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  • Writer's pictureKirk Jenkins

Did Shakespeare Write Edmund Ironside? Co-Write? Scribble Disparaging Remarks in the Margins?

Today, we’re beginning a project I’ve wanted to do on this blog for a while, reviewing the Shakespearean Apocrypha. If you’re not familiar, Shakespearean Apocrypha are the plays that have been claimed – either in the fifteenth and sixteenth century or more recently – to have been entirely or at least partially written by William Shakespeare. First up is the play that most folks think was first chronologically – Edmund Ironside. Eddie was never published – the play exists only in manuscript form in the British Museum. So a synopsis – Act I, Scene 1.

We’re in Southampton. Present are Canutus . . . okay, stop there. “Canutus” would be the son of the colorfully named Sweyn Forkbeard, a Danish fellow who invaded England not long ago, took over much of the place and then promptly died. And say what you want, but the fellow’s name does conjure up a mental image of what he looked like if nothing else. Thus “Canutus.” You won’t find that name in history books, historians having agreed to refer to him as “Cnut” – which I like to mispronounce as “See-nut.” More precisely, Cnut the Great, which gives the first clue as to who will prevail in the events of the play. So we’ll refer to him as Cnut henceforth. It would seem that Cnut is a wee bit miffed because the incumbent King – at least the English one, as opposed to the Danish fellow – known to history as Ethelred the Unready – for what, we know not – has joined Sweyn Forkbeard is shuffling off the mortal coil. His son Edmund has taken a vote in a presumably empty room, summarily declared himself elected king, and popped the crown on his very own noggin. Cnut is trying to stir up the folks who are loyal to him to administer a whuppin to the forces of Edmund.

After the Archbishop of Canterbury announces he’s all in, Edricus the Sleazebag (not his name in the play, stay tuned) declares that he’s a good and loyal turncoat, having advised Unready to sign the treasury over to Sweyn and developed a sudden attack of bone spurs when Cnut showed up, keeping his navy safely penned up. Not to mention having turned over wiretap tapes of all Unready’s cabinet meetings to the Danish folks (guess we’re figuring out what he was Unready for, hunh?). After Southampton invites Cnut to hang with him at the Ye Olde Crib that night, a group of additional Danish folks show up, having been well and truly stomped by some Englishes who’ve gotten too big for their britches all of a sudden, and they – the Danish folks – want revenge. Cnut threatens to murder everybody in sight, but Uskataulf pipes up. He recommends a different policy – beat on the English and they’ll never cooperate. Ah, but try the Kinder, Gentler approach – you know, govern like a Democrat – and they’ll do whatever you want. Cnut promises to consider it (presumably not having read how that’s worked out for the Democrats) and sweeps out of the room.

After Cnut splits to pack his bags for Southampton’s place, Leofric and Turkillus have a few private words. Turns out they’ve both been getting a bit uneasy about The Danish Guy and are thinking maybe it’s time to swap sides. Turkillus points out a slight, insignificant little hitch in the plan – both of them have turned over sons to Cnut to serve as hostages/guarantees of no monkey business, and Turkillus thinks that the aforementioned hostages may have themselves A Bad Day if the two dads, as the British say, bugger off. Leofric responds “Yeah, sucks to be them,” (not an exact quote) – I guess the last few Father’s Day ties haven’t met with his approval - and the two make plans for the aforementioned off-buggering.

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