The Kingdoms of Lear in Tate and Shakespeare: A Restoration Reconfiguration of Archipelagic Kingdoms


Atsuhiko Hirota
University of Kyoto


  1. Nahum Tate’s The History of King Lear (printed in 1681) has long been regarded as an inferior rewriting of Shakespeare’s masterpiece. This estimation, however, gave way especially in the last decade of the twentieth century to a more positive one that sees the work as representative of a number of political adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays written during the time of the Exclusion Crisis—a political struggle, running from 1678 through 1681, between Charles II and Parliament over the latter’s attempt to exclude the Duke of York (later James II) from succeeding to the English throne.[1] More recently, John Kerrigan, among others, contended that the entire corpus of seventeenth-century literature ought to be re-evaluated from the archipelagic perspective—with reference to interactions between the ethnic, religious and national groups around the “Atlantic Archipelago” including Great Britain and Ireland.[2]

  2. In this paper I join in the re-evaluation of Tate’s King Lear, especially in terms of this archipelagic framework. I believe this approach is appropriate to this play because Shakespeare’s King Lear is in itself an archipelagic play. It is, moreover, a reconfiguration of the often archipelagic stories of King Leir.[3] The story of Leir and his daughters originates in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Britain (Historia Regum Britanniae). This tale was repeatedly rewritten and reconfigured in various Elizabethan texts, among which are the presumed sources of Shakespeare’s play, namely The Mirrour for Magistrates (1559), Holinshed’s Chronicles (1577, 87), The Faerie Queene (1590) and The History of King Leir (1605), an anonymous play probably first performed by the Queen’s Men. While references to the King of Hibernia (i.e. the King of Ireland) particularly reveal the archipelagic dimension of King Leir, Shakespeare’s King Lear is even more conspicuously archipelagic and Jacobean: Shakespeare’s re-introduction of the Duke of Albany into the story locates this play in the Jacobean context of Anglo-Scottish relations. The contemporary political relevance of Tate’s King Lear is also archipelagic because, as Tim Harris observes, the Tories viewed the Exclusion Crisis “within a multiple-kingdom framework” rather than “a purely English perspective” (239). Here I focus on Tate’s representations of the Dukes of Albany, Cornwall and Burgundy. The political situations in which these three dukes are located in Tate’s play differ from those in Shakespeare’s play. I argue that this difference characterizes Tate’s reconfiguration of Shakespeare as a response to the altered political context of the Exclusion Crisis.

    The Duke of Albany’s Claim for his One-Third of the Kingdom

  3. Tate’s King Lear ends happily: after a civil conflict (rather than a war with the invading French force), Lear and Cordelia are rescued by Edgar and the Duke of Albany, the old king is restored to the throne he had once given up, and Cordelia is to inherit the throne and marry Edgar. By then, the villains—Edmund, Goneril, Regan and the Duke of Cornwall—are all dead (as in Shakespeare’s play) and the Duke of Albany is alone in charge of the forces that captured Lear and Cordelia. With this happy ending, Tate returns to the tradition of earlier Leir narratives: where, for example, in the chronicles of Geoffrey of Monmouth and Holinshed, Leir recovers the throne and Cordelia inherits the kingdom.[4] Thus, he reconfigures Shakespeare’s play by reversing Shakespeare’s tragic reconfiguration of the Leir tale—a reconfiguration by which Shakespeare leaves Lear and Cordelia dead at the end of the play.

  4. In The History of King Leir, the husbands of Gonorill and Ragan are the Kings of Cornwall and Cambria, respectively. At the end of the play their forces are defeated by the King of Gallia (who remains in Britain and on stage to the end). Cornwall says, “There is no meanes of safety but by flight, / And therefore ile to Cornwall with my Queene” (2618-19). Cambria also says that he is taking a horse (2624). With the aid of the Gallic force, Leir recovers his original kingdom, which he had divided and given to his sons-in-law.[5] The Kings of Cornwall and Cambria, however, also retain their original kingdoms, so that Britain remains divided into three.

