« PreviousContinue »
not resign the government at once, but is deprived of his crown and right by the husbands of Gonerell and Ragan, who promised him a guard of sixty knights. This number is reduced by half by Gonerell, whereupon Leire goes to Cornwall to stay with Ragan, who after a time took away all his retinue but ten, then allowed him but five, and finally but one. Another indignity he had to suffer was that "the meaner upstart courtiers thought themselves his mates". And his daughters called him a doting fool". As in Holinshed, Leire flees to France, returns with Cordell and an army which proves victorious, and is restored to his kingdom. But generally this account bears a much closer resemblance than Holinshed's to the story of King Lear. Some of the details of the Mirror for Magistrates are paralleled in Shakespeare's play.1 This, however, is a circumstance on which too great stress is apt to be laid, for similarity or even identity of idea does not prove indebtedness. The most striking point is Cordell's allusion in the love-test to her future husband. But it happens that in Camden's Remains a similar story of the love-test is told of Ina, king of the West Saxons, and there the youngest daughter replies to her father "flatly, without flattery, that albeit she did love, honour, and reverence him, and so would whilst she lived, as much as nature and daughterly duty at the uttermost could expect, yet she did think that one day it would come to pass that she should affect another more fervently, meaning her husband, when she were married". Malone, who drew attention to this passage, thinks that Shakespeare had it in his thoughts rather than the lines in the Mirror for Magistrates, as Camden's book had been published recently, and as a portion near at hand "furnished him with a hint in Coriolanus". No definite opinion can be advanced; but the effect is to render Shakespeare's debt to the Mirror for Magistrates only more doubtful.
1 Perhaps the parallelisms are due to the intermediary of the early play, which resembles in several points the story in the Mirror for Magistrates. There would be less difficulty in showing the early dramatist's acquaintance with it than there is in showing Shakespeare's.
In one striking point Shakespeare is indebted to Spenser. In Holinshed's Chronicle the heroine's name is 'Cordeilla', in the Mirror for Magistrates it is 'Cordell', and in the early play it is 'Cordella': in King Lear the name has the beautiful form first adopted in the Faerie Queene.1 The two great Elizabethans are alike also in their division of Lear's kingdom, for neither makes Lear reserve to himself any share in the government, while in Holinshed and the Mirror for Magistrates the two elder daughters are not given at once their full share, and wrest the supreme power by force of arms. Shakespeare is sometimes said to be indebted to the simile2 in Spenser's account; but this is a point which cannot be pressed.
We are on surer ground in dealing with the early play, the anonymous True Chronicle History of King Leir. The main incidents of this drama, and in particular some of its deviations from the usual story, have their counterpart in King Lear. In one of his snatches early play. of song, Shakespeare's fool speaks of That lord that counsell'd thee to give away thy land” (i. 4. 132, 133). There is nothing in the rest of the play to explain the allusion; but we find that in the old play the love-test is proposed by a courtier, Skalliger by name, and that Lear at once resigns his whole kingdom to Gonorill and Ragan. Another courtier, Perillus, who is entirely the early dramatist's own invention, is the prototype of Kent. He pleads for Cordella, but in vain, and afterwards, with Kent's fidelity, attends in disguise on the old king. A messenger, and the miscarriage of letters, play an important part in the development of the plot. Again, in the pathetic scene in which Leir comes to recognize Cordella, he kneels to her (cf. iv. 7. 59). These are some of the most striking points of similarity in the development of the two plays. But indebtedness may be traced even in minor
1 Spenser once has the form 'Cordeill', apparently shortened from Holinshed's Cordeilla. It would appear that the exigencies of metre suggested 'Cordelia'. Spenser was undoubtedly indebted to Holinshed for the story.
2 See i. 4. 207. M 906)
matters. We seem to catch an echo now and then of some of the statements and phrases of the old play. Thus
"I am as kind as is the pellican,
That kils it selfe to save her young ones lives",
reminds us of Lear's reference to his "pelican daughters (iii. 4. 71). The allusion to Gonorill's " young bones
"poore soule, she breeds yong bones, And that is it makes her so tutchy sure
suggests ii. 4. 159, while the sentiment is the same as that expressed in ii. 4. 102–108. It is probable, too, that Perillus's description of his master as "the mirror of mild patience" had some bearing on the finer phrase which Shakespeare puts in the mouth of Lear himself, "the pattern of all patience" (iii. 2. 33). There can be no doubt that Shakespeare knew this early play. In itself it is of little account; and yet there are not wanting qualities which show that the story only awaited the master hand to touch it to finer issues.
