The Alexandrian

Go to Part 1

This is the primary plot of The Second Maiden’s Tragedy:

At the beginning of the play, the Tyrant has overthrown the rightful king Govianus in an effort to win the love of Govianus’ wife (the Lady). When the Lady rejects him in favor of Govianus despite his victory, the Tyrant is enraged and chooses to imprison both of them in the same house, but “divided into several rooms / where he may only have sight of her”.

When next we see them, Giovanus and the Lady have suborned the guards and have free reign in the house. The Lady’s father (Helvetius) comes to her in an effort to woo her on behalf of the Tyrant, but she manages to shame him back into ethical behavior. So the Tyrant dispatches another of his nobles, Sophonirus, to take the Lady by force.

When they learn of Sophonirus’ intention, however, the Lady asks Giovanus to kill her before the Tyrant can steal her virtue. Giovanus runs at her with a bared sword, but faints dead away before the deed is done. The Lady takes her sword and kills herself.

Giovanus buries the Lady in her family’s tomb. But the Tyrant, consumed by his lust, digs up her corpse. When Giovanus comes to the tomb to mourn her death, the Lady’s ghost appears before him and tells him that the Tyrant is doing unspeakable things to her body.

Meanwhile, the Tyrant has become concerned by how pale the Lady has become. He sends his lords to find a painter to give her a makeover. Giovanus, disguised as a painter, presents himself and paints the Lady’s face with poison. When the Tyrant kisses the poisoned lipstick, he dies. Giovanus is returned to the throne, the Lady is returned to her tomb, and everyone lives happily ever after (except the Lady and the Tyrant).

One can immediately note the most immediate problem with Hamilton’s thesis: If The Second Maiden’s Tragedy is to be properly called Cardenio, why does the play lack a character named Cardenio?

To explain this oversight, Hamilton concocts a truly amazing sequence of events:

(1) Shakespeare and/or Fletcher either read Don Quixote in the original Spanish or gained access to the translation of Don Quixote before it was published. (This seems plausible. As Hamilton points out, “We do not know whether Shakespeare or Fletcher could read Spanish, but we do know that Fletcher used Spanish sources frequently and that he likely was fluent in the language.”)

(2) They decided to write a play based on the story of Cardenio, but also decided not to use the original names of the character. (This is also plausible. There are many instances of Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights, including Shakespeare himself, choosing to change the names from their source material.)

(3) After stripping the old names off but before adding new names to the characters, they submitted the script to the censor. (This doesn’t make much sense: The censor needed to see the performance version of the text. He wouldn’t sign off on a rough draft. It becomes even less likely when one considers that Shakespeare is widely known for naming even his minor characters; often he even gives names to characters in the stage directions which are never mentioned in the dialogue itself. While it is not unknown for an unnamed Duke to put in an appearance, it seems utterly out of character for Shakespeare to leave his major love interest and the main villain of the play unnamed.)

(4) Before the play was actually performed, however, Don Quixote was translated, published, and proved to be extremely popular.

(5) So Shakespeare and Fletcher promptly put back the exact same names they had just removed.

But the manuscript we have wasn’t just the copy sent to the censor. It also served as the prompt-copy used in the theater to manage the performances of the play. Hamilton anticipates the obvious objection to his convoluted theory by writing, “You may well ask: If Shakespeare and Fletcher altered the names of their characters as I have indicated, why didn’t they make these changes in the manuscript? They made no changes because no changes were necessary. Shakespeare’s original manuscript served as the prompt copy, which, in Shakespeare’s day, was known as “˜the book’. The keeper of the book, or “˜book-keeper’, was a managerial factotum who, among other duties, copied out from the book the parts for each actor to memorize and acted as the stage prompter. … The book-keeper, of course, virtually knew the play by memory and was familiar with the roles of all the players. As stage prompter, he could easily change the names orally and no revisions were necessary in the manuscript.”

Hamilton is apparently using a definition of the phrase “of course” which means “it would be nonsense to claim that”. The entire point of maintaining a prompt-book was specifically to provide an authoritative reference for staging the production. (And it remains so to this day.) And specifically because it was the authoritative reference, the prompt-book would be changed whenever the production was changed. In fact, the reason we know the manuscript for the Second Maiden’s Tragedy was a prompt-book is because changes were made to it reflecting performance practice. If a change so drastic as the names of the major characters were to be made, there is simply no reasonable explanation for why such a change would not be reflected in the prompt-book.

Furthermore, to support his nonsensical assertion, Hamilton is forced to make a truly ludicrous claim about the mental faculties of the book-keeper. Elizabethan and Jacobean theaters were known to produce 40 different plays in a single year: So Hamilton is asserting that an Elizabethan book-keeper would, at any given time, “virtually know” 40 different plays “by memory” and was so “familiar with the roles of the players” that he would be able to keep track of every change to their lines without reference to a written copy of the play.