  5. Shakespeare’s play differs radically from King Leir in that it restores Britain to one kingdom and gives that kingdom over to Albany. Shakespeare’s Albany declares the resignation of his power to Lear:
              You lords and noble friends, know our intent.
              What comfort to this great decay may come
              Shall be applied; for us, we will resign    
              During the life of this old majesty
              To him our absolute power; (Q: scene 24. 290-94; F: 5.3.271-74)[6]
    Here Albany returns to Lear his “absolute power” as long as the old king lives. As Lear dies some 15 lines later (in both texts), it would be natural to presume that Albany soon recovers this “absolute power” at the end of the play. What part of Britain does Shakespeare’s Albany mean when he speaks of the temporary resignation of his “absolute power”? One possibility is that Albany is talking of Britain in its entirety, as implied by the term “absolute.” If such is the case, he would have no ambition to retain the one-third given to him and Goneril. The term “absolute” might also indicate that Albany is returning his unlimited sovereign power to Lear. This interpretation is supported by his use of the royal plural. When he hears of the deaths of Goneril and Regan, Albany says, “This justice of the heavens, that makes us tremble, / Touches us not with pity” (225-26; 205-6). In this speech he uses the royal plural for the first time. With the deaths of the sisters, Albany assumes that he is now the sole ruler of Britain. The repetition of “us” in this speech emphasizes this change. After Lear’s death, Albany says to Kent and Edgar, “Friends of my soul, you twain / Rule in this kingdom, and the gored state sustain” (313-14; 294-95). While the use of the singular “my” indicates that he is talking as a friend rather than a sovereign, what Albany is offering to Kent and Edgar in these lines, according to Stanley Wells, is not entirely certain: “It is not clear whether Albany is inviting Kent and Edgar to share the rule with him (perhaps as members of his council), or to resume their feudal roles” (274). Yet the singular “kingdom” suggests that Albany is again talking of the entire realm. Albany resigns his rule to Lear and returns again to being a mere duke as he was before the division of the kingdom(s). Then, with the death of the old king, Albany recovers all of Britain.[7] Shakespeare thus dramatizes the re-unification of a kingdom in the period when the union of England and Scotland was a contemporary issue (although James VI and I’s union project had been rejected by the Commons by 1607).

  6. Pointing out the difference between Shakespeare and Tate in their respective characterizations of the Duke of Albany, C. B. Hardman observes the potential association, in Tate’s play, between the Duke of Albany and James Duke of York, whom Parliament sought to block from succeeding to the English throne. He writes, “Albany’s presence is even less apparent in Tate than in the Folio, but criticism of him is muted, he is less overtly ineffectual, and his cuckolding is less obvious” (921).[8] In addition, Albany’s characterization changes the play’s political outcome: in Tate’s final scene, when Lear says to Albany after being rescued by the duke, “Thou, inhumane Lord” (5.6.64), Albany replies, “Since then [since the time he discovered Goneril’s villainy] my Injuries, Lear, fall in with Thine: / I have resolv’d the same Redress for Both [Lear and Cordelia]” (86-87).[9] Cordelia urges him to speak further and Albany says:
              The Troops by Edmund rais’d, I have disbanded;
              Those that remain are under my Command.
              What Comfort may be brought to cheer your Age
              And heal your savage Wrongs, shall be apply’d;
              For to your Majesty we do Resign
              Your Kingdom, save what Part your Self conferr’d
              On Us in Marriage. (90-96)
    In contrast to Shakespeare’s Albany, Tate’s Albany “resigns” the kingdom “save what Part your Self conferr’d / On Us in Marriage,” namely, except for the third of it given to him and Goneril in the opening scene of the play. This indicates that he returns to Lear the following two-thirds of the kingdom: 1) the “ample Third” (1.1.91) which Lear gave to Regan; and 2) the “richer Third” (98) which Lear intended for Cordelia and “invest[ed] jointly with full Right” (139) to Albany and Cornwall, following Cordelia’s refusal to declare how much she loves her father. The kingdom Cordelia inherits and will reign over with Edgar consists of these two parts of Lear’s original kingdom. The ending of Tate’s King Lear is a happy one in the sense that the evil characters are punished with their deserved deaths and the legitimate sovereign is restored. Yet the once divided kingdom will remain divided. The restoration of the old monarch is not without vicissitude.

