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CHAPTER VI.

KING EDWARD III. AND A YORKSHIRE TRAGEDY.

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• King Edward III.', I think, exhibits more of Shakspeare's spirit and character than any of the doubtful plays hitherto examined. In the registers of the Stationers' Company, where it appears under the title of Edward the Third and the Black Prince, etc., it is entered no less than four times; first on Dec. 1, 1595, and last on Feb. 23, 1625, it was therefore doubtless a favourite piece. It was first printed in 1596, and again in 1599, without the author's name, Of later editions—if such ever appeared—no copy has been preserved. Accordingly, we have no external evidence of Edward III.' being a work of Shakspeare's, it was first entered under his name by the compilers of old catalogues.

However, the mere want of a name on the two old prints cannot be looked upon as an argument against the genuineness of the play, for it is well known that a number of the older editions of Shakspeare's undoubtedly genuine works present the same defect; this is a natural consequence of the already described circumstances of the English drama, as well as of the recency of Shakspeare's fame at that period. But even though the later editions of · Edward 111.'—which according to the Stationers' books were to have been published in the years 1609, 1617 and 1625— did appear without the author's name, still, this startling circumstance might in some measure be explained by the nature of the piece, and therefore prove nothing against Shakspeare's being the author. In the first two acts, for instance, we have sharp cutting attacks upon

the Scotch, prompted by English patriotism; these passages were quite in their right place during the lifetime of Elizabeth, who, it is well known, was as little fond of her successor as she was of his mother, and always on bad terms with Scotland ; on the other hand they must havo

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been offensive to James I. Now it was to James, as we have seen, that Shakspeare was indebted for many a favour, and he has shown his obligations to him not only indirectly in Macbeth,' but more expressly in Henry

Accordingly, in order to avoid wounding his own sense of gratitude, Shakspeare may have either expressly disavowed his paternity of Edward III.,' or, at least, have refused to acknowledge it, and thus left the playwhich, perhaps for other reasons, did not satisfy him—to its fate. This supposition may likewise explain how it happened that the work—although perhaps unquestionably, Shakspeare's own-could have been overlooked or intentionally omitted by his friends Heminge and Condell, the editors of the first folio.

In spite of the want of external evidence it might, accordingly, nevertheless be admissible to attribute the play to Shakspeare, provided that its external construction in form and substance were decidedly to favour the supposition. If, therefore, the play be somewhat more carefully examined, it will at once strike every reader with any experience in artistic form, that the first two acts stand too much apart-quite contrary to Shakspeare's mode of composition-and that they are only internally connected with the three following acts, not externally as well. In the first two, the action turns upon the King's love for the beautiful Countess of Salisbury, whom he had released from the hands of the besieging Scottish army. This affair is never again alluded to, and ends entirely with the close of the second act, where the King, overcome and at the same time strengthened by the virtuous greatness of the Countess, becomes master of himself and renounces his passion. The Countess, accordingly, retires altogether from the scene, which is now transferred to the victorious campaign of Edward III. and of his son the Black Prince.

The play, therefore, falls into two outwardly uconnected halves, in reality into two distinct pieces. The fault which this involves, and which—as far as I know-I was the first to point out, would lose some of its objection if, to judge from the style and character of the play, it were possible to reckon it among Shakspeare's

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first attempts. In that case it might readily be assumed that Shakspeare followed R. Greene in • Pericles,' Marlowe in • Titus Ardronicus, and that in the province of history he inclined to the earlier school, which saw no objection in similar divisions of the subject (as, for instance, in the older play of Henry V.,' the older · Richard III.,' and even in Marlowe's •Massacre at Paris'). The fault is further lessened, to some extent, hy the fact that internally at least--as it seems to me- -the two halves are connected, even though it be only by a bond which is very gently hinted at.* For in the first two acts we have the mighty King (who in his rough grandeur and reckless energy reminds us of characters in · Henry VI.' and 'Richard 111.') enslaved by an unworthy passion, and so small, so powerless, and so unkingly in the presence of the virtue and duty of woman, that he suddenly forgets his great plans in: making love-ditties and weaving intrigues. All human greatness and power collapse when unsupported by the fundamental principle of all morality, self-control; the greatest energy of man cannot resist the attacks of evil desires and passions when they are directed against his weak and unguarded side, unless they are curbed loy the force of self-control,—this is the nucleus of the view of life upon which the first part is based. True energy may, however, rise again; it is strengthened by the virtue of others which, being endowed with a greater amount of stability, holds its own against it. The second act closes with this consoling lesson, and with the power-: ful description of the far nobler energy of a woman who, in order to guard her own honour and to save her sovereign from crime, is ready to sacrifice ber own life. This close, even though but inwardly, forms the transition to the second half in so far as the latter then shows us true, heroic greatness in its full glory--because tested by selfcontrol-both in the King himself and in his famous son. For the Prince too has been trained in the same school; at the end of the second act, by his prompt and silent obedience to his father's commands--although directly opposed to his own wishes-he exhibits the same seltsi

