We’ve posted about “literary” fan fiction before- where fans take a classic book and continue or add to the story using their own ideas and imagination.
But every once in a while a classic tale can serve as the launching pad for a work that becomes a classic in its own right. Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea jumps off the shoulders of Jane Eyre , J.M. Coetzee re-imagines Robinson Cruso in his book Foe , while Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead fleshes out the lives (or imminent deaths) of two bit-characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet .
But these classics-begotten-by-classics generally reach back in time quite a ways. You don’t often see a serious author riff off of the work of a contemporary (And no, Fifty Shades and Twilight don’t count.) But it turns out Shakespeare, of all people, wasn’t above it.
The first English translation of Cervantes’ Don Quixote hit England’s shores in 1612. In it, you find the side-story of a ruined and ragged youth named Cardenio. A year later, in 1613, a play by the name of “The History of Cardenio,” attributed to Shakespeare, but now lost, made its London debut.
Blatant opportunism? Or flattering fan-fic? Sadly, we’ll never know.