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THE story of this tragedy had found its way into many ballads and other metrical pieces; yet Shakspeare seems to have been more indebted to The True Chronicle History of King Leir and his Three Daughters, Gonorill. Ragan, and Cordella, 1605, (which I have already published at the end of a collection of the quarto copies) than to all the other performances together. It appears from the books at Stationers' Hall, that some play on this subject was entered by Edward White, May 14, 1594. • A booke entituled, The moste famous Chronicle H storie of Leire King of England, and his three Daughters." A piece with the same title is entered again, May 8, 1605; and again Nov. 26, 1607. From The Mirror of Magistrates, 1587, Shakspeare has, however, taken the hint for the behaviour of the Steward, and the reply of Cordelia to her father concerning her future marriage. The episode of Gloster and his sons must have been borrowed from Sidney's Arcadia, as I have not found the least trace of it in any other work. I have referred to these pieces, wherever our author seems more immediately to have followed them in the course of my notes on the play. For the first King Lear, see likewise Six old Plays of which Shakspeare founded, &c. published for S. Leacroft, CharingCross.
The reader will also find the story of K. Lear in the second book and 10th canto of Spenser's Fairy Queen, and in the 15th chapter of the third book of Warner's Albion's Ěngland, 1602.
The whole of this play, however, could not have been written till after 1603. Harsnet's pamphlet to which it contains so many references, (as will appear in the notes) was not published till that year.
Steevens. Camden, in his Remains, (p. 306, ed. 1674,) tells a similar story to this of Leir or Lear, of Ina king of the West Saxons; which, if the thing ever happened, probably was the real origin of the fable. See under the head of Wise Speeches. Percy.
The story told by Camden in his Remaines, 4to. 1605, is this: “ Ina, king of West Saxons, had three daughters, of whom upon a time he demanded whether they did love him, and so would do during their lives, above all others : the two elder sware deeply they would ; the youngest, but the wisest, told her father flatly, without Aattery, that albeit she did love, honour, and reverence him, and so would whilst she lived, as much as nature and daughterly dutie at the uttermost could expect, yet she did think that one day it would come to passe that she should affect another more fervently, meaning her husband, when she were married; who being made one flesh with her, as God by commandment had told, and nature had taught her, she was to cleave fast to, forsaking father and mother, kiffe and kinne. [Ano. nymous.] One referreth this to the daughters of king Leir.”
It is, I think, more probable that Shakspeare had this passage in his thoughts, when he wrote Cordelia's reply concerning her future marriage, than The Mirrour for Magistrates, as Camden's book was published recently before he appears to have composed this play, and that portion of it which is entitled Wise Speeches, where the foregoing passage is found, furnished him with a hint in Coriolanus.
The story of King Leir and his three daughters was originally told by Geoffrey of Monmouth, from whom Holinshed transcribed it; and in his Chronicle Shakspeare had certainly read it, as it occurs not far from that of Cymbeline; though the old play on the same subject probably first suggested to him the idea of making it the ground-work of a tragedy.
Geoffrey of Monmouth says, that Leir, who was the eldest son of Bladud, " nobly governed his country for sixty years." According to that historian, he died about 800 years before the birth of Christ.
The name of Leir's youngest daughter, which in Geoffrey's history, in Holinshed, The Mirrour for Magistrates, and the old anony. mous play, is Cordeilla, Cordila, or Corella, Shakspeare found softened into Cordelia by Spenser in his Second Book, Canto X. The names of Edgar and Edmund were probably suggested by Holinshed. See his Chronicle, Vol. I, p. 122: “ Edgar the son of Edmund, brother of Athelstane,” &c
This tragedy, I believe, was written in 1605.
As the episode of Gloster and his sons is undoubtedly formed on the story of the blind king of Paphlagonia in Sidney's Arcadia, I shall subjoin it, at the end of the play. Malone.
Lear, king of Britain.
Knights attending on the king, officers, messengers, soldiers,
ACT I.....SCENE I.
<4 Room of State in King Lear's Palace.
Enter KENT, GLOSTER, and EDMUND. Kent. I thought, the king had more affected the duke of Albany, than Cornwall.
Glo. It did always seem so to us: but now, in the divi. sion of the kingdom, it appears not which of the dukes he values most; for equalities? are so weighed, that curiosity in neither3 can make choice of either's moiety.4
1 in the division of the kingdom,] There is something of ob. scurity or inaccuracy in this preparatory scene. The king has already divided his kingdom, and yet when he enters he examines his daughters, to discover in what proportion he should divide it. Perhaps Kent and Gloster only were privy to his design, which he still kept in his own hands, to be changed or performed as subsequent reasons should determine him. Fohnson.
equalities -] So, the first quartos; the folio reads-qualities. Johnson.
Either may serve ; but of the former I find an instance in the Flower of Friendship, 1568: After this match made, and equalities considered,” &c. Steevens.
3 that curiosity in neither - Curiosity, for exactest scrutiny. The sense of the whole sentence is, The qualities and properties of the several divisions are so weighed and balanced against one another, that the exactest scrutiny could not determine in preferring one share to the other. Warburton. , Curiosity is scrupulousness, or captiousness. So, in The Taming of the Shrew, Act IV, sc. iv:
- For curious I cannot be with you." Steevens. See Timon of Athens, Act IV, sc. jii; and my note on the fourth line of Edmund's speech in sc. ii, of this tragedy. Malone.
4- of either's moiety. The strict sense of the word moiety is half, one of two equal parts; but Shakspeare commonly uses it for any part or division :
“ Methinks my moiety north from Burton here,
“In quantity equals not one of yours :” and here the division was into three parts. Steevens. Heywood likewise uses the word moiety as synonymous to any part
Kent. Is not this your son, my lord ?
Glo. His breeding, sir, hath been at my charge: I have so often blushed to acknowledge him, that now I am brazed to it.
Kent. I cannot conceive you.
Glo. Sir, this young fellow's mother could: whereupon she grew round-wombed; and had, indeed, sir, a son for her cradle, ere she had a husband for her bed. Do you smell a fault?
Kent. I cannot wish the fault undone, the issue of it being so proper.5
Glo. But I have, sir, a son by order of law, some year elder than this, who yet is no dearer in my account: 'though this knave came somewhat saucily into the world before he was sent for, yet was his mother fair; there was good sport at his making, and the whoreson must be acknowledged.- Do you know this noble gentleman, Edmund ?
Edm. No, my lord. Glo. My lord of Kent: remember him hereafter as my honourable friend.
Edm. My services to your lordship. Kent. I must love you, and sue to know you better. Edm. Sir, I shall study deserving. Glo. He hath been out nine years, and away he shall again :-The king is coming. [Trumpets sound within. Enter LEAR, CORNWALL, ALBANY, GONERIL, REGAN,
CORDELIA, and Attendants. · Lear. Attend the lords of France and Burgundy, Glos
ter. Glo. I shall, my liege. [Exeunt Glo, and Edm.
or portion. “ I would unwillingly part with the greatest moiety of my own means and fortunes.” History of Women, 1624. See Vol. VIII, p. 258, n. 1. Malone
15 — being so proper.] i.e. handsome. See Vol. IV, p. 322, a. 1. Malone.
6 some year elder than this.] Some year, is an expression used when we speak indefinitely. Steevens.
I do not agree with Mr. Sieevens that some year is an expression used when we speak indefinitely. I believe it means about a year; and accordingly Edmand says, in the 1.54th page
“ For that I am some twelve or fourteen moonshines
Lag of a brother.” M. Mason.