25a. The Lear Plays

 previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams


(Numbers in bold refer to the Documents section and bibliographical citations refer to the Bibliography of The Real Shakespeare II, on-line edition)




   There are three extant plays on the subject of King Lear: (a) the forgotten 1605 Quarto The True Chronicle History of King Leir, and his three daughters, Gonorill, Ragan and Cordella (359), (b) the 1608 first edition of the canonical King Lear (386) and (c) that play's 1623 Folio text (502). But Edward White's licence to publish 'a booke entituled/The moste famous Chronicle historye of Leire kinge of England and his Three Daughters' is dated as early as 14 May 1594; and this was no doubt the Kinge Leare which had been performed at the Rose Iheatre on 6 and 8 April 1594, as recorded in Henslowe's Diary, 'by the Queene's men and my Lord of Susexe together', with substantial takings of 38 and 26 shillings respectively.

   These facts have been variously interpreted. But the absence of any known 1594 King Lear, however spelt, suggests that (for whatever reason) White's copyright remained unexercised; and economy of hypothesis proposes that the 1605 issue was essentially that same play delayed. The rights had meanwhile passed from White to Leake, Stafford and Wright. Perhaps the unrecorded negotiations had been difficult and protracted. In any event, there were good reasons for publishing King Leir in 1605; it had proved popular in its day, as the 1594 takings indicate, and Shakespeare may already have been engaged on play (b). This would take time to be completed, performed and published; meanwhile the earliest Lear play could profitably be revived and printed.

   The following evidence and arguments propose that this play (a), though almost universally despised and neglected, should be considered as Shakespeare's own first version of the Lear theme.


1. He began as a writer of early popular plays; and this one, well received in 1594, was prima facie contemporary with all the others early versions (2 below) written in the late 1580s, as also evidenced by their early popular style, or known mentions, or known floruits of the theatre companies named on their title-pages.


2. (a) The earliest mentioned or published texts of the Hamlet, Shrew, John and Henry VI plays, for over seventyreasons (RS1 121-162) represent rewritings (not 'memorial reconstruction'); so

(b) the same should also apply to all the Lear plays. Their complete reworking from the first version to the next offers a striking parallel to the Shrew and John plays; their pattern of early version c.1590, first edition in 1603 or 1608 and final Folio text provides an equally plain parallel with the Hamlet plays.


3. (a) In particular, there are many reasons for attributing The Troublesome Reign of King John to the young Shakespeare (RS1 146-53); and

(b) 'a perusal of [that play and King Leir] is very persuasive that the same author wrote them' (Moore 1913, xiii), because of the similarity of character-drawing between the former's Bastard and the latter's Mumford. Further, 'Both plays exhibit the same admixture of religion and ribaldry. Both possess singular verbs in plural cases. The verse in each case has the same characteristics of flat pedestrianism and classical allusions in tragic circumstances. The murderer in each play is provided with a letter which he shows to his victims, and the victims prevail upon the murderer with arguments on "everlasting torments" in "grisly hell". The Bastard-Limoges wrangle is equivalent to the Mumford-Cambria wrangle; and the same interludes of farce in prose are provided. Ragan, like Constance. is desirous "with these nails" to "scratch out her [enemy's] hateful eyes"' (Everitt 1965, 11).


4. (a) The 1605 version has been assessed as an attempt by printers and publishers to pass that text off as Shakespeare's (Chambers 1930, i, 469; Duthie 1960, xii-xiii); and this

(b) would make better sense, and avoid all such serious yet baseless accusations of dishonesty, if it was indeed his own work. Then one need not deny the plain testimony, found both on the registration document and on the first edition, that the play had been recently acted, or imagine that this phrase and the registration references to a 'Tragedy' was somehow designed to suggest the prior existence and performance of the canonical play. The simple explanation suffices; Shakespeare was releasing his own early version for acting and printing because his masterly revision was in hand.


5. (a) In this connection, however, the historical credentials of all concerned should be examined.

(b) From White in 1594 to Stafford, Leake and Wright in 1605, as well as the unnnamed wardens in each instance, the record remains unblemished. White was concerned with the first three quartos of Titus Andronicusin 1594, 1600 (192, 290) and 1611 (416); Stafford with Pericles Q3, 1611 (415); Leake with Venus and Adonis Q5 and Q6, 1599 (268) and Q7, 1602 (317); Wright with the Sonnets Q1, 1609 (398).

(c) So if they were indeed seeking to suggest that Leir 1605 was Shakespeare's work, then prima facie it was. But no doubt neither he nor they would wish it to rival his new version in the purchasing public's estimation; hence perhaps its publication anonymously, at its author's wish.


6. (a) In 1594 Leir had been played by the Queen's Men and Sussex's Men jointly, but

(b) 'since there is no trace of it in the Sussex's Men's repertory during their longer season of thirty performances the previous Christmas, it presumably belonged to Queen's' (Greg 1939, 378), and

(c) on strong evidence (RS1 57-9 etc.), Shakespeare was a Queen's Man both as actor and as playwright.


