94. 4 August 1996 [NM] (Edward III; chess; "Via!" (Shakespeare as current Italian)

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams and beatrice cazac (Mrs. Mathew’s letters)

Dear Eric,

   thank you, and many congratulations! A much nicer cover, to begin with. And you have of course made your point again, up to and beyond the hilt. Which doesn't seem to be enough for your peaceful Oxford friends, to judge by their reactions to Edmund Ironside. However, Rira mieux qui rira le dernier! It's clear that you have all the trump cards. And as usual, with the maximum economy, you hit straight in the bull's eye! Such a pleasure to read you.

   I'm still amazed at the amount of misspent breath, the millions of unnecessary words expended on speculative criticism in the field of Shakespeare alone. The patently absurd houses of cards that have been built up and elaborately prolonged and extended, all for nothing. A word of sense and they tumble in pieces. Expense of spirit in a vacuum of groundless conjecture. (Amazing, among many others, the tacit removal of Shakespeare's innovations in the Glossary, your p.190).

   Par contre, how fertile your commonsensical studies, which will give real work to many new students as little by little they see the openings. I wish I was one of the coming young ones. It will be fascinating to watch Shakespeare's growth. To think that no one has done this over the past four centuries. It's nearly all still to come. Yet what could be more entrancing than to follow the development of such a mind as Shakespeare's? Do let's have some more to work on –all the early works.    

   My own intuition (if I may be allowed to mention such a word entre nous?) always was for Edward III – as it was for the Henry VIs while still excommunicated, and for all the early plays. That intuition - the bishop in Chess* - did however rest on some observed facts.

   Only one criticism, and that I presume is to Yale, not you. Oh for notes on the same page, as in Arden edition and as needed everywhere (including my own book)! The work involved in holding the different pages as one reads. All because of a purely theoretical assumption that readers prefer not to have notes under their eyes.

   I would also have liked as appendix the Froissart text, and the love-story text. So we can better identify what was Shakespeare's invention. E.g. did he add or find Edw. III's refusal to succour the Black Prince? Is the sand-counting and infinity his creation? And the poetic hush before the battle (IV v)?

   Curious, via, Shakespeare's use is exactly that of Italian today (and presumably then); Go. Come on. Off!

   Query: p.184, no trace of classical learning beyond Ovid? Do you mean just in the early plays? I've seen increasing amounts of classical learning attributed to Shakespeare. Even in the Henry VI's it used to be a reason for doubting his authorship. Surely he may have read other classics, if he read Froissart in French?

   There's much more food for thought about your delightful book. This is a creaming off of a first reading. Please live healthily and long, Eric, you've still so much to do.


* Did we ever discuss the traditional meaning of the pieces? Pawns, the senses, move by groping in the dark but can be enlightened. Knights: imagination. Bishops, intuition. Towers solid reason. Queen: the soul. King, hardly appears to move, but holds the whole game together.