Humanities and Arts

Memory Traces in The Reign of King Edward III

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Indirectly addressing the authorship question in the anonymous The Reign of King Edward III, this paper focuses on a signature of Shakespeare’s treatment of English history, a concern with the political implications of remembering and forgetting. Multiple ironies attend the unstable relation of remembering and forgetting in the play. The opening of Edward III gives the impression that England’s forgetful enemies, Scotland and France, require schooling by a nation that appears to own memory. However, initial appearances prove to be deceiving, as three early Shakespearean scenes prominently feature lapses of English memory, causing the early alignment of England with faithful memory to slip away. There are traces of a distinctly Shakespearean approach to history—one that interrogates the mixed effects of historical memory itself and the values commonly assigned to remembering and forgetting—in The Reign of King Edward III. A consideration of the scenes that share the practice of Shakespeare’s histories—of not simply reviving the past but also reflecting on the motivations and conflicts associated with recollection—accords well with previous attributions of those scenes to Shakespeare on stylistic grounds.