7. (a) In this same 1594 season, 'in succeeding entries on the same page of his Diary Henslowe mentions the production (all in the following June) of three plays whose titles also strike a Shakespearean note, viz.AndronicousHamlet and The Taming of A Shrowe' (Lee 1909, x); but

(b) the obvious source of this note was the fact that these were Shakespeare plays; hence

(c) so was King Leir.


8. (a) King Leir was Shakespeare's main source for his King Lear, which relies upon Leir's plot and characters as well as its 'structure and situation' (Greg 1939, 386) and also, in some eighty phrases or passages, its 'thought and expression' (idem.). But

(b) the same applies in varying degree to the different versions of the other five plays mentioned in 2 above, which all conform to specific patterns of revision; hence

(c) King Leir too is Shakespeare's own first version.


9. Here again the universal explanation of plagiarism, however palliated or disguised as 'adaptation' of an 'old play' and so forth, is again false to the facts and unfair to Shakespeare, and to the imaginary other author, just as in all those comparable cases.


10. The dismissive conditioned reflex that King Leir cannot possibly be by Shakespeare, because it is 'not in his style' (as if he had only the one) is just as worthless in this context as in all others; it is merely a personal opinion, and it emanates from the same authorities who for most of this century rejected the 1608 King Lear, a Shakespeare masterpiece, as a mere corruption by 'memorial reconstruction'. This opinion is still widely held; and the difficulty of changing it has been candidly confessed by a convert (Wells 1983, 20).


11. (a) The dating evidence is inconclusive, but that latter play may undeniably have been started before its main source, Leir, was even printed. Yet

(b) 'I do not think there is any escape from the general opinion [that] Shakespeare undoubtedly knew King Leir, and...there is clear evidence that he had read it carefully not long before he wrote [the canonical play]. Of course the only way of getting round this is to suppose that he read it in manuscript' (Greg 1939, 384); but

(c) the sole sensible way of explaining that only possible hypothesis, in turn, though Greg does not consider it, is to suppose that Shakespeare had the manuscript in his personal private possession, because he was its author, and had himself released it for publication after it had run its course on the stage and was thus also available as the basis for a complete rewriting.


12. In fact, 'the text is thoroughly good and to judge from the stage-directions would seem to have been printed from a playhouse manuscript' (Greg 1939, 380). So again if Shakespeare had seen that manuscript the presumption is that he owned it, because he had written it.


13. (a) Finally, that manuscript anticipates King Lear in so many, and such detailed respects (as set out below) that either Shakespeare plundered it wholesale for his own prestige and profit or else he wrote it; but

(b) he was a great playwright, not a gross plagiarist; so for this reason also the same considerations should apply to the Lear plays as to the Hamlet, Shrew, John and Henry VI plays, namely that he wrote them in all their various versions, as the thoroughgoing and conscientious reviser identified by other extant evidence.


   In particular, King Leir has been attributed to him on grounds including 'the debate of the murderer with his conscience, like that of Hubert in Troublesome Reign' (Everitt 1965, 11). If so, it would be an early play, perhaps one of the earliest to survive. Not only does it belong in the late 1580s (1 above) but 'as Elizabethan drama goes,Leir 'is most rudimentary in art; it is advanced little beyond the Morality play' (ibid. 13) of the kind which Shakespeare had also apparently written earlier still (RS1 167-8). Hence Everitt's dating of 1586-7 (ibid. 11); and even those who have no inkling of any possible Shakespearean connection are content to assign Leir to c.1590 or earlier on stylistic grounds (Greg 1939, 382). It now needs close textual analysis in relation to King Lear, which could serve to illustrate Shakespeare's approach to revision by showing what he thought worth retaining or adapting from his early work. As in the Hamlet and Shrew rewritings, names are altered or respelt; but almost all the forms used are found in the various sources, and no clear inferences can be drawn from these changes. For the rest, the following conspectus (with Leir line-references drawn from Everitt 1965) mainly relies on Greg (1939), who acknowledges indebtedness to Lee (1909).

   Modern editors concede that Shakespeare 'makes extensive use of...King Leir' (Taylor and Wells 1988, 128). And indeed, as Greg begins by saying (1939, 386), 'the general likeness is obvious enough despite the widely different ways in which the story is handled, and goes far beyond what we should necessarily expect in any two dramatic versions of a common theme. The structure of the love-test episode is essentially the same: particularly noticeable are the single-line asides in which Cordella comments on the protestations of her hypocritical sisters. Perillus is manifestly the prototype of Kent. The storm that reverberates through Lear is heard in the thunder that appalls the would-be murderer in Leir.' Further, Shakespeare 'transmutes' Leir's kneeling episode (2296-2304) into two separate references to kneeling (IV.vii.58 and V.iii.10) while the 'mildness' of Goneril's husband Albany (I.iv.344) is 'strikingly anticipated' by the mildness of Goneril's husband Cornwall (820f). Again, Ragan/Regan bribes a messenger to murder Leir/Gloucester. Greg further identifies some eighty verbal parallels between the two plays. As Shakespeare wrote, 'ideas, phrases, cadences from the old play still floated in his memory below the level of consciousness, and...now and again one or another helped to fashion the words that flowed from his pen'. Here Greg is describing exactly the phenomena which in other contexts seemed to the authorities (including himself) to be characteristic of deliberate 'memorial reconstruction' by 'actors'. Here however Shakespeare has to be exonerated in advance from either writing or reconstructing King Leir, although he had no doubt acted in that Queen's play as a Queen's man. So his procedures are called subconscious.

