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Analysis

King Lear Allusions & Cultural References

When authors refer to other great works, people, and events, it’s usually not accidental. Put on your super-sleuth hat and figure out why.

Major Source Texts

  • Raphael Holinshed, The Historie of England in Chronicles (Volume 1, Book 2), 1577
  • Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historie of the Kings of Britain (Book 2), c. 1135
  • Anonymous, The True Chronicle Historie of King Leir and his three daughters, c. 1605

Other Literary Allusions

  • John Higgins, Mirrour for Magistrates, 1574
  • Edmund Spenser, Book 2 of The Faerie Queene, 1596
  • Sir Phillip Sidney, The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia, 1590
  • King James I, The Trew Law of Free Monarchies, 1598
  • "Merlin's Prophesy," a poem falsely attributed to Geoffrey Chaucer in George Puttenham's famous book called The Arte of English Poesie, 1589.
  • Merlin 3.4.95
  • The Bible: The Story of Job – Some have argued that Lear is a parallel for the story of Job, a biblical guy who had about as many bad things happen to him as Lear. Job suffered through his servants turning against him, his "kinsfolk" forsaking him, a big ol' tempest, the sight of the wicked growing "old and rich," and having to "lodge without garment." Sound like Lear? The interesting part is that Job was consistently told by his "comforters" that he was to blame for his own suffering. In a way, the Fool takes on this role in Lear, reprimanding the King for banishing Cordelia. This reference forces us to ask whether Lear deserves what he gets. What do you think – does he?

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