Out of the five rare and largely unknown plays currently being performed in repertoire by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Gielgud Theatre, only ‘Edward III’ has the distinction of being written by Shakespeare himself. The play was first published in 1596 without its author being named. Since 1760 the idea had been muted that the author may have been Shakespeare, however it was only in 1998 that the play was canonised as Shakespearean.
The play recounts the first campaigns in the hundred year wars and tells the history of Edward III and of his son Prince Edward (The Black Prince, who was the father of Richard II). Edward III believing his rightful claim to the French throne due to his descent from Queen Isobel refuses to acknowledge the French King John and sets out on a expedition of conquest.
There is very little to commend this play. Yes, it is interesting to see a history play that precedes Richard II, but other than speeches on honour and bravery we are given very little insight into the play’s central character. The few we have portray a cold and detached King Edward. One who contemplates killing his own wife so that he can seduce a provincial countess, and upon hearing the danger to his son’s life remains callously unperturbed exclaiming "We have more sons than one to comfort our declining age.”
David Rintoul plays the role of Edward with impassive steel. There is no introspective mode in his stance just the strong posture of a powerful ruler. This sadly creates a one-dimensional character that is unable to engage the audience. Jamie Glover gives a better performance as Prince Edward; one feels more than just the cold grasp of steel to his eagerness for victory in battle. You can sense the son seeking his father’s approval and the desire to emerge out of his father’s shadow as a worthy heir to the throne of England. Caroline Faber also performs well as Countess Salisbury. When she holds a dagger to her breast and pleads for her honour, she confidently asserts her character’s defiance of the King’s wishes.
Notices from the popular press....
RACHEL HALLIBURTON for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Lacklustre production....a limping warhorse of a script." PETER HEPPLE for THE STAGE says, "What it lacks in poetry and depth of characterisation it makes up for with non-stop action." PATRICK MARMION for TIME OUT says, "The language is verbose even by old Bill's standards.." LYN GARDNER for THE GUARDIAN says, "This is Shakespeare having an off day at the creative coalface."
External links to full reviews from newspapers