For ten days I’m reading a play a day, which I kick-started on Saturday with Arden of Faversham, Sunday’s treat was Locrine and Monday’s play was Edward III. The subject of this post. Edward III perhaps needs less introduction than some of the Shakespeare Apocrypha collection. It’s become known as a Shakespeare, or at least partly-Shakespeare work in particular because of it’s (somewhat controversial) presence in the second edition of the Oxford Complete Works – which of course places it firmly in the canon. So why you ask is it in a collection of Shakespeare and Others, well, while we know that it certainly “feels like a Shakespearean history play” as the introduction to Edward III notes, and Edward “returns defiance in their face and sends back the horse, every bit in the manner of Shakespeare’s warrior king bouncing back the tennis balls in Henry V” the parallels extend beyond this too, with themes of inheritance, wars in France, impossible victories, wooing of women and so on to be found in Edward III. Just like something from the history plays of Shakespeare. But the authorship or potential author(s) remains uncertain, it’s probably not a soley Shakespeare piece, but may be. The likelihood is we will never know but anyway, on with the play!
Unlike the plays of the last couple of days, the title gives little away, no spoiler alerts. But then again it is history so the plot in a sense (although inevitably fictionalised and tampered with in parts) comes ready-spoiled. It’s a package deal. The play is to tell of..
THE REIGN OF KING EDWARD THE THIRD: as it Hath Been Sundry Times Played About the City of London
..and with that let the play begin.
The play opens revealing the gentile nature of Edward as he grants liberty to Artois who had been banished from his homeland (France), not only is he given a new home but also a title by King Edward who seems at first sight an all round good guy.
We also learn from Artois that Edward has claim to France thanks to relations on his mother’s side but France have been sneaky about it and claim it’s only valid if it come down the male line. Thus disinheriting Edward. But this revelation gives Edward courage. Cue the Duke of Lorraine (fresh from France) with news of the offer of a dukedom for Edward in France (perhaps to placate him?) he has 40 days to accept.
Angry at such an offer Edward vows to claim all that is his in France, the “lame unpolished shifts” of King John of France must be uncovered so that Edward can declare that “truth hath pulled the vizard from his face” because “the crown [John] usurps” is rightfully Edward’s. The Duke of course is not happy. But Edward makes it clear that he means business, his desire for what is truly his is sharper than the blade of a sword and he will not be happy until his flag flies in France.
Lorraine hates it ost of all when an Englishman is right,
It is not that, nor any English brave
Afflicts me so, as doth his poisoned view:
That is most false should most of all be true
Meanwhile there’s trouble in Scotland, the king up there is slowly invading England. Prince Edward (who for convenience I shall refer hereafter to as Ned) the son of Edward is sent by his father to round up people to fight. Specifically: “solidiers of a lusty spirit” no nervous characters, but those who are in it for the honour. Ned is excited at the prospect of war – which makes you wonder how on earth did his dad bring him up!
Countess (daughter of Warwick) who lives in the battleland fought between Scotland and England, is, in the manner of a fairytale, being held captive in a castle. She sees Lorraine who is busy visiting the King of Scotland (David) and Douglas (an Earl). The English approach and Douglas does a runner, he knows they’re not prepared. The way the approaching army is pitches as “a wood of picks” advancing seems very like Macbeth. They flee at the mere mention of an approaching army before sticking around to see if it’s true, the Countess mocks this.