The fact that no one could be expected to do that is why prompt books were kept in the first place.

This nonsense aside, Hamilton’s theory of disappearing and reappearing names might bear some consideration if, in fact, the plot of Second Maiden’s Tragedy was actually based on the story of Cardenio.

But this is the plot of the story of Cardenio, from Cervantes’ Don Quixote, as summarized by Charles Hamilton:

They discover … Cardenio, a strange individual who leaps from rock to rock and tuft to tuft in the Sierra Morena. … As he dissolves from one violent fit of madness to another, Cardenio screams his hatred of Don Fernando. … Cardenio then relates the tale of his ill-starred love for the rich and beautiful Luscinda. He had received from Luscinda a letter hinting that she would accept his proposal of marriage. … Cardenio asks his noble friend Don Fernando to arrange the wedding. The highborn, rich Don Fernando has but recently seduced a beautiful maiden named Dorotea, whom he promised to marry, but upon meeting Luscinda he falls for her charms and jilts Dorotea. …

Don Fernando dispatches Cardenio on a fool’s errand …. Several days later, upon receipt of a letter from Luscinda containing the news that Don Fernando has double-crossed him … Cardenio rushes back to his “own Citie” and seeks out Luscinda.

[Cardenio meets with Luscinda. She is "attired in my wedding garments" and "in the Hall do wait for me, the traitor Don Fernando, and my covetous father with other witnesses, which shall rather be such of my death, then of my espousal. ... If I cannot hinder by my persuasions and reasons, I carry hidden about me a poniard secretly, which may hinder more resolute forces by giving end to my life.']

Cardenio conceals himself behind a tapestry to watch the wedding. [But Luscinda, instead of killing herself, marries Don Fernando.] At this awful turn of events … Cardenio was filled with conflicting emotions. Finally he mounted his donkey and rode out of town. …

Cardenio, smoldering with hatred for Don Fernando, turns into a crag-bounding lunatic. Luscinda also runs away and Don Fernando pursues her. … Dorotea, who has also escaped from Don Fernando with the aid of a faithful servant whom she later shoves over a cliff because he makes improper advances, joins Cardenio, Don Fernando, and Luscinda, all the loose ends are gauchely tied by Cervantes. Instead of skewering Don Fernando, Cardenio meekly accepts his apology and is reunited with Luscinda. (Cervantes had obviously forgotten that Luscinda and Don Fernando were legally married.) The penitent Don Fernando finally ends up with Dorotea.

None of this is to be found in The Second Maiden’s Tragedy. In fact, the only thing the two stories have in common is that both involve a love triangle involving two men and one woman. But if that’s all it takes for a story to be based on Cardenio, then Cardenio is the basis for half of Western literature!

In fact, the story isn’t even a love triangle in Cardenio: The character of Dorotea provides a fourth love interest. That means, dates of composition aside, it would be more accurate to describe Two Gentlemen of Verona and A Midsummer Night’s Dream as being “based on Cardenio” than it would for The Second Maiden’s Tragedy to be so.

Even discounting the character of Dorotea, the two stories have nothing in common: The Tyrant and the Lady die in Second Maiden’s Tragedy; Don Fernando and Luscinda do not. Don Fernando steals the woman he is supposed to be wooing and marries her himself; but the Tyrant literally overthrows the government in order to claim a woman who has already been married. Cardenio flees the country; Giovanus is imprisoned. And nowhere in the story of Cardenio do we find necrophilia, ghosts, or any of the other elements which are the notable and distinguishing characteristics of The Second Maiden’s Tragedy.

In short, Hamilton wants us to accept that a play which doesn’t star a character named Cardenio and isn’t based on the story of Cardenio was, for some reason, called The History of Cardenio.

(It should be noted at this juncture that the sub-plot of The Second Maiden’s Tragedy is, in fact, based on a story from Don Quixote: “The History of the Curious Impertinent”. Here we find a virtually identical plot, coupled with characters bearing identical or, at least, recognizable names. But this story is not, in fact, part of the Cardenio story. And its handling in The Second Maiden’s Tragedy only begs the question of why the names would have been expurgated from the main plot but left largely untouched in the sub-plot.)

Go to Part 5

Originally posted August 2010.

Nick Fury - Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

My general approach to handling “canon” when it comes to using fictional settings in an RPG generally follows the “World War II Doctrine”: Gaming in an established, fictional setting is no different than playing a game that’s set during World War II.

With that being said, there’s a broad spectrum of ways in which you can set a game in World War II at the gaming table:

A) The events of World War II as they happened historically can’t be changed, but primarily exist as a backdrop. You’ll hear about the events of the war, but you’ll never actually meet Hitler or change the outcome of the Battle of Midway.

