Essay on William Shakespeare's Plagiarism of King Lear

analytical Essay
1657 words
1657 words

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...

... middle of paper ... 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 & Co Ltd, 1957.

Satin, Joseph. "King Lear." Shakespeare and His Sources. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1966.

In this essay, the author

  • Analyzes how shakespeare plagiarized many sources in creating the tragedy play king lear, but it required his genius and intellect to place them together to create the true tragedy.
  • Analyzes how 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.
  • Analyzes how shakespeare's two stories, the faerie queen by edmund spenser and arcadia by sir philip sidney, influenced shakespeare in 1590.
  • Analyzes how arcadia provided shakespeare with the alternate plot, that of gloucester-edmund edgar, which provided the perfect parallel to the lear story.
  • Analyzes how shakespeare fit the story of the paphlagonian king straight into geoffrey of monmouth's beginning with the love test, merging flawlessly.
  • Opines that shakespeare should have written the fool out of king lear's play rather than letting him just disappear.
  • Explains that lear's madness may not have come from a literature source, but from the real life of bryan annesley.
  • Analyzes how goneril and regan pass lear between themselves in an effort to rid him of his knights and followers, which was his only request in relinquishing the crown.
  • Opines that shakespeare may have acted in king leir, but it is unknown when he first saw the text. shakespeare used the first three acts of the older play, and drastically changed the later sections.
  • Analyzes how shakespeare needed to have the tragic ending for his play, but had to be able to show it in a play form, without the passage of the seven years that was in the original story.
  • Compares shakespeare's play with the sources to be struck by his genius for picking out the most suitable incidents and characters and inventing others where no suitable ones were.
  • Analyzes how shakespeare's masterful use of many sources and creative imagination blended two separate stories into an intricate and pleasing story of redemption.
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