Edward III (play)
Title page of the first quarto (1596)
|Written by||possibly: William Shakespeare, Thomas Kyd|
|Subject||King Edward III experiences personal and military struggles|
|Setting||Fourteenth century: England and France|
The Raigne of King Edward the Third, commonly shortened to Edward III, is an Elizabethan play printed anonymously in 1596. It has frequently been claimed that it was at least partly written by William Shakespeare, a view that Shakespeare scholars have increasingly endorsed. The rest of the play was probably written by Thomas Kyd.
The play contains several gibes at Scotland and the Scottish people, which has led some critics to think that it is the work that incited George Nicolson, Queen Elizabeth's agent in Edinburgh, to protest against the portrayal of Scots on the London stage in a 1598 letter to William Cecil, Lord Burghley. This could explain why the play was not included in the First Folio of Shakespeare's works, which was published after the Scottish King James had succeeded to the English throne in 1603.
- King Edward III
- Queen Philippa – his wife
- Edward, the Black Prince – their son
- Earl of Salisbury – partially based on Sir Walter de Manny; Salisbury was deceased by the events of the second half of the play
- Countess of Salisbury – Salisbury's wife (although the story of Edward III's infatuation with her is based on an incident involving Alice of Norfolk, Salisbury's sister-in-law)
- Earl of Warwick – her father (fictitiously)
- Sir William Montague – Salisbury's nephew
- Earl of Derby
- Lord Audley – portrayed as an old man, though he was historically no older than 30 at the time of the play
- Lord Percy
- John Copland – esquire, later Sir John Copland
- Lodowick – King Edward's secretary
- Two Esquires
Supporters of the English
- Robert, Count of Artois – partially based on Sir Godfrey de Harcourt; Artois was deceased by the events of the second half of the play
- Lord Mountford – Duke of Brittany
- Gobin de Grace – French prisoner
- King John II - some of his actions in the play were actually undertaken by his predecessors King Charles IV and King Philip VI
- Prince Charles – Duke of Normandy, his son
- Prince Philip – his youngest son (historically not yet born)
- Duke of Lorraine
- Villiers – Norman lord
- Captain of Calais
- Another Captain
- Three Heralds
- Two Citizens from Crécy
- Three other Frenchmen
- Woman with two children
- Six wealthy citizens of Calais
- Six poor citizens of Calais
Supporters of the French
King Edward III is informed by The Count of Artois that he, Edward, was the true heir to the previous king of France. A French ambassador arrives to insist that Edward do homage to the new French king for his lands in Guyenne. Edward defies him, insisting he will invade to enforce his rights. A messenger arrives to say that the Scots are besieging a castle in the north of England. Edward decides to deal with this problem first. The castle is being held by the beautiful Countess of Salisbury, the wife of the Earl of Salisbury. As Edward's army arrives, the rampaging Scots flee. Edward immediately falls for the Countess, and proceeds to woo her for himself. She rebuffs him, but he persists. In an attempted bluff, the Countess vows to take the life of her husband if Edward will take the life of his wife. However, when she sees that Edward finds the plan morally acceptable, she ultimately threatens to take her own life if he does not stop his pursuit. Finally, Edward expresses great shame, admits his fault and acquiesces. He dedicates himself to use his energies to pursue his rights and duties as king.
In the second part of the play, in several scenes reminiscent of Henry V, Edward joins his army in France, fighting a war to claim the French throne. He and the French king exchange arguments for their claims before the Battle of Crecy. King Edward's son, Edward, the Black Prince, is knighted and sent into battle. The king refuses to send help to his son when it appears that the young man's life is in danger. Prince Edward proves himself in battle after defeating the king of Bohemia. The English win the battle and the French flee to Poitiers. Edward sends the prince to pursue them, while he besieges Calais.
In Poitiers the prince finds himself outnumbered and apparently surrounded. The play switches between the French and English camps, where the apparent hopelessness of the English campaign is contrasted with the arrogance of the French. Prince Edward broods on the morality of war before achieving victory in the Battle of Poitiers against seemingly insurmountable odds. He captures the French king.
In Calais the citizens realise they will have to surrender to King Edward. Edward demands that six of the leading citizens be sent out to face punishment. Edward's wife, Queen Philippa, arrives and persuades him to pardon them. Sir John Copland brings Edward the king of the Scots, captured in battle, and a messenger informs Edward that the English have secured Brittany. However, the successes are undercut when news arrives that Prince Edward was facing certain defeat at Poitiers. King Edward declares he will take revenge. Prince Edward arrives with news of his victory, bringing with him the captured French king. The English enter Calais in triumph.
Like most of Shakespeare's history plays, the source is Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles, while Jean Froissart's Chronicles is also a major source for this play. Roger Prior has argued that the playwright had access to Lord Hunsdon's personal copy of Froissart and quoted some of Hunsdon's annotations. A significant portion of the part usually attributed to Shakespeare, the wooing of the Countess of Salisbury, is based on the tale "The Countesse of Salesberrie" (no. 46) in the story-collection Palace of Pleasure by William Painter. Painter's version of the story, derived from Froissart, portrays Edward as a bachelor and the Countess as a widow, and concludes with the couple marrying. Painter's preface indicates that he knew that this was "altogether untrue", since Edward had only one wife, "the sayde vertuous Queene Philip", but reproduces Froissart's version with all its "defaults". The author of the play is aware that both were married at the time. Melchiori (p. 104) points out the similarity of the playwright's language to that of Painter in spite of the plotting differences.
The play radically compresses the action and historical events, placing the Battle of Poitiers (1356) immediately after the Battle of Crecy (1346), and before the capture of Calais. In fact, Poitiers took place ten years after the earlier victory and capture of Calais. The compression necessitates that characters are merged. Thus the French king throughout the play is John II of France. In fact, Crecy had been fought against his predecessor, Philip VI of France. Many other characters are freely depicted at events when they could not have been present. William Montague, 1st Earl of Salisbury and John de Montfort were both dead even before Crecy. While Sir John Copland did capture the Scottish King David and bring him to Calais in 1346, shortly after Crecy, complete Anglo-Montfort victory in Brittany, alluded in the same scene, was not achieved until the Battle of Auray in 1364.
In 1596, Edward III was published anonymously, which was common practice in the 1590s (the first Quarto editions of Titus Andronicus and Richard III also appeared anonymously). Additionally, Elizabethan theatre often paid professional writers of the time to perform minor additions and emendations to problematic or overly brief scripts (the additions to the popular but brief Doctor Faustus and Shakespeare's own additions on the unperformed Sir Thomas More being some of the best known). No holographic manuscript of Edward III is extant.
The principal arguments against Shakespeare's authorship are its non-inclusion in the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays in 1623 and being unmentioned in Francis Meres' Palladis Tamia (1598), a work that lists many (but not all) of Shakespeare's early plays. Some critics view the play as not up to the quality of Shakespeare's ability, and they attribute passages resembling his style to imitation or plagiarism. Despite this, many critics have seen some passages as having an authentic Shakespearean ring. In 1760, noted Shakespearean editor Edward Capell included the play in his Prolusions; or, Select Pieces of Ancient Poetry, Compil'd with great Care from their several Originals, and Offer'd to the Publicke as Specimens of the Integrity that should be Found in the Editions of worthy Authors, and concluded that it had been written by Shakespeare. However, Capell's conclusion was only supported by mostly German scholars.
In recent years, professional Shakespeare scholars have increasingly reviewed the work with a new eye, and have concluded that some passages are as sophisticated as any of Shakespeare's early histories, especially King John and the Henry VI plays. In addition, passages in the play are direct quotes from Shakespeare's sonnets, most notably the line "lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds" (sonnet 94) and the phrase "scarlet ornaments", used in sonnet 142.
Stylistic analysis has also produced evidence that at least some scenes were written by Shakespeare. In the Textual Companion to the Oxford Complete Works of Shakespeare, Gary Taylor states that "of all the non-canonical plays, Edward III has the strongest claim to inclusion in the Complete Works" (the play was subsequently edited by William Montgomery and included in the second edition of the Oxford Complete Works, 2005). The first major publishing house to produce an edition of the play was Yale University Press, in 1996; Cambridge University Press published an edition two years later as part of its New Cambridge Shakespeare series. Since then, an edition of the Riverside Shakespeare has included the play, as has the Arden Shakespeare in its Third Series (2017). The Oxford Shakespeare series intends to publish an edition.
Giorgio Melchiori, editor of the New Cambridge edition, asserts that the play's disappearance from the canon is probably due to a 1598 protest at the play's portrayal of the Scottish. According to Melchiori, scholars have often assumed that this play, the title of which was not stated in the letter of 15 April 1598 from George Nicolson (Elizabeth I's Edinburgh agent) to Lord Burghley noting the public unrest, was a comedy (one that does not survive), but the play's portrayal of Scots is so virulent that it is likely that the play was banned—officially or unofficially—and left forgotten by Heminges and Condell.
The events and monarchs in the play would, along with the two history tetralogies and Henry VIII, extend Shakespeare's chronicle to include all the monarchs from Edward III to Shakespeare's near-contemporary Henry VIII. Some scholars, notably Eric Sams, have argued that the play is entirely by Shakespeare, but today, scholarly opinion is divided, with many researchers asserting that the play is an early collaborative work, of which Shakespeare wrote only a few scenes.
In 2009, Brian Vickers published the results of a computer analysis using a program designed to detect plagiarism, which suggests that 40% of the play was written by Shakespeare with the other scenes written by Thomas Kyd (1558–1594).
- William Shakespeare — Edward Capell (1760), A.S. Cairncross (1935), Eliot Slater (1988), Eric Sams (1996)
- George Peele — Tucker Brooke (1908)
- Christopher Marlowe, with Robert Greene, George Peele, and Thomas Kyd — J.M. Robertson (1924)
- Michael Drayton— E.A. Gerard (1928) and H.W. Crundell (1939)
- Robert Wilson — S.R. Golding (1929)
- Thomas Kyd — W. Wells (1940) and G. Lambrechts (1963)
- Robert Greene — R.G. Howarth (1964)
- William Shakespeare and one other — Jonathan Hope (1994)
- William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe — Robert A.J. Matthews and Thomas V.N. Merriam (1994)
- William Shakespeare and others (not Marlowe) — Giorgio Melchiori (1998) 
- Thomas Kyd (60%) and William Shakespeare (40%) — Brian Vickers (2009) 
The first modern performance of the play was on 6 March 1911, when the Elizabethan Stage Society performed Act 2 at the Little Theatre in London. Following this, the BBC broadcast an abridged version of the play in 1963, with complete performances taking place in Los Angeles in 1986 (as part of a season of Shakespeare Apocrypha) and Mold in 1987.
In 1977, the play was incorporated into the marathon BBC Radio dramatic series Vivat Rex as Episodes Three: "Obsession" and Four: "The Black Prince" with Keith Michell as "Edward III", Christopher Neame as "Edward the Black Prince" and Richard Burton as "The Narrator".
In 1998, Cambridge University Press became the first major publisher to produce an edition of the play under Shakespeare's name, and shortly afterward the Royal Shakespeare Company performed the play (to mixed reviews).
In 2002, The Royal Shakespeare Company's production was performed as part of a season of little done plays by Shakespeare's contemporaries along with such titles as The Roman Actor by Philip Massinger and Eastward Ho by Ben Jonson. The production was directed by Anthony Clarke and starred David Rintoul as King Edward and Caroline Faber as the Countess. It was performed at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, a venue known for tackling more non-mainstream titles. The production mixed costuming and set elements that included medieval armor and weaponry with 19th century style military uniforms.
In 2009, Director Donna Northcott of St. Louis Shakespeare produced a traditionally set production on a multi-tiered set at the Orthwein Theater.
In 2011, the Atlanta Shakespeare Company presented a production in repertory with The Two Noble Kinsmen at their Shakespeare Tavern Theater. In his director's note, Director Troy Willis stressed the various elements of honor and chivalry found in the play were often taught to the nobility by characters who were lower in social station than themselves. This is notable in the Countess instructing King Edward and Audley instructing the young prince.
In 2014, The Hawai'i Shakespeare Festival (HSF) presented an anime/video game style production that was notable for using dancers as stand ins for King Edward and King John as they controlled the dancers from the sides of the stage.
In 2016, The Hudson Shakespeare Company presented a production as part of their Shakespeare in the Park series and their history cycle treatment of Shakespeare’s second or major cycle producing it along with Richard II and Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2. As Edward III takes place two generations before Richard II, which was done in a late medieval style, Edward III was placed in an early medieval/Viking setting to depict an earlier time. Other notable features included by Artistic Director Jon Ciccarelli were a Viking party scene that bridged the Edward-Countess meeting scene with the Lodowick monologue and included an historical dramatization of Edward's founding of the "Order of the Garter" stressing the mutual attraction between Edward (Ben Forer) and the Countess (Rachel Matusewicz).
In 2016, the Chicago Shakespeare Company presented Edward III as part of a 3-play history cycle that included Henry V and Henry VI, Part 1. The cycle was called Tug of War: Foreign Fire and concluded in a follow up cycle called Tug of War: Civil Strife which included Henry VI, Part 2, Henry VI, Part 3 and Richard III. 
In Other Media
The play featured prominently in the plot of the pilot episode of the 2017 series Will that aired on TNT . Laurie Davidson plays a young William Shakespeare who arrives fresh faced in London in 1589 with no theatre contacts and a play to sell. He sees a production at the playhouse called simply “The Theatre” with his future theatre colleagues William Kempe (William Huston) and Richard Burbage (Mattias Inwood) and decides to sell his new play, Edward III, to their company.
Will encounters Richard Burbage’s sister, Alice Burbage (Olivia DeJonge). Unimpressed, Alice demands that this “actor” pitch his play to her on the street while she looks out a second story window. Will reads a speech of King Edward’s from the final scene of the play to the captured French King John. Ironically, the scene in question is one that scholars do not identify as Shakespeare’s.
Alice takes pity on the peddling playwright and convinces her father James Burbage (Colm Meaney) to produce the play as the company is in desperate need of new material. James finds the play not “ready for primetime” and has Will work on the play with their resident playwright, the fictional John Baxter (Alan Aisenberg). In a day the two collaborate on the final script. This dual authorship “solves” the riddle of who co-authored the non-Shakespeare scenes.
The episode depicts and refers to several incidents in the actual play:
- Will is asked if there is any comedy in the play and he states that Scots are funny. This refers to the beginning of Act 1, Scene 2 when the Scots are laying siege to the castle of the Countess of Salisbury and comically discussing how to divvy up their booty and the Countess only to run off in fear when they hear that King Edward and his forces are approaching.
- The flock of ravens that scares the French troops in the Act 4 of the play are referred by Will as he and James try to work out blocking before the production.
- Scenes involving the Countess and the King, the Black Prince and Audley and the final scene of the show are staged.
Notes and references
- Melchiori, Giorgio, ed. The New Cambridge Shakespeare: King Edward III, 1998, p. 2.
- See Melchiori, passim.
- See Melchiori, 186
- Connotations Volume 3 1993/94 No. 3 Was The Raigne of King Edward lll a Compliment to Lord Hunsdon?
- The Palace of Pleasure, Novel 46
- Melchiori, Giorgio, ed. The New Cambridge Shakespeare: King Edward III, 1998, p. 2.
- Stater, Elliot, The Problem of the Reign of King Edward III: A Statistical Approach, Cambridge University Press, 1988, p.7-9.
- Melchiori, 1.
- Melchiori, George, King Edward III, Cambridge University Press, 28 Mar 1998, p.94.
- M.W.A. Smith, 'Edmund Ironside'. Notes and Queries 238 (June, 1993):204-5. Thomas Merriam's article in Literary and Linguistic Computing vol 15 (2) 2000: 157–186 uses stylometry to investigate claims that the play is a reworking by Shakespeare of a draft originally written by Marlowe.
- Wells, Stanley and Gary Taylor, with John Jowett and William Montgomery, William Shakespeare: A Textual Companion (Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 136.
- "King Edward III". Bloomsbury Publishing. Retrieved 11 August 2017.
- Melchiori, 12–13.
- Sams, Eric. Shakespeare's Edward III : An Early Play Restored to the Canon (Yale UP, 1996)
- Malvern, Jack (2009-10-12). "Computer program proves Shakespeare didn't work alone, researchers claim". Times of London.
- Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. New York: Riverhead Books, p. xv.
- Melchiori, p. 15. Melchiori (p.35) dismisses the Marlovian character of the play as having been written under the influence of Marlowe's Tamburlaine, Part II, which was recent and popular enough to be fresh in the memory of theatre-goers during the period in which Edward III was written. Melchiori does not believe that the play is entirely Shakespeare's, but he does not attempt to determine whose the other hands in the play are. He also voices his dislike of the publication of the "hand D" segments of Sir Thomas More out of context in many complete Shakespeare editions (ix).
- Melchiori, 46–51.
- Bilington, Michael. "Edward III: Swan Theatre". The Guardian.
- "EDWARD III Comes To St. Louis' Orthwein Theater 3/13- 3/22". Broadway world.
- WIllis, Troy. "2010-2011 Season". shakespearetavern.com.
- Saunders, Ben. "Hawaiʻi Shakespeare Festival readies for war with "Edward III"". Ka Leo.
- "Shakespeare’s Lost History Romance tours in July". New Jersey Stage. Winetime Publishing.