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

X. Plays of Uncertain Authorship Attributed to Shakespeare

§ 2. Locrine: points of resemblance to The Spanish Tragedie

Of the apocryphal tragedies, the earliest in date of composition was, probably, Locrine, which, when published by Thomas Creede, in 1595, was described as “newly set foorth, overseene and corrected, By W. S.” The initials, probably, were intended to convey the impression of Shakespearean authorship, but nowhere in the five acts is there the faintest trace of Shakespeare’s manner. The words “newly set foorth, overseene and corrected” indicate that Locrine was an old play revised in 1595; and in the number of revised passages must be included the reference in the epilogue to queen Elizabeth as

  • that renowned main
  • That eight and thirty years the sceptre swayed
  • A feature of the play, pointed out by Crawford and by Koeppel, and discussed in an earlier chapter, is that some of its verses reappear almost unchanged in Selimus (1594), and, also, that both of these plays have imported a number of verses from Spenser’s Ruines of Rome, published in 1591. But, if Locrine, as verse, diction and plot construction lead us to suppose, was written before 1590, it is probable that the lines borrowed from Spenser do not belong to the original edition, but only to the revised version of 1595.

    The play, while yielding to popular taste in respect of stage action, neglect of the unities and the mingling of kings and clowns, is, in its main outlines, a Senecan revenge tragedy; and, in its adaptation of a theme drawn from early British history to the Senecan manner, it is the direct successor of Gorboduc and The Misfortunes of Arthur. The story of Locrine, which is also told by Lodge in his Complaint of Elstred and by Spenser in his Faerie Queene was found by the playwright in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Britonum and the Chronicles of Holinshed. Weak in characterisation, and somewhat loose and episodic in plot construction, the play, however, is by no means the caput mortuum which Lamb declared it to be. It is full of youthful vigour, and, amid much turgid declamation and a too ready indulgence in Senecan horrors, contains passages of splendid rhetoric. Sabren’s lament to the mountain nymphs, the “Dryades and lightfoot Satyri,” and the

  • gracious fairies which at evening tide
  • Your closets leave, with heavenly beauty stored,
  • is a noble anticipation of Comus, and Locrine’s farewell to Estrild in the same scene—
  • Farewell, fair Estrild, beauty’s paragon,
  • Fram’d in the front of forlorn miseries;
  • Ne’er shall mine eyes behold thy sunshine eyes.
  • But when we meet in the Elysian fields—
  • advances with the pomp and rhythmic splendour of a legionary march. The comic scenes, too, are full of vitality, and there are elements in the character of Strumbo the clown that foretell both Don Armado and Falstaff.

    At different times, the play has been ascribed to Marlowe, Greene and Peele respectively, and, of late, opinion has veered strongly in the direction of Peele. But, while there are certain resemblances of style of The Battell of Alcazar—if, indeed, that anonymous play be Peele’s—there are still more striking resemblances to the tragedies of Kyd, past master of that type of Senecan revenge tragedy to which Locrine very closely approaches. A comparative study of Locrine and The Spanish Tragedie brings so many points of resemblance to light as to make it seem probable that they are the works of the same author; and, in support of this view, it may be noticed, incidentally, that the two plays are coupled together in the ridicule which Jonson metes out to Kyd in Poetaster. Locrine resembles The Spanish Tragedie in the introduction of the goddess of Revenge, before each act, in the notable use which is made of the Senecan ghost, in the constant appeal to, or tirade against, Fortune and in the countless references to the horrors of the classic underworld, with its three judges, Minos, Aeacus and Rhadamanth. The Senecan rodomontade of The Spanish Tragedie, with its lurid imagery and wild cries for vengeance, reappears, if possible with heightened colours, in Locrine, together with the introduction of Latin verses and even a stray phrase in the Spanish tongue. There is, too, an affinity between the two plays in situation and sentiment: just as, in The Spanish Tragedie, Horatio and Lorenzo strive against each other for the possession of the captured prince of Portugal, so, in Locrine, two soldiers dispute over the captured Estrild; while the outraged Hieronimo’s appeal to nature to sympathise with him in his sorrow is echoed in the speech of the ghost of Corineus.