Question: How do the original stories differ in conclusion from Shakespeare's play?
Answer: The story of King Lear, as given by Holinshed, is as follows:
Lear governed his kingdom in great wealth and power. His wife had died, leaving him three daughters, but
no son. When he became old and unwieldy, he called his children to him, to divide his kingdom according to the
measure of their love. Having asked Gonorilla how much she loved him, she called her gods to witness that she loved
him more than all things. When he questioned Regan, she too swore great oaths that she loved him more than her life.
Well pleased with these answers, Leir married one to Henninus, Duke of Cornewale, and the other to Maglanus, Duke
of Albania. When he had asked Cordelia how much she loved him, she replied that as a child should love a father,
and as he deserved, so much she loved him. Leir disinherited Cordelia; but Aganippus, one of the twelve kings of
France, had heard of her beauty and goodness, and he now sends a proposition for her hand, notwithstanding Leir's
refusal to give her a dowry. Leir divided his kingdom between the Dukes of Cornewale and Albania, one-half to
become theirs then, the remainder at his death. But they, becoming tired of doing without their inheritance, soon
reduced Leir to such dire distress that he fled to Gaul, stung by the unkindness of his daughters more than by the
wicked treatment of his sons-in-law.
Cordelia, hearing of
his coming, sent him money and servants, so that he might
come to the French court as became a king. She and
Aganippus received him cordially, raised an army, and
passed over to Britain in a great navy. A battle is fought
in which the Dukes of Cornewale and Albania are slain.
Leir is replaced on his throne and rules for two years. At
his death Cordelia ascends the throne, and reigns for five
years, when her sisters' sons rise and drive her from the
throne. She is captured and imprisoned. Being a woman
of manly courage, she commits suicide.
The story of Gloucester follows the episode in Sidney's
Arcadia until we come to the part where Edgar deceives his
father about the cliff. In the original, Leonatus refuses to
lead his father to the cliff at all, and, unlike Shakespeare's
version, the unfortunate father is restored to happiness and
power. The wicked son is overthrown, and the blind king
again takes possession of his throne.
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) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/kinglear/examq/msix.html >.