The full title, however misleading and inadequate (Maxwell 39), is The Lamentable Tragedy of Locrine, the Eldest Son of King Brutus, discoursing the wars of the Britons and Huns, with their discomfiture, the Britons' victory with their accidents, and the death of Albanact. The play was entered at the Stationers' Register in July 1594 and thirteen quarto copies exist for the 1595 publication, "Newly set foorth, ouerseene and corrected By VV. S," as the title page reports, although "that it could have been composed -- with all its dumb show machinery and so forth -- immediately before 1595 is practically impossible" (Brooke xx). The source for the story is Geoffrey of Monmouth's twelfth-century chronicle, Historia Regum Britanniae, although Geoffrey claims that Locrine and Albanact were killed in battle and Guendoline drowned both Estrild and Sabren. "As Wolfgang Clemen pointed out in his discussion of the dramatic lament, the source material has been adapted to allow frequent opportunities for the rhetorical flourishes of the lament preceding a character's death. Humber's life, in fact, is prolonged after his defeat, apparently for seven years, in order to allow for three laments before he finally drowns himself" (Gooch 2). Supposedly, the play is "composed in the most exaggerated manner of the 'university wits.' The comic scenes, however, ... are more successful and more in the early style of Shakespeare.... No reader will fail to note the infinity of classical allusion, the craze for mouth-filling but meaningless adjectival epithets, the ranting bombast of the heroic figures, the wearisome lyrical repetition of high-sounding words and phrases, or the childish delight in such freaks of verbiage as 'agnominated' and 'contentation'" (Brooke xvii). [The supposedly "freak" term "contentation" appears in Edward de Vere's dowager countess mother's letter to William Cecil of 7 May 1565.]
Relationships between this play, Spenser's The Faerie Queene, Thomas Lodge's The Complaint of Elstred, and The Tragical Reign of Selimus (printed 1594) undergo the usual ruminations by scholars. The influence of The Faerie Queene in the names of Trompart and Debon is asserted from the Stratfordian school, some of whom also date the composition a decade earlier, even though as early as 1580 this Inns of Court style drama had waned (Gooch 5). The play has been ascribed to Charles Tilney who was involved in the Babington conspiracy against Elizabeth in 1586, with the "VV. S." implying Shakespearean authorship "to help an otherwise worthless manuscript" (Anderson 281). Many traditionalists spurn the otherelaborate attribution theories that assign Locrine to Marlowe, Kyd, Peele, or Greene, and simply see the play as likely the "output of the youthful Shakespeare himself" (Brooke xviii).
The "W.S." initials on the title page prompted inclusion of the play in the Third and Fourth Folios of Shakespeare's plays (1664, 1689). [Thomas Lord Cromwell (printed 1602) and The Puritan (printed 1607) also carry the "W. S." These later folios also newly included Oldcastle, The London Prodigal, A Yorkshire Tragedy, and Pericles.] While other unscrupulous printers may have tried to benefit from Shakespeare's success by including "W. S.," "W. Sh.," or even the name on title pages, as could have been the case with The Puritan and Thomas Lord Cromwell, for example (Gooch 27), "the date of Locrine, 1595, is too early to permit capitalization on Shakespeare's success, at least in the area of printed plays" (Gooch 27), since 1595 comes a few years before any plays with the Shakespeare name had yet been published. Locrine seems to have belonged to the Queen's Men despite the absence of any record of performance. The elder Ogburns note that they credit the Earl of Oxford with this "apocryphal" play (Ogburn and Ogburn 739).
Brooke, C.F. Tucker, ed. The Shakespeare Apocrypha. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1908.
Gooch, Jane Lytton, ed. The Lamentable Tragedy of Locrine: A Critical Edition. Garland English Texts #7. NY: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1981.
Griffith, Benjamin. "Locrine and the Babington Plot." Notes and Queries 44.1 (242) (March 1997): 37-40.
Maxwell, Baldwin. Studies in the Shakespeare Apocrypha. NY: King's Crown Press, 1956.
"The dumb shows introduce each act with the spectacle of the pageants; the silent picture followed by an explanation reveals an affinity with the emblem books" (Gooch 10). In this first, Ate, the spirit of strife, enters with a burning torch and bloody sword. In a dumb show, a lion chases another animal but is killed by an archer. Ate reiterates the lion event, using it as an epic simile for "valiant Brute [Brutus], the terror of the world" (I.i.17) brought down by "The archer Death" (I.i.19). À la Boethius (available most appropriately in Chaucer's translation) comes the question, "O what may long abide above this ground / In state of bliss and healthful happiness?" (I.i.20-21). Not much, we glean.
