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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

§ 9. Faire Em

The evidence in favour of the Shakespearean authorship of Faire Em, Mucedorus and The Merry Devill of Edmonton is of the slenderest. Francis Kirkman, the Restoration bookseller, having found in the royal library the three plays bound together in a volume on the back of which was the name of Shakespeare, accepted the word of the original owner—or the binder—of the volume without demur. The internal evidence of all three plays is strongly against the theory that Shakespeare had anything to do with their composition.

Faire Em is the work of some member of that early school of dramatists who, under the leadership of Greene, delighted in the union of fictitious English history with love romance. There are two distinct plots in this play, and they have almost nothing in common. That which furnishes the title is the story of the courtship by three knights of Fair Em, the daughter of an English noble who, robbed of his lands at the Norman conquest, is now plying the trade of a miller at Manchester. A ballad, entered on the Stationers’ register on 2 March, 1581, and entitled The Miller’s Daughter of Manchester, is the probable source of this portion of the play. The second plot is taken from Henry Wotton’s Courtlie Controversie of Cupids Cautels (1578), a collection of five stories translated from Jacques Yver’s Le Printemps d’Iver. This relates the unhistoric adventures of William the Conqueror, who, in order to win the hand of the Danish king’s daughter, visits his court disguised as a knight and pursues his amours there under strange changes of fortune. The workmanship of the play is very poor, but certain allowances must be made for its early date. It seems to have been in existence in 1587, for, in Greene’s introduction to his Farewell to Folly, registered in that year, he makes a satiric reference to Faire Em, and quotes, in a slightly altered form, two lines from the closing scene of the play.