  7. Tate’s ending suggests the separation of Scotland from England, an issue especially relevant to the political situation during the Exclusion Crisis. Kerrigan observes that the court party argued “that, since the Scots were loyal to the Duke of York, any change in the succession would encourage Scotland to separate from England and whip up another round in the wars of the three kingdoms” (288). James Duke of York, who also held the title of Duke of Albany, was in Scotland from November 1679 to February 1680 and again from October 1680 to March 1682. During these visits, according to Tim Harris, he “played an active role at the head of the government” in Scotland (330) and consolidated the support of the Scots.[10] Of course, Tate’s Albany is not James (just as Cornwall is not Charles, who “held the dukedom of Cornwall”).[11] Yet, the title of Duke of Albany could have reminded the contemporary audience of the Scottish factor in the political situation of the time.

    The Feud between the Dukes of Cornwall and Cambria

  8. In Shakespeare’s King Lear the structure of Lear’s kingdom is simple. Although there is a reference to “followers” in the Quarto and “attendants” in the Folio in the opening scene of the play, the only British aristocrats with any significance are two dukes (Albany and Cornwall) and two earls (Gloucester and Kent).[12] It is as if Lear’s court is reduced to his families and this handful of aristocrats. Moreover, in Shakespeare’s play the war is fought between the French force led by Cordelia and the British forces (the alliance between Goneril-Albany and Regan-Edmund). No other power is mentioned.

  9. The structure of Lear’s kingdom in Tate’s play is more complex. Firstly, there are the “Commons.” The frequent references to them as a political power recall the 1640s as well as the early 1680s, when the king and Parliament were in confrontation. Tate’s Edmund says at the opening of Act 3 scene 2, just after Lear strays into the heath in the storm:
    The Riots of these proud imperial Sisters
    Already have impos’d the galling Yoke
    Of Taxes, and hard Impositions on
    The drudging Peasants Neck, who bellow out
    Their loud Complaints in Vain—Triumphant Queens!
    With what Assurance do they tread the Crowd. (3-8)
    Edmund explains that the heavy taxation imposed by Goneril and Regan as a result of their wasteful living has angered the commoners. While their “Complaints” are vain, if loud, the situation is changing. Still believing that his bastard son is loyal to him, Gloster says to Edmund:
    This change in the State sits uneasie. The Commons
    Repine aloud at their female Tyrants,
    Already they Cry out for the re-installment
    Of their good old King, where Injuries
    I fear will inflame ’em into Mutiny. (3.2.32-36)
  10. In Tate’s play the Commons emerge as a power strong enough to influence a struggle amongst aristocrats. Hearing about the Commons’ potential mutiny, Edmund says, “ ’Tis to be hopt, not fear’d” (37). Gloster responds:

    Thou hast it Boy, ’tis to be hopt indeed,
    On me they cast their Eyes, and hourly Court me
    To lead ’em on, and whilst this Head is Mine
    I am Theirs, a little covert Craft, my Boy,
    And then for open Action, ’twill be Employment
    Worthy such honest daring Souls as Thine.
    Thou, Edmund, art my trusty Emissary,
    Haste on the Spur at the first break of day
    With these Dispatches to the Duke of Combray;
    You know what mortal Feuds have always flam’d
    Between this Duke of Cornwall’s Family and his;
    Full Twenty thousand Mountaners
    Th’ inveterate Prince will send to our Assistance. (38-50)       

