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THIS tragedy was entered in the books of the Stationers' Company, Nov. 26, 1607, and is there mentioned as having been played the preceding Christmas before his majesty, at Whitehall. It must have been written after 1603, as Shakspeare has borrowed several fantastick names of spirits, mentioned in this play, from Harsnett's Declaration of Popish Impostors, which was published that year. King Lear was not printed till 1608.
There was an old play on the same subject, which had been in possession of the stage for many years before the production of Shakspeare's tragedy; but from which our author has copied one passage only. The story of King Lear and his three Daughters, is found in Holinshed's Chronicle; and was originally told by Geoffry of Monmouth, who says that Lear was the eldest son of Bladud, and "nobly governed his country for sixty years." According to that historian, he died about 800 years before Christ. Shakspeare has taken the hint for the behaviour of the steward, and the reply of Cordelia to her father concerning her future marriage, from the Mirror of Magistrates, 1587. According to Steevens, the episode of Gloster and his sons is borrowed from, Sidney's Arcadia.
SCENE I.-A 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 division of the kingdom, it appears not which of the dukes he values most; for equalities are so weigh'd, that curiosity in neither can make choice of either's moiety.<
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.d
Glo. But I have, sir, a son by order of law, some year
in the division of the kingdom,] There is something of obscurity 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 proportions 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.-JOHNSON.
curiosity-] i. e. Scrupulousness, or exactest scrutiny.
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.STEEVENS.
proper.] i. e. Handsome.
some year—] i. e. About a 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 and sue to know you, 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, Gloster.
Glo. I shall, my liege.
[Exeunt GLOSTER and EDMUND.
We have this hour a constant will to publish
express our darker purpose.] Darker is more secret. The sense is, We have already made known in some measure our desire of parting the kingdom; we will now discover what has not been told before, the reasons by which we shall regulate the partition. This interpretation will justify or palliate the exordial dialogue.-JOHNSON.
-fast intent-] i. e. Determined resolution.
constant will-] Constant is firm, determined. Constant will is the certa voluntas of Virgil.-STEEVENS.