Letters on Edmund Ironside

Times Literary Supplement, 24 Sept. 1982



Sir, - I'm grateful for the interest shown in my “Edmund Ironside” article (August 13). May I first men­tion a few corrigenda? Col 3, line 12, read “such” for “other”; col 5, line 31, “honours” for “humours”; line 10-from the end, before, “can” insert “was owned by Shakespeare, share writings which on good evi­dence ...”. I'd welcome further comments and criticisms to help with the Ironside edition I'm preparing, for publication by Junction Books.

     Predictably, the TLS post was a mixed bag. Some saw interest, excel­lent evidence, even fundamental im­portance; others only ignorance - and error. Time may tell: it has taken the Thomas More fragment over a cen­tury to attain its present grudging and challenged acceptance. Mean­while I'm grateful to Robert F. Fleissner (September 3) for his mea­sure of support, though some of his comments confirm my fear that I tried to pack too much into a short piece. On his factual question, I've sent him a select bibliography of suggestions that the 1589 Hamlet may well have been Shakespeare's own; its most recent item is Nigel Alexander's Macmillan edition of 1973 (pp 14-15).

     Paul Xuereb (September 3): By the “classical” Hecuba I meant the Queen of Troy at its fall. In Ironside (line 1481) she “ran mad for sorrow”, unable to express her grief by weeping. In Titus too she “ran mad for sorrow” (IV.i.21): the tongueless Lavinia has just entered running. In HamletHecuba runs up and down in TroyXuereb's feeling that this running image may derive from the post-Troy ex-queen character's words in the static set-speech play of The Trojan Women seems to rest solely on his own word “presumably”. This is not to deny, though, that there is much identifiable Seneca in both Titus and Ironside, just as (Nashe suggests) in the early Hamlet, and as one might expect if the same hand wrote all three, c. 1589.

     MacD. P. Jackson (September 10): I was encouraged by his view in earlier correspondence that Ironside may possibly be early Shakespeare. But I think he seriously undervalues the strength of Kenneth Muir's image-cluster arguments for the same view of Edward III, which has now I believe been confirmed by Eliot Slater's recent thesis as very probably from Shakespeare's hand throughout. I was particularly sorry to lack space for that topic, because any careful reader can identify the many striking affinities between Edward III and Ironside. It is disappointing that Slater's supervisor, of all people, has failed to draw the obvious inference.

     I fear that Richard Proudfoot's wish to refute (September 17) has run away with him, and that it is he who is ”mistaken on all counts”. He confuses the Archbishop of Canter­bury with the Bishop of London. He claims that Eleanor Boswell “showed in her introduction that the Ironside manuscript must be a scribal copy”. But she didn't; she just said it was (1927, p vi). Here the unhappy history of these studies repeats itself; groundless assertion is announced as ascertained fact. Everitt showed, ie by actual argument, that it is not a scribal copy (1954, pp 57-59, to which I have plenty to add). Next “the hand shows none of the charac­teristics of the authentic signatures of Shakespeare or of the celebrated ‘Hand D’ pages in The Book of Sir Thomas More.” But it does; Everitt specifies thirty-five of them (ibid, pp 102-12, and again I can add others). “Nor does Sams even refer to the exhaustive descriptive analyses of that hand by Sir E. Maunde Thomp­son”. But I do, by citing his 19th book on that topic. “Canute's laws… are hardly [the] ‘chief contents’ of Archaeonomia. But they are; in a book of regal statutes, Canute's preponderate. Furthermore, it is indeed that source and not Holinshed that links mutilation with lasting infamy; I’m obliged for that point. “Holinshed's Chronicle of England (1587)… supplies all the history to be found in the play”. But it doesn’t, Grafton is also a source (and why not 1577?). “It is hard to resist the thought that Ironside may be” indebted to Richard II. But that "thought" just begs the question, which is not whether to resist it but how to justify it. The nearest approach to that is the curious no­tion that 1595-99 seem likelier limits for Ironside than 1587-88 because it “recalls another history play of un­known authorship and disputed date”.

     Now let's consult the authorities. Not only Everitt but Hart (1942) gives 1587 as a possible limit for Ironside, while Boas (1923), Dodds (1924) and Ribner (195) all argue for a date of  c 1590. The evidence of diction and vocabulary, carefully checked by hundreds of OED citations, points clearly to the later 1580s. On what verifiable factual grounds does Richard Proudfoot base his conjectured 1595-99?


Eric Sams

32 Arundel Avenue,





Times Literary Supplement29 Oct. 1982


Sir, - Richard Proudfoot (Letters, October 22) and I at least agree that several phrases common to Richard II and Edmund Ironside derive from a single source. But he said he found it hard to resist the thought that the latter play was the later. Challenged to say why, he explains that Ironside “appears to echo” Richard II. He calls this a simple reason for allocating priority; but it looks to me like the same question-begging assumption as before. He ignores the arguments and authorities I cite for an Ironside dating of 1587 – c 1590, long before Richard II was written.

     His new Spenser point was duly noted by each of Ironside’s editors (Boswell in 1927 and Everitt in 1954) who however drew no such conclusions. Unlike them, Proudfoot assumes that Canutes’s Braggadochios are a deliberate reference to the Faerie Queene character, and claims OED authority for regarding that word as a Spenserian invention. The assumption seems to me obviously wrong, and the claim ill-founded. Further, the OED compilers aimed to cite earliest known usages, almost all from printed books; how can one such instance rationally be constructed as a terminus for a manuscript source, still undated and then unknown, which contains more than 2,200 words? So far from being “strong evidence” which “some may even think conclusive”, it’s manifestly no real evidence at all.


Eric Sams

32 Arundel Avenue,

Sanderstead, Surrey