from this memoir generally, what makes Doran a good director. He begins with an anecdote, a little social scene, immediately intelligible to a modern reader or spectator. One of the characters is a King, and the other is a representative from the Royal Shakespeare Company. Lifestyles of the rich and famous, familiar enough to be comprehensible, exotic enough to be interesting. Two pages later, the Cuban-born artistic director of a classical theatre festival in La Mancha, with an “emphatic sweep of his hand”, spills vino tinto all over Doran’s white dinner jacket.

The memoir is full of such moments. When Doran walks one sunny morning from his home in Islington to “the Library and Archives of the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers, at Stationers’ Hall, at Amen Corner on Ave Maria Lane in the City of London’, the clerk is “a  city gent straight from central casting, with a pinstripe suit, and loud pink tie” (99-100). Doran does not discover in the Stationers’ Register anything about The History of Cardenio not already familiar to bibliographers, but he is constantly alive to settings and costumes and characters.

But this is also why Doran was right to conclude that his approach to reconstructing the text of Cardenio was incompatible with mine. I did not begin with a living King of Spain, or a trip to Cordoba, or plans to collaborate with Spanish theatre companies, or the famous Gustave Dore illustrations of Don Quixote (which Doran loves).  I began with what Shakespeare and Fletcher knew in 1612 or 1613. There is no evidence that either of them ever visited Spain. Theobald owned two editions of Don Quixote in Spanish, but The History of Cardenio was clearly based on the 1612 English translation of what we now consider only the first half of the novel. In all the years I have worked on Cardenio, I have never read the second half, or any other translation, and I have checked the Spanish only once, to verify that one phrase in the 1612 translation does not come from the original. I have focused on what stay-at-home literary Englishmen in 1612 knew or thought about Spain and Cervantes.

Doran’s approach is more cosmopolitan, more politically correct, more respectful of Cervantes and Spain, and more attuned to the commercial realities of the international theatre circuit. By contrast, my own approach is determinedly parochial.

Why? I’ve been to Spain myself–but to Valencia, not Andalucia, and what I like best about Valencia is the modern City of Arts and Sciences in the dry river bed created by re-routing the river that used to flood the medieval and renaissance city. I read Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia and Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls before I ever read Don Quixote. I am primarily interested in modern Spain, and I believe Cervantes still speaks to the modern world, inside and outside the Iberian peninsula. But there have been, over the centuries, lots of plays, in lots of languages, based on Don Quixote. Writing another one of these disposable adaptations does not interest me.

I am interested in The History of Cardenio only insofar as it represents the intersection of Cervantes, Shakespeare, and Fletcher. I have great respect for the monarchy’s role in returning Spain to democracy after the Franco’s horrific Christian dictatorship. But when it comes to The History of Cardenio, the King of Spain is irrelevant.


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