B) You can meet Hitler, but you can’t shoot him. If you do shoot him, it will turn out you shot a double and history continues along unperturbed.

C) You can totally shoot Hitler.

There’s also the semi-tangential issue of the Alternative History Remix: This is the one where you decide that in your version of World War II, Germany is led by a guy name Hans Strauber and they’re fighting the White Alliance of Brittania and Charlegmania. (Or whatever.)

There’s also a second, rarer spectrum in which the PCs are actually canonical characters. Let’s call it the “Dragonlance Spectrum”:

A) You are playing the members of Hitler’s cabinet, but you’ll create an original character (replacing their historical analogs).

B) You are playing the actual, historical members of Hitler’s cabinet, but you’re free to take whatever actions you want (even if those contradict the historical reality of what the cabinet did).

C) You are playing the actual, historical members of Hitler’s cabinet and you’re going to be railroaded into experiencing World War II exactly the way that they did.

(Actually, this one is probably a little less of a clear spectrum. You could theoretically play non-canonical characters who are nonetheless being railroaded through the same events.)

Go to Part 1

The Second Maiden's Tragedy (Revels Edition)Our knowledge of Cardenio, presumably based on the character of the same name in Cervantes’ Don Quixote, comes from three historical accounts:

(1) The Revels Accounts record two performances of the play at King James’ Court in 1613 (as transcribed by Hamilton, emphasis added):

Itm paid to the said John Heminges vppon the lyke warrt: dated att Whitehall xxth die Maij for presentinge sixe severall playes viz one playe called a badd begininge makes a good endinge. One other called ye Capteyne, One other the Alcumist. One other Cardenno. One other the Hotspurr. And one other called Benedicte and Betteris. All played wth in the tyme of this Accompte viz pd ffortie powndes, And by the waye of his Mats rewarde twentie pounde In all         1xIi.

Itm paid to John Heminges vppon lyke warrt: dated att Whitehall 1xth Die Julij 1613 for himself and the rest of his fellows his Mats servanntes and Players for presentinge a playe before the Duke of Savoyes Embassadour on the viijth daye of June 1613 called Cardenna the some of vjIi xiijS iiijd.

(2) On September 9th, 1653, a publisher named Humphrey Moseley registered forty-two plays with the Stationers’ Company. (These plays seem to have represented a substantial inventory of promptbooks that Moseley had acquired from the King’s Men in a single lot.) This registration included:

The History of Cardenio, by Mr. Fletcher & Shakespeare.

This is also the only documentary evidence we possess that Shakespeare ever wrote a play called Cardenio. However, it’s significant that Moseley’s list of plays also includes entries crediting Shakespeare with several other plays that we know Shakespeare didn’t actually write. (In other words, while Cardenio is certainly a lost play, there’s a fairly good chance it’s not actually a lost play by Shakespeare.)

It’s also notable that this long list of registered playscripts also included an entry for:

The Maids Tragedie, 2nd Part.

It has been assumed that this refers to the manuscript for The Second Maiden’s Tragedy, which was similarly referred to as “2d. pt. Maidens Trag.” in the inventory of John Warburton after he had acquired it in the mid-17th century. Hamilton’s first challenge in identifying The Second Maiden’s Tragedy as the lost Cardenio, therefore, requires him to explain why Moseley would pay to register the same play twice under two different titles at the exact same time.

Hamilton hypothesizes that the cover sheet, which would have contained the title Cardenio, was in such bad repair that Moseley chose to register both titles (the one written on the title sheet and the one written on the manuscript itself). That way, “even if the original wrapper disintegrated or got lost, he could identify the play as the one he had registered”.

But this rather begs the question, doesn’t it? If you can see that the cover sheet is disintegrating, then the logical solution would be to repair it, replace it, or write the title onto the manuscript itself. Why spend the money to register the play under the provisional title scribbled on the back page? (Which only serves to demonstrate how easy it would be to write its proper title onto the same page.) It doesn’t make any sense.

Hamilton actually weakens his case by going on to say, “Shakespeare and Fletcher might have chosen the censor’s title (a most fortuitous one) on their final cover wrapper as a subtitle in order to prove conclusively that Cardenio had been officially licensed by Sir George Buc. Further, retaining the subtitle of The Maid’s Tragedyie, 2nd Part, would add greatly to the audience appeal, since The Maid’s Tragedy by Beaumont and Fletcher had only a year or two earlier been enormously successful.”

But if the play were actually titled Cardenio, or the Second Maiden’s Tragedy, or if Moseley had decided to print it as such, it only makes it even more nonsensical for him to register the titles separately. No one bothered to register Twelfth Night, or What You Will a second time under its subtitle, for example.

