Quixote on the English Stage: A New Glimpse of The History of Cardenio?

  • Gerald Baker


On October 29, 1630, the diplomat and parliamentarian Sir Thomas Roe wrote to Elizabeth Stuart, the Winter Queen. He had been a member of Elizabeth’s household probably since her coming into England after her father’s accession, and had continued to be a correspondent and ally after her marriage and departure from England in 1613. On this occasion he wrote concerning the recent plague season:

[A]nother general calamitye, we have had no playes this six moneths, & that makes our grate men see the goodness of them…: for if our heads had beene filled with the loves of Piramies & Thisbe, or the various fortunes of Don Quixotte, we should never have cared, who had made peace or war but on the stage. But now every foole is enquiring what the French doe in Italy, & what they breake in Germany.1

This piece of correspondence has been available in easily accessible sources, but has not been previously noted in relation to the nexus of evidence that begins to define the shape of the lost King’s Men play, The History of Cardenio. In talking about the absence of plays (the theaters were prohibited from opening because of plague) and giving examples of staged narratives that would fill up the mental space “every foole” now devotes to political speculation, Roe refers here quite clearly to a play that includes Don Quixote, not to the novel, and he refers to the character and his “fortunes,” rather than to the title of the play, for a title cannot have “fortunes.”2


Recognition Factor Short Spell Wild Goose Diplomatic Mission Narrative Material 
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  1. 1.
    National Archive, State Papers 16/174/102, cited here from Dale B. J. Randall and Jackson C. Boswell, Cervantes in Seventeenth-Century England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 69: my emphasis.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Bentley, The Jacobean and Caroline Stage, 7 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1941–1968), I, 27.Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    Both of these usages are found in the same Chamber Account Warrant of May 20, 1613, which is the first documentary record of Cardenio. Note also the records from Herbert’s Office Book for a performance of “Malvolio” on February 2, 1623, and of “The First Part of Sir John Falstaff” on January 1, 1625: N. W. Bawcutt, ed., The Control and Censorship of Caroline Drama: The Records of Sir Henry Herbert, Master of the Revels 1623–73 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 140, 159.Google Scholar
  4. 9.
    T. A. Birrell, English Monarchs and Their Books: From Henry VII to Charles II: The Panizzi Lectures (London: The British Library, 1986), 44–45.Google Scholar
  5. 17.
    Alfred Harbage, rev. S. Schoenbaum, third edition rev. Sylvia Stoler Wagonheim, Annals of English Drama 975–1700 (London: Routledge, 1989), 92–129 (for all lost plays considered in this paragraph). On pp. xvii–xviii of this edition, Wagonheim states: “Sometimes the year in which a play has been placed is merely a median point between a forward and a backward limit, but usually there are better reasons for its chronological position than this.” I have not attempted for my purpose here to distinguish between more accurately positioned titles and those whose median placing is merely indicative.Google Scholar
  6. 23.
    Strachen, Sir Thomas Roe 1581–1644 (Wilton: Michael Russell, 1989), 208.Google Scholar
  7. 33.
    Harold Love considers the practice of scribal publication generally in “Thomas Middleton: Oral Culture and the Manuscript Economy” in Gary Taylor and John Lavagnino (eds.), Thomas Middleton and Early Modern Textual Culture: A Companion to the Collected Works (Oxford University Press, 2007), 98–109, and records the production of six manuscripts of A Game at Chess between the play’s suppression and its first print publication. The Wild Goose Chase was not published in this way, but its twenty-year persistence in the repertory combined with Moseley’s story of a “Person of Quality” borrowing it from the actors and not returning it indicates an active demand for manuscripts of unprinted popular plays. Fletcher, VI. 227, conveniently gathers together the details of its pre-publication history.Google Scholar

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© Terri Bourus and Gary Taylor 2013

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  • Gerald Baker

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