Commentary

The inclusion of Edward III in the many new Shakespeare editions is not a recognition of universal acceptance into the canon. The play is perhaps no 'Masterpiece', though no worse than many history plays of the time, and probably Shakespeare is not its sole author. But several of the plays in the Folio, both early and late, from 1 Henry VI to Henry VIII, are also the result of more or less openly acknowledged collaboration. The omission of Edward III, though the play had been in print since 1596, from Francis Meres' list of twelve of Shakespeare's plays compiled in 1598, does not by itself confine it to the 'apocrypha': Meres ignored also the three parts of Henry VI - plays written and performed before 1594 with which Edward III has the closest formal affinities. On the strength of their inclusion in the 1623 Folio, they are received in the canon, though Shakespeare's sole authorship of at least the first of them is more than questionable. The reasons for the omission of Edward III from the Folio will be discussed in the section of this Introduction on 'Authorship'. The fact is that Edward III is the natural prelude to the second Shakespearean historical cycle, from Richard II to Henry V. Since, in Richard Proudfoot's words,' it is also 'the sole remaining doubtful play which continues, on substantial grounds, to win the support of serious investigators as arguably the work of Shakespeare', Edward III has as much right to 'canonic rank' as the earliest Folio Histories.  

Cuthbert Burby entered (1 December 1595) on the Stationers' Register 'A book Inritled Edward the Third and the blacke prince their warres w^ kinge lohn of Fraunce'. The title-page of the first quarto, 'printed for Cuthbert Burby' in 1596, reads: THE RAIGNE OF KING EDWARD the third: As it hath bin sundrie times plaied about the Citie of London. The only information conveyed by the registration and the title-page is that the play existed and had been performed before the end of 1595. When and by whom? The vagueness of the expression 'sundrie times plaied about the Citie of London', used by Burby also in the case of A Knack to Know an Honest Man, entered in the Register only five days before Edward III, suggests one of two things: either the publication of the plays was not authorized by the company owning them; or they were at the time temporarily derelict, i.e. the company which had performed them was no longer in existence, and no other claim had as yet been put forward for them. This is the most likely explanation in view of the date, 1595, not long after the end of the plague that had repeatedly causes the closure of playhouses between June 1592 and the middle of 1594, the consequent disruption of most theatre companies, and the dispersal of their play-books.  It can safely be assumed therefore that Edward III, derelict in 1595, had performed by one of the disbanded companies before 1594. On the other hand, the epic description in 3.1 of the English naval victory off Sluys in 1340 deliberately evokes the recent defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. The author or authors relied for several details on the celebrative literature of the event published in the following years,' and this probably places the composition of the play after 1590, when the most impressive reports of the Armada appeared in print. 

From an initial plot based on Holinshed, the author, or rather the collaborators in the communal enterprise of playwriting, devised a play-book comprising, reordering, and manipulating the ample material provided by Froissart. Writing a history play required in the first place a process of simplification. The two countries in conflict should be incarnated by two contrasting dominant figures from beginning to end. The fact that Edward had to face in history not one but two successive Kings of France, Philip VI at Sluys and Crecy, his son John at Poitiers, would create confusion. So Philip was eliminated from the start, and this omission entailed not only a revision of the Capetian genealogy,3 but also substantial alterations in the chronology of events and in the ages and actions of their relatives and followers, beyond the compression of time which was an accepted convention in the presentation of history on the stage. The most striking example of this procedure is found in / Henry VI where the author, having decided to personify the virtues of England in the noble Talbot and the vices of France in Joan of Arc, did not scruple to keep Joan, executed in 1431, alive till after Talbot's death in 1453, and to have, among many such anachronisms^ the loss of Bordeaux in 1453 precede the armistice with France in 1444. Less drastically, in Edward HI only Artois and Mountford are kept alive to the end (they both died before Crecy) as emblematic of the French who recognized Edward as their king. These and many other such cases of manipulation of the sources are illustrated and discussed in the Appendix. From the structural point of view the case of the Earl of Salisbury is more significant. After being mentioned in the first two acts as the absent husband of the Countess, doing good service in France for King Edward (a fact variously con-firmed by the chronicles), Salisbury suddenly appears on stage in Acts 4 and 5, when the historical earl had been dead several years. He is actually cast in the role of the protagonist of the episode of the safe-conduct, replacing in it the valiant knight indicated by Froissart, Sir Walter de Manny. The relevance of the episode to what I should call the 'Garter theme' has already been noted, and it is exactly there that we must look for the reason for this resuscitation and substitution. It was not a matter of avoiding the confusion caused by the belated introduction of yet another character, but a way of creating a structural link with the early scenes in which that theme first emerged. A symmetry is established: the Earl of Salisbury incarnates in Acts 4 and 5 the same values as the Countess of Salisbury in Acts i and 2. And together they enclose as in a frame the emblematic presentation of the rites of chivalry through the arming and knighting of the Black Prince in Act 3. 

