Shakespeare's Edmund Ironside. The Lost Play

Fourth Estate, 1985; Wildwood House, rev. 1986

[pp. xvi, 383; ISBN 0 7045 0547 9]

Anthony Burgess: Cygnet of Avon (Review of Edmund Ironside)

The late Hans Keller was once generous enough to say that there was only one composer worse than myself, and that was the Joseph Haydn of Opus 1. It seems that we are entering an era in which bad poets and playwrights may be comforted by evidence of how mediocre Shakespeare was in his apprentice years.

A poem, or extended song, of undoubted mediocrity has just been discovered, and this has been attributed to Shakespeare: it qualifies for a very early opus number. And now Eric Sams, who shares Keller's trade of musicologist, makes a bardic claim for Edmund Ironside, which, if it is not by Shakespeare, may be by some other Elizabethan playwright of the same name.

    Sams, not being a professional Elizabethan scholar, must be listened to with respect. He has done scholarly work but has no academic reputation to defend. Like Gary Taylor, who makes the Shakespearean attribution of the mediocre poem, he is prepared to stick his neck out; unlike Taylor, he need not expert ostracism in common rooms. He has done a sizeable job in erecting his apparatus criticus; he argues cogently and elegantly; he has an ear for prose as well as the movement of blank verse.

    On the internal evidence of the play itself, whose text is the core of his book, I am prepared to accpet tjay Edmund Ironside is by Shakespeare. It could be by Peele or Lodge or Munday or Nashe. But it might well be by a Shakespeare learning his craft. It is competent