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which is the most natural should, through the force of a few magical touches, become the most sublime. We do not trace this wonderful power in the play before us : talent there certainly is, but the great creative spirit is not visible.
The play opens with Robert of Artois explaining to Edward III. the claims which he has to the crown of France through his mother Isabelle. This finished, the Duke of Lorraine arrives to summon Edward to do homage to the King of France for the dukedom of Guienne. The scene altogether reminds us of the second scene of the first act of Henry V.,' where the Archbishop of Canterbury expounds the Salic law, and the ambassadors of France arrive with an insolent message to Henry from the Dauphin. The parallel scenes in both plays have some resemblance to the first scene of
King John,' where Chatillon arrives with a message from France. It is probable that the “ Henry V.' of Shakspere was not written till after this play of - Edward III. ;' and the • King John,' as we now have it, might probably be even a later play: but the original * King John,' in two Parts, belongs, without doubt, to an earlier period than the · Edward III.,' and the same resemblance in this scene holds good with that play. Upon the departure of Lorraine, the rupture of the league with the Scots is announced to Edward, with the further news that the Countess of Salisbury is besieged in the castle of Roxburgh. The second scene shows us the countess upon the walls of the castle, and then King David of Scotland enters, and thus addresses himself to Lorraine:
“ Dav. My lord of Lorraine, to our brother of France
If this speech be not Shakspere's, it is certainly a closer imitation of the freedom of his versification, and the truth and force of his imagery, than can be found in any of the historical plays of that period. We do not except even the · Edward II.' of Marlowe, in which it would be difficult to find a passage in which the poetry is so little conventional as the lines which we have just quoted. And this brings us to the important consideration of the date of · Edward III. Ulrici holds that it was written at least two years before it was published. We cannot see the reason for this opinion. It was entered on the Stationers' registers on the 1st of December, 1595, and we have pretty good evidence in many cases that such entry was concurrent with the time of the original performance. If the ' Edward III.,' then, was first produced in 1595, there can be no doubt that several of Shakspere's historical plays were already before the public—the “Henry VI.,' and · Richard III.,'—in all probability the Richard II.' Bearing this circumstance in mind, we can easily understand how a new school of writers should, in 1595, have been formed, possessing, perhaps, less original genius than some of the earlier founders of the drama, but having an immense advantage over them in the models which the greatest of those founders had produced. Still this consideration does not wholly warrant us in hastily pronouncing the play before us not to be Shakspere’s. As in the case of • Arden of Feversham,' we have to look, and we look in vain, for some known writer of the period whose works exhibit a similar combination of excellences.
The Countess of Salisbury is speedily relieved from her besiegers by the arrival of Edward with his army. The king and the countess meet, and Edward becomes her guest. His position is a dangerous one, and he rushes into the danger. There is a very long and somewhat ambitious scene, in which the king instructs his secretary to describe his passion in verse. It is certainly not conceived in a real dramatic spirit. The action altogether flags, and the passion is very imperfectly developed in such an outpouring of words. The next scene, in which Edward avows his passion for the countess, is conceived and executed with far more success :
“ Cou. Sorry I am to see my liege so sad :
Edw. Ah, lady, I am blunt, and cannot straw
Cou. Now, God forbid, that any in my house
Edw, How near then shall I be to remedy?
Edw. If thou speak'st true, then bave I my redress :
Cou. I will, my liege.
Swear, countess, that thou wilt.
Edw. Then take thyself a little way aside;
Cou. All this is done, my thrice dread sovereign :
Edw. Thou hear'st me say that I do dote on thee.
Cou. If on my beauty, take it if thou canst;
Edw. It is thy beauty that I would enjoy.
Cou. O, were it painted, I would wipe it off,
Edw. But thou mayst lend it me, to sport withal.
Cou. As easy may my intellectual soul
The Earl of Warwick, father to the Countess of Salisbury, is required by Edward, upon his oath of duty, to go to his daughter, and command her to agree with his dishonourable proposals. This very unnatural and improbable incident is found in the story of • The Palace of Pleasure ;' but it gives occasion to a scene of very high merit-a little wordy, perhaps, but still upon the whole natural and effective. The skill with which the father is made to deliver the message of the king, and to appear to recommend a
compliance with his demands, but so at the same time as to make the guilty purpose doubly abhorrent, indicates no common power:
“ War. How shall I enter in this graceless errand ?
Cou. Unnatural besiege! Woe me, unhappy,
When the stern dam envenometh the dug.
War. Why, now thou speak’st as I would have thee speak;
Cou. I 'll follow thee : And, when my mind turns so,
[Exit." There is a line in the latter part of this scene which is to be found also in one of Shakspere's Sonnets—the ninety-fourth :
“ Lilies, that fester, smell far worse than weeds." In our illustration of the Sonnets we have expressed a decided opinion that the line was original in the sonnet, and transplanted thence into this play. The point was material in considering the date of the sonnet, but it throws no light either upon the date of this play or upon its authorship.*
* See Poems, p. 252.