Home  »  Volume V: English THE DRAMA TO 1642 Part One  »  § 13. His forerunners

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

VII. Marlowe and Kyd

§ 13. His forerunners

Edward II is not the first of the patriotic plays which supplanted the didactic and satirical morality (the dramatic counterpart of A Mirror for Magistrates), or of the Senecan variants, from Gorboduc to The Misfortunes of Arthur and Locrine. Of the extant forerunners, the roughly drawn Famous Victories of Henry the fifth and Jack Straw (printed in 1593) may be the earliest. A third, The Troublesome Raigne of John, King of England, in two parts (printed in 1591), supplies a link between the older King John by Bale and the later by Shakespeare, not merely as showing a progression in the treatment of a historical theme, but—and this gives force to the progression—in the humanising of the chief personages. This breaking with the dull habit of the chronicle play becomes clearer in Peele’s Edward I (even though much of the roughness of the earlier models remains), and in The First Part of the Contention betwixt the two famous Houses of Yorke and Lancaster and The True Tragedie of Richard, Duke of Yorke (represented in later form by Parts II and III of Henry VI). We find like evidence in The True Tragedie of Richard III (printed in 1594) and in the “troublesome” text of I Henry VI, as it appears in the Shakespeare folio. In this historical laboratory, in which some ask us to believe that Marlowe gained experience in the earlier texts on which Parts I and II of Henry VI were founded, as well as in the Shakespearean revisions, and even in the Shakespearean Part I, we have the making of Edward II, and, as a further effect of the collaboration, of Richard II.