The Reign of King Edward the Third
Poetry & Theater
The Reign of King Edward the Third is an Elizabethan play printed anonymously in 1596. It has frequently been claimed that it was at least partly written by William Shakespeare, a view that Shakespeare scholars have increasingly endorsed. The rest of the play was probably written by Thomas Kyd. The play contains many gibes at Scotland and the Scottish people, which has led some critics to think that it is the work that incited George Nicolson, Queen Elizabeth's agent in Edinburgh, to protest against the portrayal of Scots on the London stage in a 1598 letter to William Cecil, Lord Burghley. This would explain why the play was not included in the First Folio of Shakespeare's works, which was published after the Scottish King James had succeeded to the English throne in 1603.The plot of the play consists of two distinct parts. The first is centred on the Countess of Salisbury (the wife of the Earl of Salisbury), who, beset by rampaging Scots, is rescued by King Edward III, who then proceeds to woo her himself. In an attempted bluff, the Countess vows to take the life of her husband if Edward will take the life of his wife. However, when she sees that Edward finds the plan morally acceptable, she ultimately threatens to take her own life if he does not stop his pursuit. Finally, Edward expresses great shame, admits his fault and acquiesces.In the second part of the play, in several scenes reminiscent of Henry V, Edward joins his army in France, fighting a war to claim the French throne. The play switches between the French and English camps, where the apparent hopelessness of the English campaign is contrasted with the arrogance of the French. Much of the action is focused on young Edward, the Black Prince, who broods on the morality of war before achieving victory against seemingly insurmountable odds.