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16 february 2024

Locrine, a goofy headlong carve-'em-up tragedy from 1595, is one of the stray items gathered into the Third Folio of Shakespeare's plays in 1664. Probably none of Locrine is by Shakespeare, and it really isn't worth reading. But I read it straight through anyway, at a good clip, and didn't not enjoy myself, let's put it that way.

Locrine has a sweet device whereby a character named Ate, or sometimes Atey, comes in after each act to tell you who gets killed in the next one. Ate prefaces each preview with a classical fable, to put the killings into metaphoric context. In fact, all the play's "high" characters constantly rant about classical myth and history. They don't seem to be able to get coffee or grab lunch without comparing themselves to Olympian gods and Trojan heroes.

Locrine himself, the sort-of hero (though he is neither decent, dynamic, nor interesting) is a bit of a Trojan. Locrine is the son of Brutus – not a Roman Brutus, but the Trojan-British Brutus, familiar from Geoffrey of Monmouth and the poet Layamon. (Or rather, in my case, familiar from facts I had to memorize to pass my graduate exams in medieval literature, because I don't recall ever laying eyes on a page of either Geoffrey or Layamon.)

Upon Brutus' death, Locrine becomes king of the Britons, but trouble is on the horizon. A troop of Scythians has somehow invaded Britain, under the leadership of Humber and his son Hubba. Britons and Scythians spend a few acts alternately killing each other. In other alternate scenes, an idiot named Strumbo does idiotic things in a comic-relief way unrelated to the plot. Then we shift gears into a more love/revenge-triangle mode. The victorious Locrine falls in love with Humber's impossible-to-pronounce girlfriend Estrild. This falling-in-love takes about four lines of dialogue, but it's a momentous four lines for Locrine, who is already married to a woman named Guendoline and now finds himself mortal enemies with her family.

In the final act, the dying comes so thick and fast that not even Prologue Guy can fully account for it all. Characters we haven't really registered show up just to throw themselves in a fen, or something.

As I say, this play has nothing going for it, but you have to admire its single-minded emphasis on people whacking one another over the head.

Locrine. 1595. Third Folio, 1664. Internet Shakespeare Editions.