QueenʼsMen Editions

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  • Title: King Leir
  • Author: Peter Cockett

  • Copyright Queen's Men Editions. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Author: Peter Cockett
    Peer Reviewed

    King Leir

    Queen's Men and Shakespeare: Divine Right and Providence (Sc. 14)

    Read about the Queen's Men and Shakespeare in scene 11

    In terms of the relationship between the abandoned kings central to each play, Shakespeare concerns himself with the idea of a king divested of authority that is central to this short exchange. Leir's line quoted above is likely the inspiration for the line "Lear's shadow" given to the fool in the Folio (Internet Shakespeare EditionsF: 744) in answer to Lear's question "Who is it that can tell me who I am?" (Internet Shakespeare EditionsF: 743). The striking difference is that when Leir deliberately requests that Perillus stop acknowledging his social status Perillus firmly refuses, maintaining his respect and honour for the king until the end - a sharp contrast to Lear's Fool who is pointing out the pragmatic and symbolic consequences of his master's abdication. Perillus's persistence has its own correlative in Shakespeare's Gloucester who still wants to kiss the hand of his master when he meets him on the heath (Internet Shakespeare EditionsF: 2574), but even Gloucester is forced to acknowledge that his once great master is now but a shadow of himself: "O ruin'd peece of Nature, this great world / Shall so weare out to naught" (Internet Shakespeare EditionsF: 2577-2578). The spectacle of the king brought to desperation found in the Queen's Men play obviously fascinated Shakespeare, but his treatment of the issue of royalty and divine right is markedly different from the Queen's Men play. King Leir maintains a constant sense of injustice at the inversion of hierarchy represented by Leir's suffering while Lear's suffering is portrayed as a sign of a common condition shared by king and fool. Lear's hand "smelles of Mortality" (Internet Shakespeare EditionsF: 2576) whereas Leir's remains in touch with the divine right through to the end.

    Shakespeare also makes it clear that Lear will be met with little sympathy from Regan but the extent of her inhospitality is surprising, as is the extreme violence her husband inflicts on Gloucester. Shakespeare's dramaturgy balances expectation and surprise where the Queen's Men play consistently fulfils expectations for divine justice. The difference in dramaturgical approach bespeaks different perspectives that the two plays take on the question of divine providence. God's will is clearly done in King Leir but God's role in Shakespeare's play is famously uncertain.

    Read more about the Queen's Men and Shakespeare

    [[ Resource not found ]]Watch video of Scene 14 on the Performing the Queen's Men website. (The video footage is password protected. Click on "Cancel" in the pop-up window to obtain password.)