Englishmen (including Montague and the King) enter Countess’s castle where she offers them drinks, jewels and her body (more on obligation as products of war spoils than any kind of desire to do so. She doesn’t offer such “refreshments” to every guest she entertains that’s for sure). The countess is pitched as one whose beauty has been tarnished by worry. The king makes his excuses to leave (he’s scared of treason) but he eventually gives in and agrees to stay the night. After reading Locrine yesterday I was getting very suspicious at this point, wondering what the King’s intents were. Since he and the Countess are both married.. It seems my cynical suspicions were correct as sure enough he sees the Countess to grow more beautiful by the day, and falls in love. He focuses on how beautiful her words are and the power they have over others, including himself of course – the irony! He wants Lodowick to pen him passionate poetry for her using lines like “better than beautiful”, obviously and “flattering glass” (more irony since he flatters the reflection he hold of her in his heart). Lodowick complains at the lack of period in the poem and this made me laugh not only because I am terrible at sticking full stops in and worse still at coming to a conclusion, but because of the pun that probably isn’t a pun but when I first read period I immediately thought, not as the gloss instructs me “conclusion/high point” but of the term period for full stop at the end of a sentence, which I tend to associate with American idiom although that may well be wrong. It added another level of humour and made the poetic attempts to woo a married woman by a married man via his “muse” even more farcical. His justification of the lack of conclusion is just the icing on the cake:
Her praise is as my love, both infinite
Which apprehend such violent extremes
That they disdain an ending period
Bam take that Lodowick, no conclusion it is, period. Cue the Countess, she’s not happy to oblige the King’s wishes nor his claim that he’s buying her love with his own. She holds her ground, obedient to her husband. King looks unhappy and Warwick enters, querying why the king looks stricken with grief.
I really like this quote in the scene “rash disgorged vomit of they word” which seems an appropriate description of the king’s expression of his love to the Countess, though that’s not what it refers to in the scene. To find that out you’ll have to read the play! Project Gutenberg has a copy here.
But King Edward urges Warwick to win over the Countess for him: “command her, woo her, win her anyways”. This reminds me of Henry VI part 1 where Henry can’t find himself a wife and has to employ others to woo a woman for him. What a weird dynamic asking a father to woo his own already married daughter.
Where’s the father
That will in such a suit seduce his child?
Something tells me Edward hasn’t fully thought this through! It’s bad news for Warwick though he’s been tricked into swearing an unbreakable vow and has to agree. He is duty bound, “it is my duty to persuade,” whether he likes it or not.
He wiggles around it though speaking in cryptic terms, “apparelled sin in virtuous sentences” highlighting the King’s “graceless lust.”
Meanwhile back in the “real” world beyond lusty desires. Audley brings his men to Derby and the King is in his study sulking with his supper. Like a greedy child who can’t get what he wants he has thrown the rattle out his pram and forgotten all political matters and wars, or so it seems. Derby says on the King’s entrance “all my sovereign wish” to which Edward replies, “that thou wert a witch to make it so.” Now, perhaps it’s just because I saw The Witch of Edmonton last night. But a quick piece of advice Edward mate, you really don’t want to be saying that. It’s not the way forward. If in doubt check out the tragedy of Edmonton. A few moments later the King slips up and uses the wrong word, “I mean the emperor – leave me alone” which reminds me of the time in friends where Phoebe keeps slipping up and calling David (her current boyfriend) Mike (her ex). I know I know not a very academic reference but that was what first came to mind.
Anyway back to Edward III. Ned enters and Edward is haunted by how much Ned looks like his mum – reminds him of his “strayed desire” his “lust as a fire” burns up inside and he sends Ned off to play as he searches for the Countess. Lodowick is sent off too.
Countess is told by her dad she must consent to Edward (the obedience element is a little like that to be found in Taming of the Shrew), her only complain being that lives stand between their love (i.e. the lives of their spouses). Groans all round – don’t say that unless you really want them dead, but apparently she does. She gives him her wedding knife to kill his wife (*cough Macbeth cough*). Because of these tragedies at home Edward and we have quite forgotten about France.
But back to politics, Edward splits the country between Warwick, Ned and Audley. He’s off to Flanders.
The French await Edward & Co, but their description of military equipment as “martial furniture” is brilliant! The French are joined in force by Danes, Poles and Muscovites, and King John (of France) splits them severally before retreating to listen from a safe distance. The French retreat, but “boasting Edward triumphs with success” – the battle is over in a few lines. Though this is only battle #1.
