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"Review of William Shakespeare and others King Edward the Third edited by Richard Proudfoot and Nicola Bennett for The Arden Shakespeare (London: Bloomsbury, 2017)" by Gabriel Egan

If the compilers of the Shakespeare First Folio of 1623 had included Edward III in their book's run of 'Histories' in regnal order, it would be second, between King John about the man who reigned 150 years before Edward III, and Richard II about the grandson of Edward III who succeeded him in 1377 because his first-born son, Edward the Black Prince (Richard's father), died the year before. As the play's editors Richard Proudfoot and Nicola Bennett point out, such connections to the wider sweep of Shakespearian English history have no place in Edward III's design. Like King John and Henry VIII, it stands outside the self-consciously serialized run of two tetralogies spanning Richard II to Richard III. The events take place in 1337-56, at the start of the Hundred Years' War, and include the Battles of Crecy (1346) and Poitiers (1356), with subplots on Edward III's love for the Countess of Salisbury and the Earl of Salisbury's journey from Brittany to Calais via Poitiers.

Even readers familiar with Shakespeare's works might not know the play: it has only recently been admitted to the canon and disputes about Shakespeare's co-authors continue. It was published in 1596 (reprinted 1599) without an authorship ascription on its title page--perfectly normal for this time--and was omitted from the 1623 Folio collection. Proudfoot and Bennett report that Edward Capell in 1760 was the first to seriously entertain the possibility of Shakespeare's authorship, that in 1876 F. G. Fleay gave him the parts (Scenes 2 and 3) concerning the King and the Countess of Salisbury, and E. K. Chambers in 1930 found this ascription plausible. That the Folio excluded the play merely because it was co-authored is unlikely, since it admitted other co-authored plays including the relatively recent Henry VIII.

The publication rights to Edward III were held by the stationer Thomas Snodham, who was not in the Folio consortium of Isaac Jaggard, Edward Blount, John Smethwick, and William Aspley. Whatever its merits, the play's unflattering depiction of the Scots would not endear it to England's Scottish king or those around him in 1623. Cuthbert Burby entered the play in the Stationers' Register on 1 December 1595 and as well as omitting to name the authors the 1596 edition's title page makes no mention of the playing company. Judging by the internal evidence of its quality and the playing resources called for, Edward III was written by one or more professional dramatists for a professional company.

More than half of Proudfoot and Bennett's Introduction comprises a 13,400-word section on authorship (pp. 49-89) that must first justify the play's inclusion in the Arden Shakespeare Series. The "verbal links" (p. 51) between Edward III and the early Shakespeare canon show that Shakespeare was, at the very least, intimately familiar with this play. Scenes 2, 3, and 12 have markedly more feminine endings (a Shakespearian trait) than much of the rest of the play and Proudfoot and Bennett tabulate this, taking care to distinguish those lines with indisputably monosyllabic last words because such counts may be distorted by words such as flower, heaven, and spirit that can be monosyllabic or disyllabic. Three distinct areas of writing emerge: one of low incidence of feminine endings, one of medium incidence (including 2.1-349), and one of high incidence (including 2.350-62 and Scene 3 and the borderline case of Scene 12). Proudfoot and Bennett focus on the evidence from monosyllabic feminine endings but as there only 19 in all this seems rather too little data, and I cannot in every case follow their scansion. For example, "Poor sheepskin, how it brawls with him that beateth it!" (3.48) seems to me a regular hexameter ("poor SHEEPskin HOW it BRAWLS with HIM that BEATeth IT"), and "Return? I hope thou wilt not" (11.20) is as much an incomplete iambic pentameter as a trimeter with a feminine ending, and "If, then, we hunt for death, why do we fear it? (12.141) seems to me to allow "fear it" to be pronounced monosyllabically to make a regular iambic pentameter.

Turning to the evidence of n-grams--runs of certain words in a given order--Proudfoot and Bennett mention the work of Brian Vickers, who favours Thomas Kyd's authorship of the non-Shakespearian parts of Edward III, and the as yet unrealized ambitions of Martin Mueller, but they neglect the work of Hugh Craig, John Burrows, Arthur Kinney, and Timothy Irish Watt. They make no mention of recent investigations counting function words nor John Burrows's widely admired Zeta test that finds the single words whose rates of occurrence are the best discriminators between two sets of text. After some n-gram hunting of their own--for which only the results, not the raw data, are given--Proudfoot and Bennett assert that passages sharing one or more longish n-grams were probably written by the same person. In fact, that is more than we know and Proudfoot and Bennett do not claim to have performed the necessary negative check to see if the phrases in question are merely commonplaces of the period. All in all, this survey of, and contribution to, the authorship attribution scholarship is unsatisfactory, although the conclusion that Shakespeare was one of the authors is nonetheless sound; the best reasons for believing this are those neglected studies arising from the work of Craig, Burrows, Kinney, and Watt.

Editing the text, Proudfoot and Bennett show themselves independently minded and resourceful in solving problems that others have treated less imaginatively or not even noticed. An example of the former is their claim that multiple lines are out of sequence at the bottom of the quarto's sig. H2r and the top of sig. H2v because additional material was written interlineally or marginally on the manuscript and the compositor of the former page was hamstrung by the latter page having already been printed (pp. 64-68). That the added material was by Shakespeare is plausibly argued. An example of Proudfoot and Bennett spotting and correcting a problem that no one noticed before occurs at 12.146-7. In his speech on death and fate, the quarto has Audley say that "If wee feare not, then no resolued proffer, | Can ouerthrow the limit of our fate" and although this sounds acceptable Proudfoot and Bennett rightly object that in the wider context of his rhetorical manoeuvre this cannot be what Audley means. The "if . . . then" construction requires that only if we are fearless is our fate unavoidable, but Audley's point is actually that our fate is unavoidable whether or not we are fearless, so they emend (as no one has before) to "If we fear not, yet no . . .". There are many such expert interventions in the text, and it gets the full range of supporting material that one would expect from an Arden Shakespeare, including a fully worked-out Casting Chart that finds a pattern of doubling by which the play may be performed by just 13 men and 2 boys. Although it would not on its own convince a sceptic that Edward III belongs in the Shakespeare canon--which it undeniably does--this edition maintains the Arden's reputation for providing a superb text and apparatuses for scholars and general readers alike.