This is clear evidence of the professional skill with which the play was planned and structured both at the narrative and at the ideological level. Richard Proudfoot has warned that 'the division of the play's eighteen scenes' into five acts, introduced by Capell, is misleading. The true structure is tripartite.'2 And he identifies what he calls the three phases of the play with Acts i and 2, Act 3, and Acts 4 and 5 respectively. The placing of the ideologically relevant scenes which I have just described confirms the correctness of his division. A subtler and probably unconscious link between the first appearances on stage of the Countess and of the Earl of Salisbury at 1.2 and 4.1 respectively can be detected. As shown in the Appendix (pp. 187-8), the brave behavior of the Countess besieged by the Scots was modeled on another chapter of Froissart, describing the heroic resistance of the Countess of Mountford, while her husband was absent, to the siege of her castle in Brittany by the French, until she was liberated by the English led by Sir Walter de Manny. Unhistorically, 4.1 presents Lord Mountford liberated and restored to the earldom of Brittany by the Earl of Salisbury, in preparation for an episode which Froissart reports not of Salisbury, but of Sir Walter de Manny. The Mountfords and the Salisburys out of the pages of Froissart seem inextricably interconnected in the author's mind with the ghostly presence of Manny, whose role is played by King Edward in 1.2 and by the Earl of Salisbury himself in 4.1. Such are the suggestions prompted by the sources to the creation of new dramatic structures.               

It is rewarding to examine other displacements of source material required by the tripartite structure. The first dramatic phase, or rather block, is concerned with giving the reasons for the English claim to France and with showing - along the pattern provided by The Famous Victories of Henry the fifth - how the hero was able to curb his sensual impulses and embrace the ideals of patriotic conquest. This imposed the initial transposition: the episode of the King's 'amours' must precede the first famous victory, the naval battle off Sluys, in spite of the fact that Froissart reported the two events in the reverse order. The frame for this part of the play is represented by the claim to and declaration of war on France in 1.1, and the orders for the invasion of the country at the end of Act 2. Chronological compression - a constant feature of all history plays, where events distant many years in time are presented as following each other in a matter of a few days or even hours - affects the ages of all characters throughout the play, beginning with Prince Edward, who remains the same valiant boy from the declaration of war, when he was seven, to the time of Poitiers, when he was twenty-six. Only five characters are present in all three blocks of the play. Besides the King and the Prince, Artois represents the French who recognize Edward's right, Derby the true nobility of England, and Audley is cast in the role of the wise old Nestor, or rather Mentor, controlling the youthful enthusiasm of the Black Prince. Since the first two acts concentrate on the motives inspiring the English side, the appearance of the French monarch is delayed till Act 3. King David of Scotland, who figures in the Countess episode, replaces King John of France in the role of antagonist (although on a much reduced scale) to the dominant figure of the first block, King Edward, and the only other character to have a considerable weight at this stage is the Countess herself, destined to disappear from the rest of the play, but indispensable to the theme of the King's mastering his human passions. 

The second dramatic block (Act 3), running together two famous battles by sea and by land, required only one major manipulation of the material provided by the sources, apart from the abolition of the six-year time-gap between them: in order to provide a frame for the whole action, the French preparations for the land encounter at Crecy (1346) are presented (3.1.1-61) before the description of the naval battle off Sluys (1340). This manipulation provides the opportunity for opening the act by at last introducing on stage the real antagonists of Edward, the French King and his sons.' The other advantage of presenting in 3.1 the famous English victory off Sluys through French eyes was that the narrative could assume the epic tone not so much of Holinshed's and Froissart's reports (though they were not ignored), as of the triumphal descriptions of a much more recent event, the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Such details as the havoc caused by the use of naval artillery (hardly employed at the time of Sluys), the mention of Nonpareille {Norn per ilia in both quartos) as the name of a ship, and above all the description of the English half-moon battle formation are strong evidence that the playwright was treating Sluys in terms of the Armada, relying in particular, as Karl Wentersdorf has shown,2 on Petruccio Ubaldino's well-known Discourse Concerning the Spanish Fleet Invading England, in the Year 1588 (published in 1590). Ubaldino mentions repeatedly the English vessel Non Panglia, and states that the Spanish fleet in the English Channel 'was placed in battle array after the manner of the moon crescent... her horns being extended in wideness about the distance of eight miles', a passage echoed not only in the description of the English ships before Sluys at 3.1.71-2, 'Majestical the order of their course, / Figuring the horned circle of the moon', but also in Audley's speech giving an imaginary picture of the French army deployed on the hills before Poitiers at 4.4.31-2: 'like a half moon opening but one way, / It rounds us in.' 