  11. Gloster reveals that the Commons have already asked him to be their leader and that the alliance between the Commons and himself has been established. Then he orders Edmund to go to the Duke of Cambria (“Combray”) to seek assistance. Gloster expects that the duke will send twenty thousand Welshmen (“Mountaners”) to their aid, as his family has been a traditional enemy of the Duke of Cornwall’s. If titles such as Cornwall and Gloster indicate their respective holders’ direct connection to these places—just as the reference to “Mountaners” reveals the Duke of Cambria’s connection to Wales—the strategic importance of Gloucester is obvious. It is a point of contact between Wales and Cornwall, and between these regions and the rest of Britain. Thus, the Cambria-Gloster-Commons alliance will effectively cut off the connection between Cornwall and the main body of Britain. The alliance between the Duke of Cambria and the Commons might even be analogous to the alliance between the Duke of Monmouth (a Welsh title) and the Whigs in the Exclusion Crisis.[13]

  12. The Duke of Cambria does not appear on stage. Yet the audience is reminded of him when later Regan says sadistically to Gloster after she and her husband have plucked out his eyes, “There—read, and save the Cambrian Prince a Labour, / If thy eyes fail thee call for Spectacles” (3.5.60-61). Regan thrusts the blind Gloster his letter to the Duke of Cambria, which Edmund, betraying his father, had handed to the Duke of Cornwall. (The stage direction at the beginning of this scene indicates that the Duke of Cornwall has the letter in his hand.) The Duke of Cornwall further says, “Turn out that Eye-less Villain, let him smell / His way to Cambray, throw this slave upon a Dunghill” (66-67). Tate thus makes Cambria an important, albeit absent, player in Britain’s political rivalries.

  13. References to the Duke of Cambria reveal that both the status of the Duke of Cornwall and the political landscape of Lear’s kingdom in Tate’s play differ from those in Shakespeare’s play, which itself differs from its apparent primary source texts. In King Leir, Gonoril marries the King of Cornwall and Ragan the King of Cambria, while the King of Hibernia is Leir’s originally intended husband for Cordella: the extent of Leir’s Albion and his means of ensuring his kingdom’s security are thus both analogous to those of Elizabethan England: Scotland is excluded and Ireland is the main target of the kingdom’s security policy. Shakespeare changes the titles of the husbands of Lear’s two elder daughters, thereby rearranging the political geography: in his play, the Dukes of Albany and Cornwall represent the North and the West, respectively. Shakespeare’s choice of the Dukes of Albany and Cornwall is a return to the tradition that began with Geoffrey of Monmouth and ran through Holinshed’s Chronicles. In The History of the Kings of Britain, Gonorilla and Regau marry Maglaunus Duke of Scotland (dux Albaniae) and Henuinus Duke of Cornwall respectively (40-41). Holinshed’s Chronicles changes the names of the husbands slightly but follows Geoffrey in their titles. The “Second Book of the History of England” recounts, “The father [Leir] ... married his two eldest daughters, the one unto Hennius the duke of Cornewall and the other unto Maglanus the duke of Albania” (Bullough 317). Here it is not specified which daughter marries which duke.

  14. Cambria is introduced in The Myrrour for Magistrates, in which Gonoril marries an unnamed King of Albany and Ragan Hinnine Prince of Camber and Cornwall (91-95). In Briton Moniments, in The Faerie Queene Book 2, Spenser makes Gonoril’s husband Maglan King of Scots and an unnamed husband of Regan King of Cambria (canto 10 stanza 29).[14] In this tradition, Cornwall and Cambria are interchangeable and represent the West, with the dukes of these regions as spouses of one or the other of the elder daughters paired against the dukes of Albania/Scotland, who represent the North. By the introduction of the Duke of Cambria as a rival of the Duke of Cornwall, Tate—like the author(s) of King Leir—does not characterize Cornwall as the sole representative of the West: he is but one of the western dukes. With the introduction of this rivalry, Tate makes the political situation of the West more complex than in Shakespeare’s play.

