Unattributed play ‘Edward’ explores history

Photo courtesy of The Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse

Today, it is generally accepted that William Shakespeare wrote 37 plays, though some claim the oddball tragicomedy of 1634, “Two Noble Kinsmen,” as his 38th. None of these 37 or 38 plays, however, include “The Reign of King Edward the Third,” which was published anonymously in 1596.

It has since been speculated that this play was written, at least in part, by William Shakespeare while others attribute the history play to his contemporary,
Thomas Kyd.

Since there is no real way to know its origin for sure, Atlanta’s own Shakespeare’s Tavern Playhouse can be forgiven for introducing their current performance as “probably William Shakespeare’s ‘The Reign of King Edward the Third.’”

The play opens with the news that King Edward III of England is, by some accounts, the rightful successor to the French throne. When word comes from John II that he has become King of France and wishes acknowledgement from King Edward, Edward’s advisers and Edward himself are greatly incensed and opt to invade France.

All is not well at home, however, and before seeing to foreign affairs, King Edward must deal with a besieged castle in northern England. This background was set up in a rather lengthy and dull dialog at the opening of the play.

Once the audience has been introduced to the general state of affairs, however, the play has more freedom to be entertaining, leaving the history lesson and transforming into a love story of sorts.

When King Edward, played by Drew Reeves, arrives at the besieged castle, the attackers quickly flee at the sight of a formidable and well-organized army. The triumphant army is promptly invited into the castle by the Earl of Salisbury’s wife (Kati Grace Brown). Edward III is instantly smitten by the countess’s beauty and professes his love to her.

The countess reminds King Edward of his own wife and generally rebuffs his advances in every way. Brown does an admirable job of portraying a distraught woman.

Her character knows she cannot continuously reject her king without repercussions (most likely of the death penalty variety) but still ardently opposes his desires. While the countess does not have a terribly large role in the play overall, Brown makes her limited lines count.

The second half of the play focuses on the portion of the story that had fallen by the wayside during King Edward’s short-lived love story. England’s armies go to France where Edward (David Sterritt), Prince of Whales and son of King Edward III, is knighted and shows his courage and military prowess.

As there are many large battles portrayed in “The Reign of King Edward III,” observing how they have been shrunk to fit on stage is interesting. Several of the
conflicts are merely described by messengers or commoners who have witnessed the battles and then are reporting the events to their superiors.

Quite a few are intricately choreographed fight scenes wherein a multitude of actors brandishing swords rush out onstage, take a few swings and hurry off again to emulate the shifting tides of battle. The director Mary Ruth Ralston and the fight captain David Sterritt did a fantastic job of translating the script’s fighting into real actions onstage.

Performances of this little known, anonymously published play are few and far between in the realm of theatre, and this performance of “The Reign of King Edward III” will only be performed through Oct. 1, so anyone interested only has a limited window of opportunity.

Then the venue will switch to a play more credibly written by William Shakespeare and more fitting of the month of Halloween, “The Tragedy of Macbeth.” Shakespeare’s Tavern has performed this particular Shakespeare play many times in recent years, and it has yet to fail to garner audience approval.