Connecting the battle off Sluys and the recent defeat of the Armada is one way of celebrating the noble achievements of the English nation. The other is trfe behavior of Edward at the next famous battle, Crecy, the baptism of fire for the sixteen-year-old Black Prince, when, as all chroniclers report, the Prince was beset by overwhelming French forces but the King refused to send any help because he wanted his son to win his spurs once and for all. The presentation of this episode at 3.4.14-73 balances the description of the naval battle at 3.1.142-84. What matters is the skill with which the two events are connected through a series of bridging scenes drawn from or inspired by Holinshed and Froissart. The confrontation between the two nations is presented first at the level of the common people - the townsmen flying before the invading army (3.2) and the historical anecdote of the French soldier showing the English the way to cross the Somme (3.3.1-45) - and then through the imaginary meeting of the two kings themselves (3.3.46-167). The dramatic masterstroke, though, is the way in which the core of the battle scene - seen through the eyes of King Edward standing, as the chroniclers report, on a 'windmill hill' while one messenger after another asks for help for the beleaguered Prince (3.4.1-73) - is framed by two imaginary scenes visually figuring the solemn rites of chivalry: the arming of Prince Edward (3.3.169-228) and his knighting (3.4.74-121), an implicit statement of the Garter theme. The fact that the central block of the play stages the open conflict between France and England is reflected in the distribution of lines between the main speakers: nearly 25 per cent to King John and nearly 23 per cent to King Edward. Significantly, immedi-ately after them come Prince Edward, the hero of Crecy and the incarnation of the virtues of knighthood (over 13 per cent), and the French Mariner, the reporter of the battle off Sluys (more than 10.5 per cent). 

A comparison between these percentages for Act 3 and those for the next dramatic block, Acts 4 and 5, centring on the English victory at Poitiers, is revealing of the technique used in manipulating the historical sources for both theatrical and ideologi-cal purposes. Also in this case, of the total number of lines in the block, only four characters speak more than 10 per cent each. But this time Prince Edward comes first (over 20 per cent), followed by the two warring kings, Edward of England (nearly 16 per cent) and John of France (more than 13 per cent), and by a new character, the Earl of Salisbury, with 10.5 per cent (the same proportion as the French Mariner in the second block). The predominance of the Black Prince was inevitable: historically Poitiers and the capture of the King of France were his personal triumph, at a time when his father King Edward was in London. Dramaturgical expediency, though, imposed the abolition of the ten-year time gap between the battle of Crecy in 1346, which was followed immediately by the siege of Calais, and the battle of Poitiers in 1356. The playwright solved the time problem by building on Holinshed's and Froissart's reports of the town's resistance, of the self-sacrifice of the rich burghers of Calais and of King Edward's magnanimity, two scenes (4.2 and 5.1.1-62) that served as a frame for the scenes devoted to the battle of Poitiers (4.4 to 4.7). The events at Calais justified the absence of the King from the battlefield. At the same time, the chroniclers' accounts of the battle, underlining the constant tactical supremacy of the English in spite of their numerical inferiority, did not offer scope for dramatic sus-pense. The play therefore reverses the situation, taking from the chronicles only some relevant details such as the heroic behaviour of Lord Audley, his reward and generos-ity (4.6.53-62 and 4.7.18-55), but ignoring the rest and reverting to the situation at Crecy ten years before, where Prince Edward was surrounded by overwhelming French forces (see 4.3.57-62, 4.4-I-65 and 124-62, 4.5.109-26, 4.6.1-17). The back-ward look from Poitiers to Crecy suggests also the episode of the flight of ravens frightening the French army (4.5.1-55), which is drawn directly from Holinshed's and Froissart's reports of the earlier battle. Another episode, the taunting of Prince Edward by the French heralds (4.4.66-123), is modelled on the ironical offer by the French Dauphin of a tun of tennis balls to Henry V in Famous Victories. The main historical event of the battle, the capture of King John of France and his son Philip, is not presented on stage but given as ufait accompli at the beginning of 4.7 (1-17), with an addition: Prince Charles, Duke of Normandy, who in fact had escaped from the battle, figures among the captive French royalty. 

