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Welsh, French, and English histories of Britain were derived, directly or indirectly, from this Latin history. The first to tell these tales in English verse was Layamon, son of Leovenath, priest of the Arley Regis, in Worcestershire, on the right bank of the Severn, who flourished at the beginning of the thirteenth century, and whose English Brut was based on Wace's French Geste des Bretons— a versified translation of Geoffrey's history. At the end of the century the story figures again in Robert of Gloucester's Metrical Chronicle; in the fourteenth century Robert of Brunne, in the fifteenth John Hardyng, re-told in verse these ancient British stories. In the sixteenth century we have Warner's Albion's England-the popular metrical history of the period; we have also the prose chronicles of Fabyan, Rastell, Grafton, and over and above all, Holinshed's famous Historie of England; the story of Leir is to be found in all these books. Three versions of the tale at the end of the sixteenth century show that the poetical possibilities of the subject were recognized before Shakespeare set thereon the stamp of his genius: 2— (i) in the Mirour for Magistrates "Queene Cordila" tells her life's "tragedy," how "in dispaire" she slew herself "the year before Christ, 800"; (ii) Spenser, in Canto X of the Second Book of the Faery Queene, summarizes, in half a dozen stanzas, the story of "Cordelia"-this form of the name, used as a variant of "Cordeill" for metrical purposes, occurring here for the first time; the last stanza may be quoted to illustrate the closing of the story in the pre-Shakespearean versions:
"So to his crown she him restor❜d again
In which he died, made ripe for death by eld,
Who peacefully the same long time did weld,
1 In Camden's Remains the "Lear" story is told of the West-Saxon King Ina; in the Gesta Romanorum Theodosius takes the place of King Lear.
2 The ballad of King Leir, and his three Daughters (vide Percy's Reliques) is, in all probability, later than Shakespeare's play.
And all men's hearts in due obedience held;
Till weary of that wretched life herself she hong";
(iii) of special interest, however, is the pre-Shakespearean drama, which was entered in the books of the Stationers' Company as early as 1594 under the title of The moste famous Chronicle historye of LEIRE, Kinge of England, and his Three Daughters, but evidently not printed till the year 1605, when perhaps its publication was due to the popularity of the newer Chronicle History on the same subject; "The | True Chronicle Hi | story of King LEIR
and his three daughters, Gonorill, Ragan, and Cordella. As it hath bene divers and sundry times lately acted. LONDON printed by Simon Stafford for John Wright, and are to bee sold at his shop at Christes Church dore, next Newgate- | Market, 1605." 1
It is noteworthy that the play was entered in the Registers on May 8 as "the tragicall historie of Kinge Leir,” though the play is anything but a "tragedy"—its ending is a happy one. It looks, indeed, as though the original intention of the publishers was to palm off their "Leir" as identical with the great tragedy of the day.
But however worthless it may seem when placed in juxtaposition with "the most perfect specimen of the dramatic art existing in the world," 2 yet this less ambitious and humble production is not wholly worthless, if only for "a certain childlike sweetness" in the portraiture of "faire Cordella,"
"Myrrour of vertue, Phoenix of our age!
Too kind a daughter for an unkind father!"
It may be pronounced a very favorable specimen of the popular "comedies" of the period to which it belonged
1 Vide “Six Old Plays on which Shakespeare founded his Measure for Measure," etc.; Hazlitt's Shakespeare's Library, etc.; an abstract of the play is given by Furness, pp. 393-401.
2 Shelley, Defence of Poetry, Essays, &c., 1840, p. 20
(circa 1592), with its conventional classicism, its characteristic attempts at humor, its rhyming couplets; like so many of its class, it has caught something of the tenderness of the Greenish drama, and something-rather less -of the aspiration of the Marlowan.1 "With all its defects," says Dr. Ward, "the play seems only to await the touch of a powerful hand to be converted into a tragedy of supreme effectiveness; and while Shakespeare's genius nowhere exerted itself with more transcendent force and marvelous versatility, it nowhere found more promising materials ready to its command.” 2
Yet Shakespeare's debt to the old play was of the slightest, and some have held that he may not even have read it, but in all probability he derived therefrom at least a valuable hint for the character of Kent, whose prototype Perillus is by no means unskillfully drawn; perhaps, too, the original of the steward Oswald is to be found in the courtier Scaliger; again it is noteworthy that messengers with incriminating letters play an important part in the earlier as in the later drama; and possibly the first rumblings of the wild storm-scene of Lear may be heard in the
1 Here are a few lines-perhaps "the salt of the old play"-by way of specimen:-[the Gallian king is wooing Cordella disguised as a Palmer],
"King. Your birth's too high for any but a king.
King. O, but you never can endure their life
2 History of English Dramatic Literature, Vol. I., p. 126.
mimic thunder which in "Leir" strikes terror in the heart of the assassin hired to murder king and comrade "the parlosest old men that ere he heard."
There is in the Chronicle History no hint of the underplot of Lear, the almost parallel story of Gloster and Edmund, whereby Shakespeare subtly emphasizes the leading motif of the play; the vague original thereof is to be found in Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia (Book II, pp. 133–158, ed. 1598), (“the pitifull state and story of the Paphlagonian vnkinde king, and his kind sonne, first related by the son, then by the blind father").
DURATION OF ACTION
The time of the play, according to Mr. Daniel (vide Transactions of New Shakespeare Soc., 1877-1879), covtrs ten days, distributed as follows:
Day 1. Act. I, sc. i. Day 2. Act I, sc. ii. a fortnight.
An interval of something less than
Day 3. Act I, sc. iii, iv.
Day 5. Act II, sc. iii, iv; Act III, sc. i-vi.
Day 8. Act IV, sc. iii.
Perhaps an interval of a day or
Day 9. Act IV, sc. iv, v, vi.
Day 10. Act IV, sc. vii; Act V, sc. i-iii.
"The longest period, including intervals, that can be allowed for this play is one month; though perhaps little more than three weeks is sufficient."
By HENRY NORMAN HUDSON, A.M.
The earliest notice that has reached us of The Tragedy of King Lear is an entry at the Stationers' by Nathaniel Butter and John Busby, dated November 26, 1607: "A book called Mr. William Shakespeare's History of King Lear, as it was played before the King's Majesty at Whitehall, upon St. Stephen's night at Christmas last, by his Majesty's Servants playing usually at the Globe on the Bank-side." This ascertains the play to have been acted on December 26, 1606. Three editions of the tragedy were also published in 1608, one of which, a quarto pamphlet of forty-one leaves, has a title-page reading as follows: "MR. WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE: His True Chronicle History of the life and death of King Lear and his three Daughters. With the unfortunate life of Edgar, son and heir to the Earl of Gloster, and his sullen and assumed humor of Tom of Bedlam. As it was played before the King's Majesty at Whitehall upon St. Stephen's night in Christmas Holidays, by his Majesty's Servants playing usually at the Globe on the Bank-side. London: Printed for Nathaniel Butter, and are to be sold at his shop in Paul's Church-yard, at the sign of the Pied Bull, near St. Austin's Gate. 1608."
The title-pages of the other two quarto impressions vary from this only in omitting the publisher's address. As regards the text, the differences of the three quartos, though sometimes important, are seldom more than verbal. Mr. Collier, who seems to have examined them with great care, informs us that those without the publisher's address are more accurate than the other; and he thinks that the