John Julius Norwich wrote Shakespeare’s Kings to fill in the narrative gaps of Shakespeare’s history cycle, and in chapter 1 remarks that since the 1990s Edward III has been considered part-written by Shakespeare. As a desultory reader I’d failed to notice this, but Norwich helpfully attaches a text of the play as an appendix, so I started with that.
Most of Edward III is pretty routine, to be honest, and it suffers from the usual problem of all the battles having to happen as ‘noises off’. A few sections have a life even cold on the page – for example Warwick’s predicament when he has to persuade the Countess of Salisbury to accept the royal seducer, while also persuading her not to. I also rather enjoyed the lines in which Audley encourages an intimidated Prince Edward (the Black Prince) to face his own mortality at Poitiers:
For from the instant we begin to live We do pursue and hunt the time to die: First bud we, then we blow, and after seed; Then, presently, we fall, and, as a shade Follows the body, so we follow death. ........ For, whether ripe or rotten, drop we shall, As we do draw the lottery of our doom.
Is it fair to hear an echo of Jacques? And what a fine paradoxical figure, to image life as the shadow cast by death.