Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Corral de Comedias

This morning I finished reading Woza Shakespeare, the account of the South African Titus Andronicus and reached the section where Doran and Sher describe the time the company spent in Almagro in Spain. Here they are taken to see the Corral de Comedias, a courtyard theatre with timbered galleries in which productions were being staged at the same time as Shakespeare and The King's Men were Performed at The Globe. This isn't a reconstruction like our own Bankside Globe, this is the real thing.

As you can see, in design it is rather more like the indoor theatres, such as Blackfriars where Shakespeare and his company moved for winter seasons after 1608, than the polygonal Globe, but like The Globe it is open to the elements, so perhaps the more apposite comparison would be to the inn yards that preceded the purpose built theatres of the 1570s and later. And its preservation is simply stunning. Of course, given the Act of Parliament in 1648 which not only banned public performance but also made it illegal to watch plays it's not surprising that none of the London playhouses survived. Nevertheless, I can't imagine that we would have gone out of our way to preserve a theatre building as this has been; the theatre has just never been seen as that important.

There is another tantalising link to be drawn here. Almagro is in La Mancha, the home of Don Quixote. I always have to shake myself to remember that Cervantes and Shakespeare lived and wrote at the same time and that Shakespeare knew the Spaniard's great story. Robert Shelton's translation of the first part hit the St Pauls' bookstall in May 1612 and at the end of that year Shakespeare and the new young playwright, John Fletcher, presented their joint venture, Cardenio, based on one of the episodes in Cervantes book, in two performances at court. Apart from a 1727 version very much bowdlerised by Lewis Theobald, called Double Falsehood, we have no record of the play. However, there have been a couple of attempts in the past two or three years to reconstruct the original and this Spring, Greg Doran, the director of the South African Titus, is going to have another go at staging Cardenio in The Swan Theatre at Stratford.

Only time will tell how successful this will be. We have had a number of speakers at the Shakespeare Institute and at the Birthplace who have all drawn attention to just how difficult it is to decide which lines in Double Falsehood belong to Shakespeare, which to Fletcher and which to Theobald. There is also the question of the missing sub-plot. Ninety-nine point nine per cent of the extant plays from that period have a sub-plot of one sort or another but Double Falsehood does not. It rather looks as though Theobald didn't so much adapt Cardenio as fillet it. I'd like to think, though, that Doran's attempt might be successful and then perhaps the production could be taken to Almagro and staged at the Corral de Comedias, returning its characters at least to their spiritual home.



  1. Reading your blog is like getting my own little slice of personal tutoring. I enjoy it after not having been in school for almost 12 years now. Thanks for your fantastic insights!

  2. Thank you, Anbolyn. I'm still trying to find the right style for this blog and worrying that perhaps I hop about from subject to subject too much. But, that is the way my time is spent at the moment, working with groups in many different subject areas rather than concentrating in just one area. I'm glad you enjoy what I write.