There is a reason for this unwarranted inclusion, which is forgotten in the next act, where, true to history, the herald announces the arrival (5.1.182-3) of King John of France together with his son [Philip] / In captive bonds', and Charles Duke of Normandy is not listed in the entrance stage direction at line 186. The reason is more of an ideological than of a theatrical nature. Next to the report of the early stages of the siege of Calais in 1346, Froissart (but not Holinshed) places the episode, already amply discussed in this Introduction (pp. 24-5 and 27), of the safe-conduct to Calais obtained by Sir Walter de Manny, identified in the play with the Earl of Salisbury. I need not rehearse the significance of the episode - developed in 4.1, 4-3-I-56, 4-5-56-I26, and concluded with the arrival of the earl at Calais (5.I.97-I75) - which constitutes the ideological frame of the third dramatic block of the play. What is worth noticing is the key role played by the Duke of Normandy, who grants the safe-conduct and, against the will of his father, prevents the detention of Salisbury. Now, the Duke of Normandy referred to by Froissart was John, the son of King Philip VI. In the play King Philip is suppressed, and the episode is made contemporary with the battle of Poitiers. This entails that the Duke of Normandy cannot be John, by now King of France, but his son Charles - and Charles must figure prominently in the events, more imaginary than historical, connected with the battle. Hence his capture together with his father is taken for granted. 

To ensure a firm dramatic structure, the third part of the play presents a more drastic manipulation of the sources and of historical chronology than the other two. The central event is placed in an inner dramatic frame represented by the siege and surrender of Calais (4.2 and 5.1.1-62), which in turn is enclosed in a wider ideological context, the safe-conduct episode (4.1, 4.3.1-56, 4.5.56-126, 5.1.97-175), an object lesson in chivalric honor. Links are established between this double concentric structure and that of the first dramatic block through the reappearance at Calais of King David of Scotland (5.1.63-96), who had figured only in 1.2, and through the parallel ideological function of the Earl of Salisbury in Acts 4 and 5 and of the Countess of Salisbury in Acts i and 2. The freedom taken with the source material to achieve these ends suggested further significant variations on the stylistic level. The invention of the taunting of Prince Edward at 4.4, modeled on an episode in the reign of King Henry V which had already been presented on the stage in Famous Victories, but was to become well known in Shakespeare's version in Henry (7, 1.2, has induced many scholars to assign 4.4 to Shakespeare's hand, but the striking stylistic analogies, as noted in the section on 'Authorship', p. 16 above, may be due to a common source. 

More interesting are the obvious echoes of Marlowe's Tamburlaine, especially in King Edward's tirade at 5.1.167-75, when he thinks that his son the Prince has been killed. It should be noted that only the characters on stage believe the Black Prince has died, whereas the audience knows (4.7), after the dramatic suspense of the previous scenes, of the Prince's famous victory and the capture of the French King. The audience listens in expectation of the triumphal entrance of the Prince with his prisoner, which punctually happens at lines 176-243, as the fit conclusion to the play. The general awareness that the King's speech is somewhat supererogatory accounts for its highly rhetorical form. The best-known model for such an occasion was undoubtedly Tamburlaine's magnificent furious outburst over dead Zenocrate in the popular current success, 2 Tamburlaine, 3.2. There is no need to suspect Marlowe's hand in Edward III.' The King's speech was conceived an'8 written as a deliberate imitation or near quotation of another speech, Tamburlaine's, highly suited to the dramatic circumstances presented, already familiar and recognizable to the audience. 

It appears that the author or authors of Edward III expertly manipulated the source materials to devise an elaborate, balanced dramatic structure which fused together patriotic celebration with more subtle themes such as the education of the prince. But the most serious criticism of the play has been leveled exactly at its structural consistency. In the words of an early critic: The plan pursued in the Edward III is, to say the least, exceedingly inartificial. If the writer of this play had possessed more dramatic skill, he might have made the severance of the action less abrupt. As it is, the link is snapped short. In the first two acts we have the Edward of Romance - a puling lover, a heartless seducer, a despot, and then a penitent. In the last three acts we have the Edward of history - the ambitious hero, the stern conqueror, the affectionate husband, the confiding father.' 