Scene switches to a French village where one man is freaking out at the news of defeat, another consoles him and tell him not to worry about things so far away from him (sounds like many peoples attitude to the news today). Once they’re calmed him down another arrives abd tells them to flee the destruction coming in the wake of the war.
Back to Edward and Derby who are joined by a prisoner Gobin de Grace (which I misread as Goblin de Grace – now that would have been a twist). He guides them to the river Somme and to Ned, as thanks they set him free and vow to reward him richly. Ned has also been successful and has been just but firm as he tells that those made a stand against him “endured the penalty of sharp revenge.”
The French king wants a fight (whilst talking about himself in the third person, obviously!) Edward thanks him for the satirical welcome, King John vows to renounce the crown but not seriously though he knows Edward’s claims to be true. He paints Edward badly to his troops in an effort to spur them on to fight for him. Vive la France!
Time for Ned’s first battle (aww) and he’s treated to a clothing ceremony, he then heads off to lead the army while his dad relaxes and refuses any offers of others to go and help Ned. No, he must fight alone this time. And if he doesn’t survive Edward isn’t too bothered because he’s got a healthy stock of replacement sons. Charming, poor Ned! But it’s ok, he wins and survives, and better yet he’s killed the King of Bohemia whose body he proudly brings to his dad.
Bad news, King John has escaped – Ned is sent to find him in a lethal game of hide and seek. Meanwhile Edward heads off to Calais where can’t can’t get in so they station themselves around the castle walls aiming to cut off food supplies. Eventually Burgesses of Calais agree to yield if they are all allowed to live and keep their things. Fat chance! Edward demands battle or the sacrifice of the 6 wealthiest of the city.
Worse news, King John catches Ned, Charles has a prophecy but King John doesn’t believe it. They tell Ned “thy body’s living date expired” but he’s still hungry for battle “danger woos me as a blushing maid”. Audley sums up live and death in an oh so happy manner:
To dies is all as common as to live
The one encased, the other hold in chase
For from the instant we begin to live,
We do pursue and hunt the time to die
Blunt words, but a great description of live and death. Meanwhile on the battlefield the French & Co have all been struck dumb in “tongue-tied fear” and darkness surrounds. There are strange goings on involving ravens, fog and soldiers who “stand like metamorphosed images, bloodless and pale” – just like in the prophecy.
King John plans to hang Ned, and Salisbury (husband of the Countess we met earlier) is dispatched to bring the sad news to Edward, instructed to say “the prince was smothered and not slain”.
The fearful French begin to kill each other and great news, Ned win and he’s only a boy!
Fie, lords, is it not shame that English boys,
Whose early days are yet not worth a beard,
Should in the bosom of your kingdom thus,
One against twenty beat you up together?
Back in Calais 6 men are provided and while Edward wants them dead his wife persuades him to same them, advocating peace, and he agrees. Good tding hit the scene as Salisbury announces he won at Brittany, but then he reveals that Ned is dead (he’s not of course but Ned’s parents don’t know that). Cue Ned and boy are his parents happy to see him, he’s also captured King John and Charles. After all this busy battling, Edward suggests they take a breather before heading home to England.
I’m hopeful that this brief run through of my thoughts on the play and it’s action will inspire others to pick up Edward III. It’s not very long and can be read all in one sitting. In the spirit of Amazon “if you like this you’ll also like..” if you like the history plays by Shakespeare this is very much in the same spirit. I’m a big fan of Henry V and in fact most of the history plays I’ve read and seen by Shakespeare (no I haven’t had time to read all of them yet) so I really enjoyed it, but not just because it’s like the Henry plays, IV,V and VI. As I hope you’ve seen there’s a lot of others things going on in Edward III and like Arden of Faversham and Locrine lust, wooing and women are also key plot strands. It’s a good’un and definitely worth a couple of hours out of your day – whether Shakespeare wrote it, bits of it or hand no hand in it! Tomorrow it’s all about The Spanish Tragedy.