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Thanks for the Memories Theatre presents 'Cardenio'

Geoff Ridden won't come out and flatly attribute the play we know as "Cardenio" — it's often called "Shakespeare's lost play" — solely to William Shakespeare.

"I think he had a part in it," says Ridden, a retired professor from England's University of Winchester who has taught Shakespeare courses at Southern Oregon University and who is directing a new reading of the play.

"There are similarities between this play and the style of Shakespeare's plays. I think the part he wrote is probably as much as he wrote of 'Pericles' (modern scholarship generally suggests about half of "Pericles" was probably written by the Bard)."

Whatever the play's origins, audiences can form their own opinion of its Bardishness when Thanks for the Memories Theatre presents a staged reading of "Cardenio" at 8 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 18, at Oak Street Dance Studio, 1287 Oak St., Ashland. Tickets cost $6 and can be purchased online at tftmtheatre.com, at Paddington Station, 125 E. Main St., or at the door.

Ridden, who writes reviews of Shakespeare plays for the journal Early Modern Literary Studies, says audiences seem to enjoy such readings as "King Lear" at the theater, which is sharing space with the dance studio while a warehouse behind the studio is being converted into a theater space, and he's long wanted to do something with "Cardenio."

"A full production would be expensive and probably wouldn't draw many people," he says. "But we can give an audience a good idea of the work in a reading."

For the sake of brevity, Ridden says, some scenes have been omitted and their action summarized, a device that's common in Shakespeare plays.

"Cardenio" (or "The History of Cardenio") was performed by the King's Men — a theater company with which Shakespeare was associated — twice in 1613. Thomas Shelton's English translation of the first part of "Don Quixote," where the tale originated, was published in 1612, so an English playwright of the day could have read it — barely.

In a Stationers' Register entry of 1653, a publisher and bookseller attributes the play to Shakespeare and John Fletcher, with whom Shakespeare is believed to have collaborated on "Henry VIII" and "The Two Noble Kinsmen." The former, but not the latter, was included in the First Folio of 1623. "Cardenio" was not in the First Folio.

No one knows exactly what was in the original "Cardenio," but it's based on an episode in Cervantes' iconic novel involving a character named Cardenio, a young man who goes mad when his sweetheart is wooed by another and, perhaps like King Lear raving on the moors, goes to live in the mountains. The play ends with multiple unions in the manner of Elizabethan comedies.

Cardenio will be played by Tyler Kubat, and Luscinda, his beloved, by Cheryl Joy Smith. Fernando, who also wants Luscinda, will be acted by Tyler Ward, while Dorotea, who loves Fernando, will be played by Halli Gibson. Also featured are Geoffrey Riley, David Dials, Robert Hirschboeck, Stuart Rider and Priscilla Hunter. The actors will be reading from Lewis Theobald's 1727 script.

The reading will use the names given the characters by Cervantes, not Theobald.

 "I thought it would be clearer for the audience," Ridden says.

Theobald claimed to have somehow obtained several scripts of an unnamed play by Shakespeare more than a century after the Bard's death. He claimed he edited, "improved" and released the play under the name "Double Falsehood, or the Distrest Lovers." The play follows the "Cardenio" episode in Don Quixote. There is no record of anybody ever having seen Theobald's scripts, and many scholars have considered the whole thing a hoax.

Others claim to have found the stylistic fingerprints of Shakespeare and Fletcher in Theobald's text. Still others have noted that Theobald was a known Shakespeare imitator. He published a version of "Richard II," for example, that is very different from Shakespeare's. Ridden thinks that's understandable and doesn't necessarily mean Theobald was a fraud.

"Theater conventions had moved on," he says. "In the same way Dryden updates 'Antony and Cleopatra,' he takes cognizance of the new conventions of the day. His practice seemed to be to take account of what you could get away with. You wouldn't get much of Shakespeare, but having said that, Theobald was no slouch."

Controversy over what Shakespeare did and didn't write, not to mention controversy over his very identity, goes way back. The second reprint of the Third Folio of 1664 added seven "Shakespeare" plays, only one of which, "Pericles," was ultimately accepted as canonical.

The most recent edition of the Arden Shakespeare came in for some criticism for including "Cardenio."

"People asked what was going on," Ridden says. "The answer is, there's a link. People will immediately spot similarities (with known Shakespeare plays), not least with 'Cymbeline.' It's basically a pastoral romantic comedy with cross-dressing and multiple weddings."

In the novel "The Trap Door," by Andrew Delaplaine (2010), a boy named Charlie, who exits a production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" through a trap door, as actors did in Shakespeare's day, stumbles into a portal in time that takes him back to Shakespeare's day, where he finds a copy of "Cardenio." 

Ridden says if the script turned out to be second-rate Shakespeare — a la "The Merry Wives of Windsor" or "Titus Andronicus" — finding it could be a mixed bag.