The imputation of being a split play comes from the space given, in the final version of Edward III, to Edward's 'amours'. The so-called Countess scenes on the other hand are the most celebrated as attesting Shakespeare's authorship of the play. The contradiction can be reconciled if we accept that those scenes are an 'addition' replacing a section of an already complete book, an alteration suggested by the emergence of a new source for the episode related by Froissart in a story of Painter's Palace of Pleasure, and that the writing of the addition was entrusted to Shakespeare. The pros and cons for this last-minute decision must be discussed separately.  

The final version of the Countess scenes: ideological ambiguity  

What moved the devisers of a well-planned play to disturb its structural and ideological symmetries by replacing Froissart's narrative of Edward's exemplary 'amours' with an amplified version containing obvious historical distortions? William Painter's collection of 'Novels', The Palace of Pleasure, first published in 1567 and frequently reprinted, had become the most accessible repertory of fictional 'plots' for comedies and tragedies, in the same way as Holinshed had for histories. But authors only rarely drew on both. In fact, the origin of Painter's forty-sixth novel dealing with 'a King of England' and the Countess of Salisbury2 is highly ambiguous. Matteo Bandello, a Roman Catholic prelate, had originally written it in 1547 upon hearing of the death of Rome's arch-enemy. Henry VIII, who 'spilled so much blood that it can be said that, compared with him, any prince or cruel tyrant in our age, whether a Christian or a barbarian, may be reputed merciful'. And he had started his story on a note of deliberate denigration: 'It seems to me right to say of these monarchs of England, whether of the white or of the red rose, that, as they all sprang from the same roots, nearly all of them coveted their neighbors' wives, and all thirsted after human blood more than Crassus after gold.'3 It appears that Bandello was stimulated at first by an oral account that must have been close to Le Bel's story of the Countess's rape,4 but when he looked for written testimony on which to base his narrative, he found only the version in Froissart's French chronicles. So he transformed what should have been an exemplum horrendum of the English King's disregard for the Commandments into a fictional example of female virtue rewarded. Being a master story-teller, he manipulated and enriched Froissart's plain narrative by introducing new characters and circumstances: Edward's secretary unwillingly acting as a go-between, the pressure put by the King on the Countess's parents, alternating appeals to their loyalty, promises and threats in order to achieve his end, and the Countess's determination to commit suicide rather than sin. If tragedy had to be avoided, the only possible happy ending to the story must be lawful marriage: in the teeth of historical evidence, Bandello makes the King a bachelor and the Lady a widow, so that the Countess of Salisbury can become Edward's queen. 

This is the story that Painter, apologizing for the historical 'errours' it contains,' translated and included in The Palace of Pleasure as 'describing the perfect figure of womanhode, the naturall qualitie of loue incensinge the hartes indifferently of all nature's children, the liuely image of a good condicioned Prince, and zealous loue of parentes and the glorious reward that chastitie conduceth to her imbracers.'2 The relevance of Edward's infatuation with the Countess of Salisbury to the theme of the 'education of princes' accounts for the inclusion in the play of such a peripheral episode out of Froissart. Bandello/Painter's version, by stressing in particular the values of womanhood and chastity, presented a further appeal in Elizabeth's time.3 It is perhaps no mere coincidence that George Peele, a court poet ready to second and even anticipate his sovereign's wishes,4 in the very same year 1593 when he published his poem The Honour of the Garter, should have contributed to" the collection The Phoenix Nest a poem under the title 'The Praise of Chastity'.5 Such considerations were a powerful inducement to replace in the play the Countess episode as told by Froissart with Painter's more elaborate version. And it was expedient to entrust the task of rewriting the relevant scenes to a young playwright who had apparently some experience in the job of remaking or adding to pre-existing plays. Shakespeare's addition to Sir Thomas More, whether written shortly before or after this, bears witness to his skill on such occasions. 

