Saturday, August 17, 2013

Shakespeare Study: Edmund Ironside

I’m deep into the apocryphal plays at this point, really getting down to the end of my three and a half years of Shakespeare study. In fact, this month is month number forty-four in my study. I’m reading a couple of the doubtful plays this month. The first is Edmund Ironside.

Edmund Ironside is a play that William Shakespeare may have written around 1588 (which would possibly make it his first play). In Shakespeare’s Lost Play Edmund Ironside, Eric Sam makes a fairly compelling case for Shakespeare being the playwright. This volume includes the complete play, which is heavily annotated, as well as a 52-page introduction. Most of the book, however, is Eric Sams’ commentary, in which he argues his case.

In the introduction, Sams writes, of Edmund Ironside: “For example it contains some 260 words or usages which on the evidence of the Oxford English Dictionary were first used by Shakespeare himself, with the strong presumption that it was he who coined them. Further, it exhibits 635 instances of Shakespeare’s rare words including some 300 of the very rarest, and 700 clear parallels with the First Folio, including 350 phrases shared verbatim. All these features are found most frequently in the earliest canonical plays of circa 1590. So the young Shakespeare is an obvious suspect” (page 5). Also in the introduction, Sams mentions several similarities between Edmund Ironside and the first act of Titus Andronicus, listing several specific similarities in wording.

Regarding line 301, “how many treasons I have practiced,” Sams notes, “the relish of this self-condemnatory confession points forward to Aaron in Titus V.i.124f as well as Richard in 3H6 and Iago” (page 126). Regarding line 334 (the beginning of Act I Scene iii), Sams writes, “Edmund enters during a conversation begun off-stage, as often in Shakespeare” (page 127). Regarding line 1640 (from Act V Scene i) – “All hail unto my gracious sovereign!” – Sams writes: “as the following dialogue confirms, Edmund (i.e. the dramatist) hears ‘all hail’ as the words of Judas to Jesus at the betrayal, whereas in fact the Gospel phrase is allotted uniquely to the risen Christ who greets his disciples thus (Matthew 28.9). The phrase in this context is therefore a serious solecism, instantly recognisable as such to devout Bible-readers in the contemporary audience. This same mistake occurs in LLL V.ii.339, 3H6 V.vii.33-4, R2 IV.ii.169-70. Note too that all those Judas allusions are applied to a sovereign and that two of them are accompanied by a pun on ‘hail’ and ‘hale’, just as they are there (‘That’s hale indeed’, 1642)” (page 178). Regarding the word “lift” in line 1663 (“in vain have I lift up my wasting arm”), Sams writes, “Shakespeare often omits ‘-ed’ after ‘t’, cf Abbott p.242 and 1H6 I.i.16, ‘he ne’er lift up his hand but that he conquered’” (page 180).

In the commentary section, Sams writes: “To compare one’s own characters with Judas and Jesus, in deliberate reference to the Gospel account of the betrayal, to make amusing puns on the actual words used, and above all to put the words of Jesus into the mouth of Judas; these characteristics identify the young Shakespeare in three separate plays (3H6, R2, LLL) of the early 1590s. If there were any doubts about the authorship of 3 Henry VI for example those facts would serve as strong testimony. So they do, therefore, in the context of Edmund Ironside, where exactly those characteristics are first found, c. 1588, lines 1640 f. There King Edmund directly compares Edricus to Judas and himself to Christ, with the same mistaken attribution of the same phrase and a gratuitous pun on ‘hail’ and ‘hale’” (page 199). A little later Sams writes, “As commentators have noted, however, Judas does indeed greet Jesus thus in certain surviving texts of the mediaeval Mystery Play both at York (Schoenbaum, 1975, 48) and Chester (Milward, 1973, 33). There are strong independent grounds for supposing that Shakespeare had indeed seen such plays, already outmoded in his lifetime but still surviving in certain centres during his younger years; he refers to them in such phrases as ‘it out-Herods Herod’, ‘the old Vice’, and so on” (page 199).

Also in the commentary, Sams writes, “On any analysis, Shakespeare at the time of Titus c. 1589 was steeped in Ovid, including Book I (banquet of Lycaon, story of Io) as well as III (Actaeon), XIII (Hecuba) and so probably X (Orpheus) as well. The same is true of the author of Ironside c. 1588. Unless it is safe to assume that two Tudor dramatists showed the same concentration on the same books of the same works of the same poet at the same time there is a good case for identification on those grounds alone” (page 206).

Regarding “copy-hold,” Sams writes: “The OED definition of ‘copy-hold’ is worth citing here to show what precisely is under discussion between the two kings. It is a technical legal term meaning ‘a kind of tenure in England of ancient origin: tenure of lands being parcel of a manor, at the will of the lord according to the custom of the manor, by copy of the manorial court-roll’, which is the only title the tenant holds. No doubt the tenure was often precarious and arbitrary. Canute grandly proclaims himself in effect lord of the manor of England, with Edmund just a tenant farmer who has let his leased land deteriorate and thus forfeited his title to it. The same idiosyncratic association of England with land tenure and legal documents recurs in Richard II II.i.59-64, ‘this dear dear land leased out like to a tenement or pelting farm…inky blots and rotten parchment bonds’” (page 218).

Sams finds many comparisons between Edricus (from Edmund Ironside) and Joan Of Arc (from 1H6).

Regarding Shakespeare’s attitude toward flattery, Sams writes, “Now, neither the OED nor common usage has ever considered flattery as a vile and sickening sin. But, on the plainest possible evidence, that was Shakespeare’s constant (if not conscious) association. Who else shares it, where else is it found in the whole of world literature of any epoch? So far as I can elicit, only in Edmund Ironside. There it recurs not only with the same striking insistence, but also with the same resonances” (page 251).

Toward the end of the commentary, Sams writes: “If Ironside precedes all the canonical plays, and if it also contains even a few locutions, or indeed just one, that Shakespeare demonstrably and definitely invented out of his own head, then that same head was also the source of Ironside, on any rational appraisal. The fact is that Ironside includes and anticipates not just one, and not just a handful, but over 260 examples of words, usages, locutions and ideas which the OED attributes to Shakespeare as his first coinsages” (pages 348-349).

Shakespeare’s Lost Play Edmund Ironside, edited by Eric Sams, was published in 1985.

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