  15. The rivalry between the Dukes of Cornwall and Cambria also underlies the political aspect of Cornwall’s marriage to Regan because his long-term enemy Cambria must be the primary concern of Cornwall for the security of his dukedom. The relationship between Lear and Cornwall in Tate’s play is not the same as that in Shakespeare’s either. Tate’s Lear begins with the bastard Edmund’s soliloquy arguing his right to seize Edgar’s inheritance (1.1.1-21). This opening suggests the contemporary significance of Tate’s play because it recalls the political role of the Duke of Monmouth (an illegitimate son of Charles II) in the Exclusion Crisis. Edmund’s opening speech replaces the dialogue between the Earls of Kent and Gloucester that opens Shakespeare’s play:
    KENT  I thought the King had more affected the Duke of Albany than Cornwall.
    GLOUCESTER  It did always seem so to us, but now in the division of the kingdoms [F: kingdom] it appears not which of the Dukes he values most: for equalities are so weighed that curiosity in neither can make choice of either’s moiety. (1. 1-6; 1.1.1-6)
    This dialogue, in which two courtiers have observed that Lear has favoured Albany over Cornwall, suggests the tension between Lear and Cornwall, which may be recalled later as the audience sees Cornwall’s treatment of Lear and his followers. The absence of this dialogue at the beginning of Tate’s play renders neutral the Lear-Cornwall relationship.

  16. The rivalry between the Dukes of Cornwall and Cambria suggests that the Lear-Cornwall alliance aims at limiting Cambria’s power in the West. Cornwall and Cambria are both dukes and in this sense are equal. However, by marrying Regan, Cornwall acquires one-third of the kingdom as their joint “hereditary” possession (1.1.90) and becomes a member of the royal family. This marriage, and the division of Lear’s kingdom, make Cornwall and his descendants overlords of Cambria, their traditional rival. Lear, in turn, has acquired (or he thinks he has acquired) an ally in the West, whose power will help subdue Cambria. By introducing the Duke of Cambria into the British political scene, Tate changes the political positions of both Cornwall and Lear from those in Shakespeare’s play: there is a potentially dangerous power in Wales, and Lear is reducing its threat by establishing an alliance with an alternative power in the West. In the West, with the deaths of the Duke of Cornwall and Regan, the power balance changes yet again. The Lear-Cornwall alliance collapses, but the Duke of Cambria with “[f]ull Twenty thousand Mountaners” (3.2.49) remains uninfluenced by the conflict in the royal family. Cordelia, and especially Edgar, who will have interests in the West due to the inheritance of the earldom of Gloster, will have to consider how to deal with this duke, who is ready, and possibly willing, to send a troop of twenty thousand men.[15] The kingdom of Cordelia and Edgar is less centralized, less secure, than the Britain at the end of Shakespeare’s King Lear, in which all members of the royal family are dead and a new dynasty in a unified kingdom is beginning.

    The Duke of Burgundy and the Absence of the King of France

  17. One of Tate’s boldest alterations of the tradition of Lear plays, including Shakespeare’s, is the absence from his play of the King of France. In the Lear tradition, Cordelia invariably marries a king of France (or Gallia or Celtica). In fact, in King Leir, the King of Gallia appears as the leader of the victorious Gallic force, accompanied by Cordella, at the end of the play. As the King of Gallia says to Leir, “Thanks be to God, your foes are ouercome, / And you againe possessed of your right,” Leir replies:
    First to the heauens, next, thanks to you, my sonne,
    By whose good meanes I repossesse the same:
    Which if it please you to accept your selfe,
    With all my heart I will resigne to you:
    For it is yours by right, and none of mine. (2633-39)
    The King of Gallia declines this offer. If he had accepted, Britain would have been his, because at this moment there is no one in Britain who could stop him. The absence of the King of France from Tate’s play effectively removes the always sensitive issue of a potential invasion of the French force. (As is often argued about Shakespeare’s versions, the French presence in the Folio is smaller than in the Quarto, suggesting that Shakespeare tried to revise his play in this respect.)

