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Examination Questions on King Lear

Question: Where did Shakespeare get the materials of the play?

Answer: The story of King Lear was told in its main outlines by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his Historia Britonum. He probably derived his information from some Welsh legendary source. We find something like it in Layamon's Brut, in the Gesta Romanorum, in Spencer's Faerie Queene, in Camden's Remaines, and in a ballad in Percy's Reliques; also in an old play, entered on the stationer's register in 1593.

Mr. Furness thinks that this play was re-entered in in 1605 under the name of "The Tragicall History of King Lear" and that it furnished the original from which Shakespeare drew the plot of his play. But knowing Shakespeare's fondness for Holinshed, Mr. Wright decides that it was to this source that the poet went for the incidents of the drama. After a careful examination of the extracts as given by Mr. Furness of both Holinshed's story and the old play, we can but express our conviction that Mr. Wright is right.

The story of Gloucester is taken from an episode in Sidney's Arcadia. Gloucester takes the place of the blind king of Paphlagonia, and Edgar that of Leonatus. Like the history with which it is incorporated, it only furnishes the incidents the spirit and characterization are Shakespeare's own.

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How to cite this article:
Williams, Maggie. Shakespeare Examinations. Ed. William Taylor Thom, M. A. Boston: Ginn and Co., 1888. Shakespeare Online. 10 Aug. 2010. (date when you accessed the information) < >.

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