King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences
'The very age and body of the time': Shakespeare's world

Cervantes and the lost play Cardenio

Opening showing Cardenio and his associates discovering Dorotea, disguised as a peasant boyOpening showing Cardenio and his associates discovering Dorotea, disguised as a peasant boyMiguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) shares the year of his death with William Shakespeare, although due to the difference between the Gregorian and Julian calendars, the two events are not as close as is usually thought.

Cervantes, like Shakespeare, is widely considered his country’s preeminent literary figure. They share a background of humble origins and a truncated formal education; Cervantes enlisted in the Spanish Marines and was wounded fighting the Turks at the fateful Battle of Lepanto in 1571, before supporting his literary career through tax collecting and accounting. Globally famous for Don Quixote (1605-15), he also wrote novellas, plays and poetry.

Don Quixote quickly found readers in Jacobean England when Thomas Shelton published a rather inaccurate translation of Book 1 in 1612. It is believed this translation was the source of the lost play The history of Cardenio, putatively written by Shakespeare in collaboration with John Fletcher and known to have been performed by the King’s Men in 1613. Shakespeare’s involvement has been questioned, dismissed as an early publisher’s boosterism and as critical wishful thinking, but it remains a distinct possibility, and it has been argued that the remnants of this lost collaboration underlie at least one later extant play of the 18th century.

The translation featured here (published 1755), is by Scottish novelist Tobias Smollett, known for his picaresque novels, of which genre Don Quixote is considered one of the first and finest examples. The illustration shows Cardenio and his associates discovering the beautiful Dorotea, somewhat poorly disguised as a peasant boy, bathing her feet in a mountain brook.

In this exhibition

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