Hamilton tries to explain himself by claiming that, “Six pennies was a trifling sum to lay claim to a play by Shakespeare.” But if Moseley felt the play was so important that he needlessly paid twice as much to publish it, why did he never actually publish it?

(3) In 1727, Lewis Theobald produced a play called Double Falsehood, which he claimed to have based on three manuscript copies of Shakespeare’s Cardenio. The practice of rewriting Shakespeare’s plays to make them palatable for 18th century production was far from unknown, but despite later publishing a complete edition of Shakespeare’s plays, Theobald did not include Cardenio. Nor have the original manuscripts he claimed to possess ever been found. These facts prompted many skeptics to label Double Falsehood as a hoax and Theobald as a con man.

Intriguingly, however, Moseley’s entry in the Stationer’s Registry for “The History of Cardenio, by Mr. Fletcher & Shakespeare” was unknown in Theobald’s day. If it was a pure hoax, doesn’t it seem remarkably coincidental that Theobald would accidentally select source material that would later be connected to an actual play written by Shakespeare? One might hypothesize that Theobald had independently discovered the pertinent entry in the register, but if that was the case why wouldn’t he have publicized the fact to support his claim? And why would he claim to have three manuscript copies of the same play when he could have contented himself with one?

In any case, the fact that Double Falsehood is radically different from Second Maiden’s Tragedy (largely because Double Falsehood, unlike Second Maiden’s Tragedy, actually is based on the story of Cardenio, as described below) forces Hamilton to either (a) discredit Theobald’s claim or (b) explain how Second Maiden’s Tragedy could have been transformed into Theobald’s work. Rather than choosing one course or the other, however, Hamilton confusingly tries to do both at the same time and ends up with a predictably muddled result.

Go to Part 4

Originally posted August 2010.

Ken Levine proffers (and comments upon) a Mike Nichols quote:

Every scene is either a fight, seduction, or negotiation.

Levine points out some caveats with the claim and Mark Evanier (who originally linked me to Levine’s piece) offers a few more, but I thought the simplicity of the fight / seduction / negotiation triad was an interesting conceptual tool when thinking about scene-framing. As I discussed in the Art of Pacing, there’s a lot of different ways you can think about the creative elements that you put into a scene and a lot of different structures you can use (or abuse)

Go to Part 1

Cardenio (Second Maiden's Tragedy) - ed. Charles HamiltonIn 1994, Charles Hamilton published Cardenio, or the Second Maiden’s Tragedy. Using his expertise as a handwriting analyst, Hamilton first concluded that William Shakespeare had written his own will (by comparing it to his signatures). Hamilton then used the handwriting on the will to conclude that Shakespeare had written the manuscript for The Second Maiden’s Tragedy.

I’m not a handwriting expert, so it’s impossible for me to comment on the veracity of Hamilton’s conclusions regarding the handwriting of the Second Maiden’s Tragedy manuscript. To an amateur like myself it certainly seems possessed of a certain weight, although I can’t help noticing that — despite the great quantities of verbiage Hamilton expends upon the subject — his actual evidence boils down to two comparative tables of selected words and a complete alphabet from Shakespeare’s will and the Second Maiden’s Tragedy manuscript (pg. 139-140).

This relative paucity of evidence may be surprising when you look over the sheer number of pages which Hamilton ostensibly dedicates to the purpose. But most of this material is dedicated to Hamilton either touting his own credentials in lieu of providing actual evidence or in the discussion of tangential and irrelevant topics.

For example, Hamilton mentions the fact that, as a forensics document expert, he compares 24 distinctive characteristics of handwriting in order to make an identification. But while he blindly asserts his own authority to claim that all 24 of these characteristics match between Shakespeare’s will and the Second Maiden’s Tragedy manuscript, Hamilton never actually demonstrates any of this. (Instead he performs some incredibly bogus and hilariously deceptive mathematical operations in an effort to prove that there’s only a 1 in 55,844,879,025,390,625 probability of two people having the same handwriting. But in doing so he ignores that this would (a) require a 100% certain identification on every single characteristic (which isn’t possible); (b) that many or all of these characteristics exist along a sliding scale of variation in each person’s handwriting; and (c) that there may be a statistical and causal association between different characteristics of writing (the way a person shapes their letters, for example, might have a consistent and similar impact on the spacing between their letters). This kind of blatant intellectual dishonesty in his own area of expertise makes me hesitant to take anything Charles Hamilton says at face value.)

To sum up: If you’re willing to accept Charles Hamilton’s word for it, then the manuscript for The Second Maiden’s Tragedy and Shakespeare’s will were both written by the same person. That conclusion, by itself, raises several interesting questions and a number of intriguing avenues of investigation.

Which brings us to Hamilton’s second major claim: That The Second Maiden’s Tragedy is specifically the lost play of Cardenio, written by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher.

Go to Part 3

Originally posted August 2010.

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