The evidence for considering the Countess scenes as an 'addition' like that in Sir Thomas More, replacing, extending, and re-elaborating one or two scenes in an earlier version now lost, is of a double nature. At the textual level, there is marked careless-ness, amply illustrated in the Textual Analysis, in the treatment of stage directions and speech headings, especially in Act 2, a feature shared with the pages in Hand D in Sir Thomas More. The abrupt transition from the general exeunt at the end of Act I to Lodowick's soliloquy (misattributed to Lor. in the speech heading)2 at the beginning of Act 2 suggests the insertion at that point of leaves written in a different hand from the rest of the manuscript. The numerous misreadings in this part of the text indicate that the compositor of the first quarto was confronted with copy in a hand less familiar than that of the rest, witness the muddle caused possibly by the omission of a line at 2.1.106, and the extraordinary misreading 'I will throng a hellie spout of bloud'3 (for 'I will through a Hellespont of blood') in the allusion to the Hero and Leander story at 2.2.154. As pointed out in the Textual Analysis, pp. 174-6, the evidence that the hand responsible for the inserted leaves was Shakespeare's does not consist so much in the allusion to the rape of Lucrece at 2.2.192-5, as in the survival in quarto of the obviously authorial spelling 'emured' for 'immured' at 2.1.178 and of a capital for a lower case 'C' for a mid-line 'Cannot' at 2.2.148, both reflecting exclusively Shakespearean writing habits. 

If the decision to replace Froissart's narrative of the Countess episode as an example of the education of princes with the version in Painter's novel was motivated by the intention of adding the celebration of the female virtue of chastity to that theme, Shakespeare's dramatization of the story went well beyond this simple aim. Whether or not he had already written Lucrece, the allusion to the Roman lady at the end of Act 2 introduces a significant ideological ambiguity, which Larry Champion has brought to light by placing Edward III and the English chronicle plays in their historical context.4 It renders explicit Shakespeare's ambivalent treatment of two themes that run through the whole of his work, from Titus, Andronicus to the final romances, including Two Noble Kinsmen. One is the question of allegiance to a ruler, the other, hardly separable from it, that of the interplay of sexual passion and power. 

A feature of Painter's novel, not mentioned by Froissart, is the pressure placed by the King on the Countess's parents to obtain her love. But while in Painter the pressure was exercised through promises of advancement alternating with threats of violence, in the play it is stated in political terms: the King extracts from the Earl of Warwick, the Countess's father, an oath of absolute allegiance, and in the name of this he tries to force him to become a pandar to his daughter. It is a problem of divided allegiance, to God's anointed sovereign or to individual conscience - a problem which was uppermost in the consciousness of an age uncertain of its values. Tudor jurists had tried to solve it by postulating the doctrine of the King's double body (echoed in Richard II),' but its presence is no less felt in a play like Sir Thomas More, written at about the same time as Edward III. Its contradictory nature is explored in Sonnet 94, it finally merges with the more general theme of the uses of policy, creating the ideological ambiguities of both parts of Henry IV and of Henry V. The last of them, as Stephen Greenblatt put it, 'deftly registers every nuance of royal hypocrisy, ruthlessness, and bad faith, but it does so in the context of a celebration, a collective panegyric to "This star of England", the charismatic leader who purges the commonwealth of its incorrigibles and forges the martial national State. 

In Edward III the playwright insists on the theme of allegiance by making the Countess in her turn bind the King to an oath: that of killing both her husband and his queen. The deceitful nature of oath-taking (and oath-breaking) is in fact, as Champion noted, a pervasive feature not only of these scenes but of the whole play, suggesting, together with the representation of the sharp contrast between the glory and the misery of war and invasion, an ambivalent attitude towards those patriotic and chivalric values that the play is supposed to celebrate. Was this the reason in the first place for omitting any direct mention of the founding of the Order of the Garter, but hinting at it deviously by recalling the episode of Edward's 'amours' for the lady whose dropped garter seems to have been 'the occasion that moved King Edward to institute the order'? 

Shakespeare, for his part, found an extraordinary way of suggesting this ironical and ambivalent approach to such sensitive subject-matter. He did it by calling into question his own profession, his skill in poetry as well as drama. Taking advantage of the presence in Painter's novel of the king's secretary, an unwilling bearer of Edward's love messages to the Countess, he created the figure of the courtier-confidant Lodowick, 'well read in poetry', whom Edward asks to write a love poem for the lady. The scene (2.1.1-184) is a radical criticism of current literary conventions, an indictment of the instrumental use of poetry, and at the same time a statement of Shakespeare's poetics as a sonnet-writer, which he certainly was at the time. The self-irony with which the author treats his own art enhances the ambivalence presides over the approach to history in the rest of the play, as well as in the two parts of Henry IV and, more subtly, in Henry V.

 

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