  18. The absence of the King of France from Tate’s play also removes the rivalry between Continental rulers regarding Cordelia. In Shakespeare’s play, Lear has been keeping the rivals in his court waiting to find out who will wed Cordelia. Lear is in a position to choose between the King of France and the Duke of Burgundy (between the “vines of France and milk of Burgundy” [1.1.82; not in Q]), though, in the light of his persistent references to the ranks of these two suitors, it is likely that France might well be his preferred ally, and that he is trying to use Burgundy as a foil in order to raise the bid.[16] In any case, by adding the Duke of Burgundy to the Lear story, Shakespeare makes his Lear behave as if, through the marriage of his daughter and the offer of one-third of his kingdom, he has taken some initiative and has chosen to align himself with one Continental power at the expense of another.

  19. In Tate’s play, the Duke of Burgundy is the only candidate for Cordelia’s husband in Lear’s mind (although Cordelia wishes to marry Edgar from the beginning). Unlike in Shakespeare’s play, none of Lear’s daughters are married at the beginning of Tate’s King Lear. Lear says, “You, Burgundy, Cornwall and Albany, / Long in Our Court have made your amorous sojourn / And now are to be answer’d—” (1.1.71-73).[17] Lear speaks, however, as if the marriage between Goneril and Albany is an already settled issue. He says:
    Of all these Bounds, ev’n from this Line to this
    With shady Forests and wide-skirted Meads,
    We make thee Lady, to thine and Albany’s Issue
    Be this perpetual— (81-84)
    Similarly, though he does not refer to Cornwall by his title, Lear treats the marriage between Regan and Cornwall as a matter not to be disputed. The same may be said about Cordelia and Burgundy. When Lear declares that Cordelia is now without dowry, Burgundy says, “Pardon me, Royal Lear, I but demand / The Dow’r your Self propos’d, and here I take / Cordelia by the Hand Duchess of Burgundy” (180-82). This is a conflated and abridged version of the reply of Shakespeare’s Burgundy, who says, “Royal Majesty [F: Most royal majesty], / I crave no more than what your highness offered; / Nor will you tender less” (1.180-82; 1.1.190-92) and finally “Royal Lear [F: Royal King], / Give that portion which yourself proposed, / And here I take Cordelia by the hand, / Duchess of Burgundy—” (1.230-33; 1.1.239-42).[18] In both plays, Burgundy suggests that he had already negotiated and reached an agreement with Lear concerning the dowry.

  20. Nevertheless, when Tate’s Burgundy next speaks, he reveals a relationship different from that found in Shakespeare’s play. Shakespeare’s Burgundy says to Cordelia after Lear refuses his demand, “I am sorry, then, you have so lost a father / That you must lose a husband” (1.234-35; 1.1.243-44). In contrast, Tate’s Burgundy speaks only to Lear: “Then Sir, be pleas’d to charge the breach / Of our Alliance on your own Will / Not my Inconstancy” (1.1.185-87). Burgundy’s reference to an “alliance” rather than a “husband” emphasizes the political aspect of the courting and thus the political repercussions of the “breach.” It also characterizes the relationship between Lear and Burgundy in a new way: Tate’s Burgundy speaks to Lear in a more abrupt and demanding tone, perhaps reflecting the fact that while Shakespeare’s Lear, by taking advantage of the France-Burgundy rivalry, takes the initiative in establishing a new alliance, Tate’s Lear has no choice but Burgundy as partner in the Continental alliance.

