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SSar puts on the hat of an angry BA in English and rants about Cardenio
SSar's Beast
I just came back from Cardenio, a "reconstructed" "Shakespeare" play, which I thought I'd like. Sure, I would only understand 3/4 of the dialogue, but at least the whole audience would be in the same boat, since no one would have had a chance to read the play beforehand. Joel came with me.

I got so frustrated I left in the intermission.

Most of this was to do with a modern sensibility. The seducer, Don Ferdinando, tricks his first "love", Violante, into having sex with him, then tries to marry his best friend's beloved, Lucinda. While the first half of the play ended with no one wed and everyone unhappy, I just knew that we were going to have a perfect pairing of the two beloveds, Cardenio and Lucinda, as well as the less perfect pairing of the rapist and rapee. Plot confirmed by reading some reviews. I was bothered - not just by the plotline, which is a big problem - but by the laughter at the audience during the near-rape scene. I admit that a Shakespearean audience - or a Jacobean audience, given the play's history - would not find the tricking of Violante disturbing. But do we need to be a Shakespearean audience to appreciate a Shakespearean play? According to the doctrine, they're supposed to appeal to all ages. And I think I would have felt a bit more comfortable if everyone around me had also winced at a lady being borne off into the darkness screaming, "Wait! Wait!"

I fumed further when Cardenio, having seen that Lucinda is prepared to marry the evil Don Ferdinando WHEN EVERYONE WAS FORCING HER TO, went mad, talked foully of women, and started a round of self-harm. Go cry emo-kid. I also understand that this worked better with an audience 400 years ago, when the betrayal of women justified madness - at least in drama - but the plight of the women characters was so much worse than his, and their choices so far fewer, that it made me deeply unimpressed.

Admittedly, this ran true to a theme (the kind of thing that high-school students can write up with bullet-points and flow charts) about the flawed ideals of chivalry. The lord Don Ferdinando was the antithesis of noble behaviour and the exemplar of noble privilege. The supposed good underdog, Cardenio, was humming the right emotional key, but was utterly ineffective.

Then you had the comic relief, Don Quixote himself. Obviously, as the exemplar of chivalric ideals and as an illustration of gross distance between intent and achievement, he was the "other face" of the chivalric ideal of Cardenio and Ferdinando. And besides that, he was awesome. He and his servant were easily the best actors, and their scenes were genuinely funny. I admit, that part would have been neat, if it had genuinely been in a Shakespeare play. To have a "named", important character, who might be known by learned members of the audience, as part of the comic relief, would be very progressive and interesting. (His servant Sancho fit in perfectly to the Shakespearean model. There are mischievous, disrespectful Boys everywhere.)

Another reason for my discontent was that I found little art in the word-play. There weren't any good lines. Nor were there any that the characters gave real length and weight to that seemed to say anything important. Admittedly, not all of Shakespeare is quoteworthy. But doctrine also says that he is genius. I suppose you can't reconstruct genius. So a combination of prosaic dialogue, and the inability to understand 1/4 of the dialogue, rather bored me. Many lines and constructions I recognised from workmanlike snippets of Shakespeare, and that amused me - it was like seeing the "reconstruction" in action, all patchwork.

The motifs, too, were patchwork. People running mad isn't out of canon - there was a distinct call-back to King Lear, or maybe Troilus and Cressida - but never did it seem so unjustified. Women betrayed and given false reputations are canon - look at Much Ado About Nothing - but there still seems to be the possibility that they can be given redemptive justice, and that didn't seem to be the case with Lucinda - certainly not in a way that would satisfy a modern audience. Young people being forced into situations by their parents - look at Romeo and Juliet - this isn't new. It was as if they took several things Shakespeare had done and took away the humanism.

The review below


mentions that the darker side of Cardenio touches on the "problem plays". Definitely. For me, Cardenio was a huge problem. If Shakespeare did write it, I'm glad it was lost to history. Or, I bet his version was more tempered by far. Either way, this one is a disappointment ranging to an abomination.

I don't think all that is why I left. I think it was more of a personal thing that I left half-way through. I take fiction far too personally. I can't watch awkward humour. I cried for an hour after the end of Memento. And so, instead of simply disappointing me, as it might have done a person with similar views but with more perspective, it made me furious.

I feel a bit better now after all this ranting. Now I'm going to hang out with Miriam and Steph and unwind by stomping through the dark and the freezing Wellington rain.

PS: Oh, I forgot to mention how pissed off I was by Sancho's jokes about Fiji and the South Island. Topical jokes are great, except not when you're reconstructing a 400-year-old play. I may be being a bit uptight about this, but you can't please everyone. So don't expect an audience that will appreciate a play that is not in their language and also pander to them with stereotypical North Island vs. South Island rivalry. We laughed at rape, clearly we're not in the 21st century.