It is also certain that Sidney's Arcadia1 is the source of the Gloucester story-the underplot which is interwoven with marvellous skill and is so striking a foil to the main theme. The prototypes of Gloucester and Edgar Arcadia. are the "Paphlagonian unkind king and his kind son", whose "pitiful state" is recounted in the second book of Sidney's pastoral romance. Though the story is reproduced in all its essentials, it has furnished Shakespeare with nothing but the bare facts of his underplot.2
But when all Shakespeare's borrowings are put together -even though account be taken of those matters in which
1 See the Appendix.
2 Some of the older critics, e.g. Johnson and Hazlitt, thought that the play was "founded upon an old ballad", King Leire and his Three Daughters. But the ballad, which is given in Percy's Reliques of Ancient Poetry, is of later date than the play.
his debt is very doubtful-how small a part do they form of King Lear! The intermingling of the Smallness Gloucester episode has entailed new incidents of Shakespeare's debt. and changed the working out of the catastrophe. The presence of Edmund enhances the villainy of Goneril and Regan, and their adulterous love leads to their deaths. In the older versions their part was ended with the victory of Lear. Shakespeare alone has given a sad ending to the play. Though, as we have seen, he incurred thereby the censure of eighteenth century critics and actors, it is the only ending that is artistically possible. That Lear should be restored and reign happily is fitting enough in the meagre stories of Holinshed or the early dramatist, but the tragic intensity, which Shakespeare could give the more easily by the addition of the Gloucester episode, makes any other ending than his lame and inept. There is no borrowing in the feigned madness of Edgar, nor in the real madness of Lear-the central circumstance, the very essence of the play; and the character of the Fool is Shakespeare's creation. In these points, as in all that gives the play its value, the only source is Shakespeare himself. In addition there is the whole setting, and in particular the storm which symbolizes the " great commotion in the moral world"; and there is the characterization, by which the shadows and puppets of the early stories are turned into flesh and blood.
4. CRITICAL APPRECIATION
The play of King Lear presents certain peculiarities in point of structure. It diverges considerably from the form of the Shakespearian dramas with which it is
generally associated, Hamlet, Othello, and The structure. Macbeth, and it is even more irregular than the first of these. It is unique in the importance of the opening scene. There is no introductory passage to explain or throw light on the story which is to be un
folded, or, as in Macbeth, to symbolize it. We are introduced straightway to the action on which the whole play depends. The first scene on this account has been stigmatized by Goethe as irrational; but the structure of the play emphasizes the fact that the deeds which call the play into being are in themselves of The first scene. little importance. King Lear recounts the consequences following inevitably on a rash and foolish Another arrangement of the opening scenes would have tended to give more prominence than the theme of the drama allowed to an act which is important only in so far as it is the occasion of others.
The importance of the underplot is the most notable point in the structure of King Lear. Its bearing on the whole play seems almost to mark it out as a survival of the discarded parallelisms of the earlier The underplot. comedies. But it has a purely artistic value, for it is added not in order to complicate the story, but to enforce its motive. It is in fact a triumphant vindication of the underplot, a characteristic of the romantic drama on which the formal classical critics looked askance. The Gloucester story has had its full share of condemnation by those who are prejudiced by recognized dramatic rules. Joseph Warton, for instance, singled out, as one of the "considerable imperfections" with which the play is chargeable, "the plot of Edmund against his brother, which distracts the attention and destroys the unity of the fable ".1 His other observations on King Lear contain passages of whole-hearted and eloquent praise, but on this point he was so blinded by the prevailing classicism of the eighteenth century as to fail to recognize that the underplot, far from distracting the attention, really adds to the intensity. Such objections have been answered once and for all in a memorable passage by Schlegel. 'The incorporation of the two stories has been censured as destructive of the
1 The Adventurer, No. 122, 5th January, 1754, Warton's third and concluding paper of "Observations on King Lear".