  21. The absence of the King of France from Tate’s play might reflect the Anglo-French relationship under Charles II. France in the late seventeenth century was much more powerful than in the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. Englishmen feared Louis XIV’s ambition for a universal monarchy and were uneasy about the Stuarts’ intimacy with Catholic France.[19] The landing of a French army was a real fear. As Jonathan Bate writes, “Tate’s prologue ends with a reference to the Popish Plot, and the first performance of his Lear was contemporaneous with the trial in London of Oliver Plunket, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland, on trumped-up charges of conspiring to land a French army” (61). French intervention into British civil strife was a dangerous topic, especially given political tensions, one of whose causes was the Duke of York’s Catholicism. The elimination of the King of France from the play might have been the least provocative way of reconfiguring the Lear tradition so that it would be palatable to a late-seventeenth century audience. At the same time, this alteration changes the relationship between Lear and the Duke of Burgundy. The duke’s position is stronger in Tate’s play than in Shakespeare’s: this strength suggests the relative weakness of Lear.


  22. The comparison of the forms and characteristics of the kingdoms of Leir/Lear in King Leir and Shakespeare’s King Lear reveals that Shakespeare reconfigured the Lear story from an Elizabethan to a Jacobean frame. Shakespeare (re-)introduced the pan-British and international perspectives into the plot (while erasing the Irish issue). The British framework is particularly relevant to the early Jacobean period when a king from Scotland was ambitious to be an active player in international politics. Similarly, a comparison between Shakespeare’s and Tate’s representations of the kingdoms of Lear, especially from the archipelagic and international perspectives, suggests the relevance of Tate’s play to its specific historical context. Lear’s kingdom in Tate’s play is characterized by weaker royal power. The insistence on autonomy by the Duke of Albany and the change of the power balance in the West further suggest that Cordelia and Edgar will inherit sovereignty with an even weaker hold. (They cannot expect a friendly relationship with the Duke of Burgundy, either.) The causes of this weakness are comparable to the problems during the Exclusion Crisis. First, the Duke of Albany’s claim for autonomy is reminiscent of the possibility of Scotland’s secession in support of James Duke of York. Second, the rivalry between the Dukes of Cornwall and Cambria introduces the possible alliance between the latter and the Commons, which recalls the role of the Duke of Monmouth in the Crisis. And third, the elimination of the King of France, leading to the weakening of Lear’s position in his relationship with the Duke of Burgundy, reminds the audience of the threat of Louis XIV’s France.

  23. The characteristics of Lear’s kingdom in Tate’s play also would have recalled, for people living at the time of the Exclusion Crisis, the political history which England experienced from the 1640s onward. The alliance between Parliament and opposition aristocrats and the possible separation of kingdoms (especially of Scotland) were nightmares for Englishmen of the time. Critics have observed various analogies between the characters of Tate’s King Lear and historical figures: such as those between Edmund the bastard and the Duke of Monmouth (Maguire 34-35); Cordelia and Edgar and Mary and William (Maguire 39); Edgar and Charles II (Hardman 915-16); and the Duke of Albany and the Duke of York (Hardman 921-2). This play, nonetheless, does not simply suggest these direct, one-to-one analogies. Following up on Shakespeare’s reconfiguration of the Lear story, as it addressed the archipelagic and international situation of the early Jacobean period, Tate reconfigured Shakespeare’s play to be relevant to his own time. As a result, we see that the kingdom of his Lear exists within a sphere of archipelagic and international relations differing markedly from those of Shakespeare’s. 


[1] Among the critics taking this view are Matthew H. Wikander, Nancy Klein Maguire, C. B. Hardman and Michael Dobson. Tate’s King Lear is usually regarded as Tory propaganda, with the notable exception of Maguire, who argues that Tate was “hedging his bets” (39). Hardman criticizes Maguire’s reading (918).