Brutus, liberator and leader of the descendants of Helenus (the son of Priam of Troy), now near death and carried in on a chair, speaks to his lords and followers of his depleted strength and physical decline. For this playwright, age is more an arboreal literary conceit than an actuality. Assaracus expresses grief but also a philosophical resignation (I.ii.40f). Corineus lists their military triumphs to comfort Brutus with his "great renown" (I.ii.62). But Brutus says that what's troubling him is not the approach of death. Thrasimachus declares that they would obey any command, including the harrowing of Hades (and thus he name-drops Cerberus and Ixion). Thrasimachus, incidentally, is the only British character not in sources (Maxwell 41), and later he seems to absorb a part not originally his when he suddenly turns out to be a young man instead of the elder statesman implied here.
Brutus describes early close calls and exploits of this band of remaining Trojans whom he liberated from Greek captivity before they "transfrett[ed] the Illyrian sea" (I.ii.108), battled Gauls and giants, and founded Troynovant (London). Thus we make the Homeric -> Anglo-Saxon transition. Brutus requests that the lords loyally protect his sons. He blesses the oldest, Locrine, who in turn swears to "bear himself in all things like a prince" (I.ii.158). Brutus has a gift for him: fair Guendoline to marry: "receive this present at my hand, / A gift more rich than are the wealthy mines / Found in the bowels of America" (I.ii.168-170) -- a lovely geo-intestinal comparison. Her father, Corineus, is honored (I.ii.174f), and Guendoline states:
And far be it from my maiden's thoughtsNote the falconry image.
To contradict her aged father's will.
Therefore, since he to whom I must obey
Hath given me now unto your royal self,
I will not stand aloof from off the lure,
Like crafty dames that most of all deny
That which they most desire to possess.
Brutus crowns Locrine: "Then now, my son, thy part is on the stage, / For thou must bear the person of a king" (I.ii.187-188). Brutus bestows upon his other sons, Camber and Albanact -- the latter is called "A perfect pattern of all chivalry" (I.ii.206), like Chaucer's knight -- the south and north regions respectively (Geoffrey of Monmouth was probably responsible for the character names as explanations for placenames), and then eloquently dies. "Accursed stars, damned and accursed stars, / To abbreviate my noble father's life!" wails Locrine (I.ii.227-228). Corineus waxes philosophical, this time mentioning Aeacus, Rhadamanth, Hercules, Orpheus, Tantalus, Minos, and others. "It resteth now that we inter his bones" (I.ii.259). This "exuberant tendency to classicism" has been associated with George Peele, but Maxwell quotes Tucker Brooke: "the excessive richness of mythological allusion [is] far greater than in any play of Peele's and differently employed" (66).
"Throughout the Historia, the kingdom is divided many times; in the line of Brutus, three of the most significant divisions are carried out by Brutus himself, by Lear, the tenth king, and, finally, by Gorboduc, the eighteenth king" (Gooch 24). These divisions always bring the threat of foreign invasion.
We switch to prose with Strumbo, a clown figure who in this scene resembles "the fantastical gull-pedant" type of comedian (Maxwell 50) since he can cite the number of elements and planets and can name-drop the 4th-century c.e. Latin rhetorician Lactantius. These comic subplot "episodes parody the heroic and romantic assumptions of the serious main plot, both in theme and language" (Gooch 10). And Strumbo's pervertings of language finds origin in the Italian Commedia dell'Arte clown characters (Gooch 19).
Strumbo is in love, wondering if he "was begotten and born in the wane of the moon, when everything, as saith Lactantius in his fourth book of Consultations doth say, goeth arseward" (I.iii.3-6). He has malapropistic tendencies: "Ass Tom" for Actaeon, for example: "Ah, Strumbo, what hast thou seen? not Dina with the Ass-Tom? Yea, with these eyes thou hast seen her, and therefore pull them out, for they will work thy bale" (I.iii.17-20). He calls Cupid "Cuprit" (sounds like "culprit") (I.iii.14). He impresses his agonies upon the audience and then writes "an aliquant love-pistle" (I.iii.28) to Dorothy: "and then she, hearing the grand verbosity of my scripture, will love me presently" (I.iii.29-30). He signs it "Signior Strumbo" (I.iii.49), has his servant Trompart deliver it, and immediately the lady appears. But, she says, "Truly, Master Strumbo, you speak too learnedly for me to understand the drift of your mind" (I.iii.83-84). Strumbo laments, "this is my luck, that when I most would, I cannot be understood, so that my great learning is an inconvenience unto me" (I.iii.87-89). He declares his love and asks to be accepted into her ... "familiarity" (I.iii.76 & 92), and she says, "If this be all, I am content" (I.iii.93). Strumbo tells us, "If any of you be in love, provide ye a capcase full of new coined words, and then shall you soon have the succado de labres [sweetness of the lips], and something else" (I.iii.96-99).
Brutus is now "entombed" (I.iv.2) and all have gathered for the wedding of Locrine and Guendoline.
If so you please, this day my love and I,Risus is the god of laughter.
Within the temple of Concordia,
Will solemnize our royal marriage.
. . .
Then frolic, lordings, to fair Concord's walls,
Where we will pass the day in knightly sports,
The night in dancing and in figured masks,
And offer to god Risus all our sports.