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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. booke entituled, The moste famous Chronicle Hystorie 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. See the extracts from these Entries at the end of the Prefaces, &c. vol. iii. 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 on which Shakspeare founded, &c. published for S. Leacroft, Charing-Cross.
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 England, 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 flattery, 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 fesh with her, as God by commandement had told, and nature had taught her, she was to cleave fast to, forsaking father and mother, kiffe and kinne. [Anonymous.] 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 groundwork 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 hystory, in Holinshed, The Mirrour for Magistrates, and the old anonymous play, is Cordeilla, Cordila, or Cordella, 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: “ Édgar, the son of Edmund, brother of Athelstane," &c.
This tragedy, I believe, was written in 1605. See An Attempt to ascertain the Order of Shakspeare's Plays, vol. ii.
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.
Of this play there are three quarto copies, all dated 1608, and printed for the same bookseller, Nathaniel Butter. That which I have distinguished by the letter A, has a direction to the place of sale, which is omitted in the two others. These correspond in their title-pages, but vary in their readings. They will be found particularly described in the list of early quartos, vol. ii. Mr. Steevens seems not to have been aware of more than two of these.
LEAR, King of Britain.
Knights attending on the King, Officers, Messen
gers, Soldiers, and Attendants.