Flock Theatre performs 'Edward III,' now believed to be a work of Shakespeare

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Scholars have long thought that Shakespeare was one of the authors of the co-written play "Edward III," but they only recently determined that the majority of the piece was crafted by the Bard. So it's now become part of Shakespeare's canon.

Flock Theatre, as fans well know, stage Shakespeare plays each summer in the Connecticut College Arboretum, and the group will perform "Edward III" for the first time starting tonight.

The play revolves around England's King Edward III and reflects the start of the Hundred Years' War. It boasts two distinct narrative pieces. The first deals with the king's rabid pursuit of an affair with a young countess who rebuffs him. He's even willing to see both of their spouses killed to further his goal. The countess comes up with what Derron Wood, Flock's artistic director who is directing this production, calls a brilliant device to derail his advances, although he doesn't want to say exactly what that device is.

What Wood finds particularly interesting is that, while the Edward III-countess affair was much discussed at the time, most historians have found no actual evidence that it happened.

"What they believe is that it was propaganda spread by the French to cause dissent at home to undermine the military achievements of Edward III. It's like, wow, not much has really changed, has it? ... Especially in this political season, it's really interesting," he says.

The second half of "Edward III" focuses on the battles of Crecy and Poitiers and on the advancement of Edward III's son Prince Edward, also known as the Black Prince.

"The themes and stuff he (Shakespeare) is dealing with are fascinating and unlike anything else in his plays," Wood says.

He says there's a lot of material in the piece about the military culture and about fathers and sons, honor, and what it is to be a man.

In terms of the actual writing in "Edward III," Wood notes that, since this is a very early work of Shakespeare's, "the verse is not as evolved as, say, the Hamlets and some of his later plays. Which I like because it's more — I don't want to say more blatant, but the rhyming couplets are stronger. You notice them a lot more. His poetry is not as subtle."

This production of "Edward III" marks the start of Flock's new Band of Brothers Project; Flock is staging Shakespeare's War of the Roses nine-play cycle and hopes that military members will join as cast or crew and will help the group "explore the emotions of war through Shakespeare's classic texts."

A number of veterans and current service members have participated in Flock shows already, including, on "Edward III," a former Navy SEAL who was in the first Gulf War and an enlisted member of the Navy.

"Over time, different veterans or current service (members) that we've worked with have mentioned how wonderful doing Shakespeare is. It's like an emotional release, not only getting the adrenaline of standing up in front of people with so many lines crammed into your head but also the heightened emotional reality that goes on in some of these plays ... They've enjoyed the adrenaline and the overall cathartic release, for lack of a better word," Wood says.

As Flock continues through the War of the Roses cycle, he'd like to see an increase in the number of military members participating and to really explore these works with them.

"There's a different understanding of brotherhood on the battlefield ... It's an interesting connection to this series of nine plays. The conversations that two individuals have on the battlefield when pushed to the point of the potential of their own demise is incredibly interesting and, on top of that, when you do it in iambic pen (pentameter) written by Shakespeare, there's some really beautiful stuff," Wood says.

He mentions the battlefield monologues in "Edward III" between the title character and his friend Audley about life and death.

After this run of "Edward III," Flock will stage "The Taming of the Shrew" July 14-31. That's in line with how Flock has structured its summer Shakespeare plays during the past few years — pairing one of the Bard's most obscure plays with one of his more well-known ones.

"It's interesting because I've seen a lot of audience members that (came) 10 years ago, but I haven't seen them in a few years. They're coming back out because when do you get a chance to see 'Edward III'?" Wood says with a laugh.

And worth noting: Flock is offering veterans and their families free admission to "Edward III" this weekend.

"Edward III," Connecticut College Arboretum, Williams St., New London; opens tonight and runs through July 1; 7 p.m. Thurs.-Sun.; $15 adults, $10 students, seniors, active military; free admission to veterans and their families this weekend; (860) 443-3119.


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