* În act ii. scene 2.

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control to which the King had roused himself. Nothing can resist such sublime moral strength when supported by right. The arrogant John of France—who although aware of the injustice of his claim, nevertheless endeavours in all possible ways to maintain his position, and in blind revenge and in the most unroyal manner refuses to keep the promise made by the Dauphin-he, and his equally arrogant son, both of whom boast of their superiority, are thrice defeated, and carried prisoners to England. As in Henry V., so here inward strength of mind and character, although possessed of the smallest outward means, proves victorious over outward power and force. At the close of the last act also, King Edward again gives a proof of the mastery he has acquired over himsel by the clemency which he shows towards the town of Calais, and the Black Prince preserves thronghout his modest, obedient spirit, which has remained unaffected by his great and famous victories. Thus the whole play sets forth the lesson that true heroism, conquest and dominion in this world go hand in hand with the mastery man possesses over himself. We here have the same theme which resounds through all Shakspeare's historical dramas, and through his tragedies, nay even through many of his comedies; in fact, we have pulsating through the who e play the same pure, ethical feeling which forms the life-blood of Shakspeare's dramas.

But even as regards characterisation and diction, * Edward III.,' in my opinion, comes nearer to Shakspeare's spirit and character than any of the doubtful plays yet examined. The characters it is true, as already said, are drawn with but a few powerful strokes in the manner of those in · Henry VI.' and · Richard III. But this ruggedness possesses great poetic vigour, which is not attained by any of the characters of Greene Peele, Kyd, or even by any of Marlowe's heroes, because their energy lacks the ethical foundation. It is only at the commencenient of the third act that the representation becomes tame and heavy; some of the characters, such as Louis and his Queen, are too insipid and colourless, others are treated too much as mere secondary characters. Yet how ful and lifelike, on the other hand, in spite of the

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small use of artificial means, are the characters of King Edward and the Black Prince, the Countess of Salisbury and her father, King John and his sons, Salisbury, Villiers and Copeland! This must be evident to every careful reader; for instance, in the description of King Edward becoming aware of the first stirrings of his passion for the Counters ; how he tries to fly from her presence, but is, as it were, bound by a charm, hesitates against his own will, and remains; again, in the last scene of the second act where the King-reminded by his heroic and warlike son of his faithful consort, and of the great undertakings he has in hand—is on the point of following his better impulses, but, overcome by a smile from the Countess, drops the resolution he had formed only again to be overcome by her in a different manner; further, in those scenes in the 3rd and 4th acts, where, on the one hand, the father with grand severity, refuses to send succour to his own son so that his bravery might be put to the test, and scope be given him for distinguishing himself; and where, on the other hand, we have the Prince, surrounded by an army six times as strong as his own, resigning himself to his fate in the very spirit of mediæval chivalry, but ultimately (by the grace of God, who, by ominous signs and predictions, scatters fear and panic among the enemy's ranks) gaining a most glorious victory—these scenes, I think, are not unworthy even of old Shakspeare.

In like manner, lastly, the language in tone and colouring, generally shows so much affinity to Shakspeare's style, and the structure of the verse (with its regular rhythm and its usually masculine endings) so much resemblance to Shakspeare's versification-more especially to that of King John'— that, at first sight at least, this would again lead us to suppose the play to be one of Shakspeare's works.

This praise which I conferred upon the play in the second edition of this work, and which has been more or less conditionally agreed to by Charles Knight,* N. Delius f and von Friesen, f I cannot retract in any one

* Studies of Shakspere. Pseudo-Shakspeare'schen Dramen, Preface, p. ix. * Jahrbuch d Deutschen Shaksp. Gesellschaft, ii. 66 f.

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