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This review is taken from PN Review 125, Volume 25 Number 3, January - February 1999.

SHAKESPEARE'S EDWARD III WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, King Edward the Third, ed. Giorgio Melchiori (Cambridge University Press)

A 'humourless play' is how Giorgio Melchiori describes King Edward III in the edition he has prepared for the New Cambridge Shakespeare. The only 'comical episode', he feels, is the knockabout flyting at the Scots in the second scene - a flyting which suggests that when in 1598 some discreet objections were made by the Scottish government to a play in performance by the 'comedians of London', it was Edward III that was the culprit. When the First Folio was being prepared, a descendant of the mocked King David was on the English throne, and Heminges and Condell, if they knew of the play (it may simply have been forgotten), may have thought its exclusion wise.

But the flyting is far from being the only 'comical episode'. The funniest scene (it has actors falling about in rehearsal) is the brilliantly written passage in which Edward, pulsating with lust, orders his court-poet, Lodowick, to write a love-poem that will win the Countess of Salisbury to be his mistress:

'Better than beautiful', thou must begin;
Devise for fair a fairer word than fair,
And every ornament that thou wouldst praise
Fly it a pitch above the soar of praise...

And as Lodowick struggles with pen and paper, the King extemporises at length to himself and the audience. The canny Lodowick (he doesn't approve of his sovereign's suit) manages only two lines, neither of which is acceptable to Edward: 'I did ...


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