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KING LEAR bacist
WILLIAM ALDIS WRIGHT, M.A.
Bursar of Trinity College, Cambridge
AT THE CLARENDON PRESS
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The story of King Lear and his three daughters is told by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his ‘Historia Britonum,' bk. ii. ch. 11-15, and was probably derived by him from some Welsh legendary source. We are only concerned with the origin so far as regards Shakespeare, and this was undoubtedly Holinshed's Chronicle (i. 19, 20, ed. 1577). Holinshed refers to the so-called Matthew of Westminster and to Geoffrey of Monmouth as his authorities, and relates the history of Leir as follows:
'Leir the son of Baldud, was admitted Ruler ouer the Britaynes, in the yeere of the world. 3105. at what time Ioas raigned as yet in Iuda.
“This Leir was a prince of righte noble demeanor, gouerning his land and subiects in great wealth.
Hee made the towne of Caerleir nowe called Leicester, which standeth vpon y® Riuer of Sore.
It is written that he had by his wife three daughters without other issue, whose names were Gonorilla, Regan, and Cordilla, whiche daughters he greatly loued, but specially the yongest Cordeilla farre aboue the two elder. When this Leir therefore was come to great yeeres, and beganne to waxe vnweldy through age, he thought to vnderstand the affections of his daughters towards him, and preferre hir whome hee best loued, to the succession ouer the kingdome: therefore hee firste asked Gonorilla the eldest, howe well shee loued him: the which calling hir Gods to record, protested, that she loued him more than hir owne life, which by righte
and reason shoulde be most deere ynto hir. With whiche answer the father beeyng well pleased, turned to the second, and demanded of hir how well she loued him: whiche answered (confirming hir sayings with greate othes) that she loued him more than tong could expresse, and farre aboue all other creatures of the world. Then called he his yongest daughter Cordeilla before him, and asked of hir what accompt she made of him: ynto whome she made this answer as foiloweth : Knowing the great loue and fatherly zeale that towards me you haue always borne, (for the whiche I may not answere you otherwise than I thinke, and as my conscience leadeth me) I protest vnto you, that I haue loued you euer, and shall continually while I liue, loue you as my naturall father, and if you woulde more ynderstand of the loue that I beare you, assertayn your selfe, that so much as you haue, so much you are worth, and so much I loue you, and no more.
The father being nothing content with this answere, married his two eldest daughters, the one vnto the Duke of Cornewale named Henninus, and the other vnto the Duke of Albania, called Maglanus: and betwixt them after his death, hee willed and ordeyned that his land should be deuided, and the one halfe thereof immediately should be assigned to them in hande: but for the thirde daughter Cordeilla, he reserued nothing.
" Yet it fortuned, that one of the Princes of Gallia (which now is called France) whose name was Aganippus, hearing of the beautie, womanhoode, and good conditions of the sayd Cordeilla, desired to haue hir in marriage, and sente ouer to hir father, requiring that he myghte haue hir to wife: to whome aunswere was made, that hee mighte haue hys daughter, but for any dower hee coulde haue none, for all was promised and assured to hir other sisters already.
' Aganippus notwithstanding this aunswere of denyall to receyue any thyng by way of dower with Cordeilla, toke hir to wife, only moued thereto (I saye) for respecte of hir person and amiable vertues. Thys Aganippus was one of the twelue Kyngs that ruled Gallia in those dayes, as in the Erittish historie it is recorded. But to proceede, after that Leir was