By Stephen Greenblatt and Charles L. Mee

Directed by Les Waters

Originally produced at American Repertory Theatre, Boston, MA.

May 10,2008 through June 8, 2008

About the Premiere Production:
Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt and playwright Charles Mee have joined forces to produce a midsummer comedy of love based on Cardenio, a play by Shakespeare that was lost soon after its first performance. Fragments survive, which Greenblatt and Mee have woven into a contemporary reconstruction of the story, now set at a wedding party on the terrace of a villa in the Umbrian hills.

Artistic Statement: The Cardenio project gives the A.R.T. an opportunity to extend its resources to some of the country’s finest writers and theatre artists. The developmental associated with the world premiere of Cardenio represented significant increases in the resources the A.R.T. normally devotes to a production. Support from the Edgerton foundation helped to underwrite these expenses, thereby helping to bring the Cardenio collaborators together with adequate time and resources, including an authors workshop in January, 2008. Such support is certain to help ensure the success of the project in Cambridge and promote its longevity at theatres throughout the country and abroad.

Stephen Greenblatt and Charles Mee have rescued the fragments of the lost Shakespeare play and used them as the inspiration for Cardenio. The parts of The Double Falsehood likeliest to bear Shakespeare’ own imprint appear in the play-within-the-play that the characters perform in their adaptation, and the main plot is based on a story told in the "Cardenio" section of Don Quixote. In fact Shakespeare’ fingerprints are all over Greenblatt and Mee’ play, from the crisscrossing of the lovers to the cunning Iago-like meddler, from soliloquies (reimagined as wedding toasts) to overheard conversations, from the dream of passion to the pleasures of music and dance. But, as with one of Shakespeare’ own comedies, the audience does not need to know anything about the sources to enjoy the show.

Charles Mee’s imaginative adaptations of classic Greek, Elizabethan, and Chinese texts have earned him a reputation as one of this country’ leading playwrights. Over the years, the A.R.T. has produced, premiered, and presented a number of Mee’ plays including bobrauschenbergamerica, Snow in June (world premiere), Full Circle, The Trojan Women: A Love Story, and Orestes. In addition, his plays have been produced at major theatres around the country and world including the SITI Company, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, The Public Theatre, Lincoln Center, the Humana Festival, and Steppenwolf, among many others. As a final confirmation of Mee’s status as one of the most important living American playwrights, the Signature Theatre in New York recently is dedicating its entire 2007-08 season to productions of his plays.

Stephen Greenblatt, the Cogan University Professor at Harvard, is one of the most important and influential Shakespeare scholars in the world. His tremendously popular biography of Shakespeare, Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, was one of the New York Times "10 Best Books of 2004" and Time magazine’ " Number 1 Best Nonfiction Book."

Although Mee and Greenblatt borrow Shakespearean structures, devices, and (in some scenes) language, they have set their play in the present. As a result, their Cardenio is both Shakespearen and modern - a combination that will likely appeal to audiences well beyond Cambridge and New York. As Martin Puchner, H. Gordon Garbedian Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, wrote in a recent article about the project, "The new Cardenio pays homage to Shakespeare without trying to imitate him. It uses sources as if they were left-over pieces from a puzzle that no longer add up but that can be assembled to form a new picture. Tom Stoppard, in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, had created a modern Hamlet from the perspective of Hamlet’ two college friends. Mee and Greenblatt have done something similar, only without the benefit of the original play. Perhaps their Cardenio is what Shakespeare, himself famously irreverent with models and sources, might have written had he been confronted today with the challenge of writing a lost play by Shakespeare."

The A.R.T. has a reputation around the country and world for the tremendous support it provides writers and artists as new plays develop. Even before Mee and Greenblatt completed the first draft of their play, the allure of a new work inspired by a lost Shakespeare play and co-authored by two leading American writers began to attract the attention of theatres around the world. At first, Mee and Greenblatt were approached by Broadway producers. After careful consideration, however, the writers decided they wanted to develop and premiere the play at the A.R.T., where their script would receive the dramaturgical attention and artistic and administrative support it needs.

Director: Les Waters

Additional Funders: 

National Endowment for the Arts

The Harold & Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust