This is a play ascribed IN PART to Shakespeare’s pen, but how much is still the question. It’s fair to assume that Shakespeare and his contemporaries collaborated often with each other’s works, and this one’s become known as a “lost play” of Shakespeare’s.
The editors of The Oxford Shakespeare indicate that there are only a few scenes (there are no acts in this play) that can be properly attributed to Shakespeare thanks to stylometric analysis and other tests of authorship. It’s largely another’s work, published anonymously but possibly written by Thomas Kyd or another of his contemporaries.
Edward III is a bit of a strange, meandering play, a different animal from the other monarch plays that we’ve read so far. This one is more like a chronicle of events regarding the reign of Edward III in his campaigns against the French. The French have Jean II de Valois as King of France, but contest his leadership, that another should’ve had the throne in his place.
It’s another succession crisis of sorts, and a great excuse for land-grabbing. However, the French aren’t the only ones against the English. Edward finds from Warwick and others that the Scots have swarmed down and taken over English territory, namely the area around Salisbury castle where the Countess of Salisbury is essentially a prisoner in her own home.
This is where the play kind of takes on the look of a chronicle of events, some of which feel totally unrelated. Shakespeare’s credited for Scenes 2 and 3 by the editors, and these scenes feature this Countess character, who is apparently so beautiful King David of Scotland and Sir William Douglas are basically fighting for her, but flee when they realize the English are nearby. Then, when Edward finds her, he’s smitten, too, and basically wants her to be his mistress right away.
Though this is an interesting part of the play, it’s kind of silly and feels out of place. This attempted wooing (of an already married Edward to the also married Countess) is kind of an interlude, but occurs incredibly early. It’s strange because after the two scenes with the Countess, it’s rarely alluded to again in the course of the play. The rest is all about the sovereigns and nobles who are fighting, the rise of Edward “Ned” Plantaganet (aka, the Prince of Wales, and Edward’s son), and how in all of the craziness of the fighting and other alluded to events, Ned is the hero of the play.
King Edward III is a strange character to pin down. Easily distracted by a pretty face, and lets himself stay that way til he finally looks at his son, sees his queen’s face in the boy’s, and realizes he can’t keep wooing the Countess and must go fight for England instead. Others know of his brief infatuation and start wondering about him. He’s a flighty person, and though he chooses to be loyal to his family (after some great, impassioned monologues by the Countess), he doesn’t seem to be much of a father or husband.
I can’t get the bead on Edward III as a human being. At one point, Ned and his men are surrounded and the messengers fear the worst, but Edward seems to little care that his son may die. Rather, he seems happy to accept that his son should die for England and be a great hero.
There are so many speaking characters that I can’t quite get a feel for any one of them. Indeed, other than the Countess and Ned, there really aren’t any characters that can stand alone and have more to them. They fight or negotiate and that’s it–very little exists to help discern their personalities or private thoughts.
I don’t know if I liked Edward III or not. I don’t really think I did, if only because the first few acts feel like they belong in a different play, maybe a one-act play with 2-3 scenes at the most. Otherwise, there’s a lot of talking about things that happen off-stage, and not much action.
Either way, worth a shot. I bet you could figure out which parts are Shakespeare’s and which aren’t by now!
And now, some interesting quotables:
KING EDWARD: … Begin; I will to contemplate the while.
Forget not to set down how passionate,
How heart-sick and how full of languishment
Her beauty makes me.
LODOWICK: Write I to a woman?
KING EDWARD: What beauty else could triumph over me,
Or who but women do our love-lays greet?
What think’st thou I did bid thee praise? A horse?
EARL OF DERBY: The Prince, my lord, the Prince! O, succour him!
He’s close encompassed with a world of odds.
KING EDWARD: Then he will win a world of honour too
If he win by valour can redeem him thence.
If not, what remedy? We have more sons
Than one to comfort our declining age.
DAUPHIN: Why, is it lawful for a man to kill,
And not to break a promise with his foe?
VILLIERS: To kill, my lord, when war is once proclaimed,
So that our quarrel be for wrongs received,
No doubt is lawfully permitted us.
But in an oath, we must be well advised
How we do swear, and when we once have sworn,
Not to infringe it, though we die therefor….