[2] Kerrigan has been among the literary critics who have profitably studied seventeenth-century literature from this perspective. See, for example, Joan Fitzpatrick, Andrew Hadfield, and Philip Schwyzer and Simon Mealor for other studies.

[3] One might say that Shakespeare’s Lear plays are reconfigurations of the Leir story, with the First Folio The Tragedy of King Lear as a reconfiguration of the First Quarto The History of King Lear.

[4] In these chronicles the tragic story of Cordelia’s defeat by her nephews and her suicide in prison postdates this happy ending.

[5] Although Leir offers the crown to the Gallic king, he declines the offer.

[6] References to Shakespeare’s plays are taken from The Norton Shakespeare, 2nd ed.

[7] This impression is strengthened especially in the Quarto in which he delivers the ending speech.

[8] Hardman’s observation suggests that Shakespeare reconfigured the Quarto’s Duke of Albany in the Folio.

[9] Quotations from Tate’s King Lear are taken from Christopher Spencer’s edition.

[10] The Exclusion Crisis was one of the moments when the Anglo-Scottish discrepancy became apparent. John Morrill points out that “in 1681 (as the English Commons sought to pass another Exclusion Bill), the Scottish Parliament declared the inviolability of divine, hereditary right” (36). The Anglo-Scottish separation became reality when in the brief period after the Glorious Revolution the Scottish parliament announced its support of James VII (and II) while its English counterpart sought alternatives to him.

[11] See Earl Miner’s commentary to Dryden’s Albion and Albanius (Works 15: 329).

[12] See stage directions at the first entrance of Lear ( l.31 in Q and 1.1.31 in F).

[13] For an expression of the Tory concern about the alliance between the Duke of Monmouth and Parliament, see Dryden’s His Majesties Declaration Defended (Works 17: 211-12). Note that Henry Neville’s Plato Redivivus, to which Dryden’s criticism in His Majesties Declaration Defended is directed, represents a negative view towards giving Monmouth the throne (Robbins 165-72). Note also that it was a Tory commonplace to accuse the Whigs of aspiring to the return of the Commonwealth. See the Commentary to Absalom and Achitophel (Works 2: 237).

[14] See Bullough for the references to The Mirrour for Magistrates and The Faerie Queene.

[15] Although Gloster is never referred to as an earl in Tate’s Lear, Edmund is twice called “Earl of Gloster” (3.5.19; 4.4.203).

[16] Lear says to Burgundy after stripping Cordelia of her dowry:

 My lord of Burgundy,
 We first address towards [F: toward] you, who with a king [F: the King]
 Hath rivalled for our daughter: what in the least
 Will you require in present dower with her
 Or cease your quest of love? (1. 176-79; 1.1.186-89)

In the Quarto the difference in rank is emphasized. Lear points out in particular that the Duke of Burgundy has dared to rival “a king.” This suggests Lear is sensitive to this difference, which must be reflected in his attitude toward the Dukes of Albany and Cornwall. In the Folio, the royalty of France is still highlighted by Lear’s reference to him as “the King,” though the focus on the difference in rank is not as pronounced as in the Quarto. Lear also calls France “you, great King” (1.195; 1.1.205), and reminds those who are on stage (and the audience) that France is the only character equal in rank to himself.

[17] This speech derives from the one delivered by Shakespeare’s Lear before the entrance of the King of France and the Duke of Burgundy:

 The two great princes, France and Burgundy—
Great rivals in our youngest daughter’s love—
Long in our court have made their amorous sojourn,
And here are to be answered. (1.39-42; 1.1.43-46)

(The first line of F reads, “The princes France and Burgundy—”)

[18] There is no dash after “Duchess of Burgundy” in F.

[19] On the ambitious dream of a universal monarchy and on the expansionism of Louis XIV’s France (which caused the English to fear a French invasion in this period), see Harris 163-67.


Works Cited



Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editors at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.

© 2013-, Annaliese Connolly and Matthew Steggle (Editors, EMLS).