Saturday, June 5, 2010

Edward III and Historical Myth

Gilbert writes:

Edward the Third, my lords, had seven sons,” genealogist York explains to the Earls of Warwick and Salisbury (2 Henry VI, II.ii.10), though I hope these are not the same Warwick and Salisbury who are the father and husband of the Countess in Edward III. “Edward’s seven sons … were as seven vials of his sacred blood,” laments the Duchess of Gloucester, widow of number six, Thomas of Woodstock (Richard II, I.ii.11-12).

The Plantagenets (Lancasters and Yorks) put historian Holinshed to work full time; when the eldest son, Prince Edward, the Black Prince (so called because of the armor he wore at Crecy), died, his son, Richard II, became king. The third son, Lionel of Clarence, was the grandfather or great grandfather of Edmund Mortimer, heir presumptive of Richard (remember Hotspur taught a starling to cry “Mortimer” to bedevil Henry IV). Son number four was John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, whose son, Henry Bolingbrook, was acclaimed King Henry IV, father of King (Saint) Henry V, in turn father of Henry VI. The fifth was Edmund of Langley, Duke of York, patriarch of Edward IV, father of Edward V (the prince in the Tower), and brother of crook-backed Richard III, and of an Elizabeth who married Richmond who usurped the throne as Henry VII, father of Henry VIII, who fathered Edward VI, Bloody Mary, and Elizabeth I, and whose sister Margaret, married James VI of Scotland (James I of England), Shakespeare’s quasi patron, who may have suppressed Edward III as anti-Scot.

Got that? Therein are nine of Shakespeare’s plays (until we find manuscripts of plays of the histories of William of Hatfield and William of Windsor, sons number two and seven, The Two Bills?).

If Shakespeare did not write Edward III, he should have. It is the cornerstone of all the bloodlines I have just outlined, and thus a necessary part of what Randall called “English monarchical myth building.” More important is “stage-ability,” English attitudes toward “honor, chivalry, leadership, political expediency.” I find a draft of Henry V here, the military coming of age of Prince Edward, his Agincourt-like victory against odds at the battle of Poitiers, arrogant and insulting French (three Heralds offer a horse and a prayer book instead of a tun of tennis balls), a siege of Calais (with a glance at Harfleur) threatening annihilation, but elevating to mercy.

If Edward III dates to 1594, it would follow the Henry VI’s (and my ear finds its verse more mature), but precede Richard II and the Henriad. If this is accurate, then rather than merely being a draft of Henry V, it prefigures the whole Henry IV progression—the Hal-like Gadshill hijinks slightly in a class with temptation of seducing the Countess, then the apotheosis of patriotic heroic victories on the killing fields of France by the father & son Edwards. There is more chivalry in Edward III—Salisbury’s safe passage is the prime example. Edward III is a bifurcated play, but isn’t Eastcheap and Falstaff almost as disconnected as the emergence of the militarily unprepared Prince Harry as he arms to fight Hotspur at Shrewsbury? So, I’d like to explore coming-of-age, and also the touch of skepticism about honor and politics (if you remember, I think Henry V is the perfect politician, manipulating perception, rather than embodying the perfect warrior). I’ll try to look at Greenblatt’s “Invisible Bullets” before I proceed.


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