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Essay on William Shakespeare’s Plagiarism of King Lear

Shakespeare’s Plagiarism of King Lear

In creating the tragedy play King Lear, William Shakespeare plagiarized many sources in getting the base-line story, but it required his genius and intellect to place them together to create the true tragedy with its multiple plot lines that his play turned out to be in the end. The story of King Lear (or as it started, King Leir) is first seen in literature in the year 1135, contained in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae. Other authors placed King Leir into their stories including; John Higgins in A Mirror for Magistrates (1574), by Warner in Albion’s England (1586), by Holinshed in The Second Book of the Historie of England (1577), and by Spencer in The Faerie Queen (1590). The most influential of all was probably The True Chronicle History of King Leir, which was anonymous. This play was performed as early as 1594, which is when it showed up in the “Stationers’ Register.” Kenneth Muir even suggested that Shakespeare “may have acted in it” (Muir 141). Shakespeare took the best of all the sources of King Leir, added his touches and personality, and created the masterpiece we enjoy today.

Geoffrey of Monmouth in Historia Regum Britanniae, gave us the description of King Lear and his three daughters, and also the basis for the love test. One major difference is that unlike Shakespeare’s Lear, Geoffrey’s Leir does not appear to be insane and has not lost control of his mind. In fact, he regains control of the kingdom, with the help of the King of France. According to Geoffrey Bullough, “This is no senile man” (Bullough 273). Whether Shakespeare actually read this account of the daughters and the love test or read it in a later version cannot be proven, but…

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…ly continuous was masterful. Despite the use of all the sources, the additions of the Fool, the earlier death of Cordelia, the plot of Edmund to take over the kingdom, and the blindness of Gloucester (literally) and Lear (emotionally) was pure genius of Shakespeare. The blending of both the sources and his genius led to a complete and amazing story of redemption, the same way that Jane Smiley used Shakespeare’s King Lear as a source to help create her Pulitzer Prize winning A Thousand Acres about a twentieth-century farm.

Works Cited

Bullough, Geoffrey. “King Lear”. Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973.

Muir, Kenneth. “Great Tragedies I: King Lear.” Shakespeare’s Sources. London: Methuen

King Lear’s Self Discovery

King Lear’s Self Discovery

Although King Lear is an estimable monarch, as revealed by the devotion of men such as Kent, he has serious character flaws. His power as king has encouraged him to be proud and impulsive, and his oldest daughters Regan and Goneril reflect that “The best and soundest of his time hath been but rash…” and that “he hath ever but slenderly known himself” (1.1.297-298, 295-296). When Lear decides to divide his kingdom between his three daughters, Cordelia, Goneril, and Regan in order to have less responsibility in his old age, he creates a situation in which his eldest daughters gain authority over him and mistreat him. Lear is unable to cope with his loss of power and descends into madness. While the circumstances in which Lear finds himself are instrumental in the unfolding of this tragedy, it is ultimately not the circumstances themselves, but King Lear’s rash reactions to them that lead to his downfall. In this downfall, Lear is forced to come to terms with himself as a mortal man.

Lear’s self-destruction begins when he stands before the court to divide his kingdom and commands his daughters to profess their love for him. Cordelia, his youngest and most favored daughter, idealistically believes that words are unnecessary in the expression of love and refuses to profess her feelings. King Lear had planned to give the most land to Cordelia and to stay with her in his old age and he states of Cordelia, “I loved her most, and thought to set my rest/ On her kind nursery” (1.1.125-126). The king does not understand the motives behind Cordelia’s silence and is shocked by her unexpected reaction to his demand. He loses sight of his careful preparation for his future and in his…

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…h. This gesture is Lear’s final relinquishment of the royalty he no longer values, as well as his decisive welcoming of mortality as it provides him with an escape from his grief.

Works Cited and Consulted

Artaud, Antonin. The Theatre and Its Double. Grove Press Inc. New York. 1958

Billington, Michael. Gielgud: His Greatest Triumphs. “The Age.” May 24, 2000.

Brook, Peter. The Empty Space. 1st Touchstone edition. Simon and Schuster Inc. 1996.

Noguchi, Isamu. Isamu Noguchi On the Dance. “Texts by Isamu Noguchi.”

Partee, Dr. Morriss Henry. Shakespeare Improved. University of Utah English Dept.

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of King Lear. Jay L. Halio. Ed. The New Cambridge Shakespeare. Cambridge University Press. New York. 1992.

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of King Lear. Ed. Russell Fraser. New York: Penguin, 1998.

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