Monday, January 2, 2012

Shakespeare Apocrypha: The History of Sir John Oldcastle

I’ve recently finished reading ‘The History of Sir John Oldcastle,’ a play about the Lollard dissenter Sir John Oldcastle who was hanged and burned for heresy in 1417. The play was originally attributed to Shakespeare but has since been demoted from the Shakespeare canon.

Wikipedia writes;
“Sir John Oldcastle was originally published in 1600, attributed on the title page to "William Shakespeare". In 1619, a second edition also attributed it to Shakespeare. In fact, the diary of Philip Henslowe records that it was written by Anthony Munday, Michael Drayton, Richard Hathwaye, and Robert Wilson.”
This dairy entry obviously suggests that the play wasn’t written by Shakespeare, so my theory that some of these relegated plays were actually genuine works by Shakespeare doesn’t really hold up in this case. Still it was a really interesting read and it would certainly be a shame if this play was lost to history simply because it wasn’t written by the right guy.

One of the things I’ve found most interesting about some of these apocrypha plays is the social commentary. A lot of sympathy for the common man contained within. Witness this short passage spoken by a ‘poor’ soldier;

“God help, God help, there’s Law for punishing,
But there’s no Law for our necessity:
There be more Stocks to set poor soldiers in,
Than there be houses to relieve them at.”

Could have been written today really.

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