   No doubt some of them were; in the real world, the workings of memory are difficult to define or predict. But in everyday reality, who would be by far the likeliest person to possess a mind in which a play's ideas, phrases and cadences were still identifiably floating, at any level, some twenty years after it was first written, and ten years after he last acted in it? Greg and other editors (e.g. Muir 1964, xxix) are able to avoid the obvious answer by repeatedly calling that play 'the old play', as if to assert that it was far too old for Shakespeare to have anything to do with it except act in it, be steeped in it, and shamelessly steal from it to make his own masterpiece. Similarly, its author was 'the old dramatist' (Lee 1909, xxx, xxxv, xxxvi) or 'the older hand' (xliii), although in fact he might easily have been younger than Shakespeare; or exactly the same age, and indeed the same person. Once that plain possibility is permitted, assessments of this 'older hand's' aptitudes take on a new meaning. 'We cannot deny him a fertility of invention which issues in an astonishing advance on previous efforts. He infuses a touch of colour into more than one character or incident of which there is the merest hint in the earlier narratives. Elsewhere, wholly new characters and incidents lend the tale a variety which lies outside the scope of the ancient tradition.' (ibid. xxxi-ii). So who was this amazing innovator, not only writing at the very time when the young Shakespeare was creating the new drama (RS1 63) but also helping him to create it by providing an early model of structure, characterisation and style?

   That style has been analysed into separate topics and components (RS1 116-20, etc.) and compared with other early plays (RS1 132-3, 144-5, 152-3, 161-2). Here is a similar treatment of King Leir c. 1587, this time in even greater detail in order to offer some counterweight to the universal disparagement and rejection of that highly original and promising play.


Alliteration: proud pert peat 100, deeds...deserved...doom...disinherit 569-70 etc.


Antithesis: old/young 44, present/absent 350, words/deeds 279-80, honey/gall 939 kindness/ ingratitude love/hatred henbane/mithridate sweet grapes/sour sloes weeds/flower 2048f, etc.


Bawdry: prick and praise 115, two wholes between us 457, nothing 492-3, shift our clothes together 620, fingers' ends 622, not have my custom 627, ne'er get out unless you first get in 633, palmer's staff 700, all the members else 1015, stab [but] ne'er hurt her 1228-9, well put in 1827.


Bible: tie a millstone/about my neck and leap into the sea (Matthew 16.6) 244-5, unto Him which doth protect the just (many references) 333, her longest home (Ecclesiastes 12.5) 956, his grey hairs might go to heaven in peace (Genesis 42.28) 1085, blackamoor wash colour from skin (Jeremiah 13.23: the Geneva Bible has 'blackamoor' not 'Ethiopian') 1271-2, go to the next tree and there hang myself (a tradition about Judas) 1460, viperous generation (Matthew 3.7) 1652, lay thy hand on Lord's anointed (2 Samuel 24.10) 1695, meat which Elias ate/in strength whereof he walked forty days (1 Kings 19.8) 2192-3, manna (Exodus 16.13-5) 2201f, blessing which the God of Abraham gave unto the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49.8-12, 28) 2227.

   The preponderance of Genesis and Matthew (RS1 6) is of interest. This and the previous heading taken together well illustrate Moore's 'admixture of religion and ribaldry' (2b above) also found in Troublesome Reign(RS1 152) and elsewhere, including Contention and True Tragedy (RS1 161).


Chiasmus: the world of me, I of the world am weary 28, your wishes sort with mine/and mine...do sort with heavenly powers 58-9, as ought a child to bear unto her father ...as should a father bear unto a child 1777, 1779.


Classical allusion: among many examples the following are identifiable – Philomel's sweet note (OvidMetamorphoses VI.668) 275, as rich a prize/as Jason when he won the golden fleece (Met VII.1f) 355 (here as in the Merchant of Venice allusion, I.i.170-1, the prize is a girl), old Daedalus's waxen wings (Met VIII.183f, where Daedalus is called 'old', 210) 418, welcome as Leander to Hero (Ovid Heroides 17 and 18) 536, welcome as Aeneas to [Dido] (Virgil Aeneid VI, Ovid Met XIV.79) 537, iron age (Met I.141) 763, pipe of Mercury charmed the hundred eyes of Argos (Met I. 610f) 1348, draught which old Aeson drank, which did renew his withered age (Met. VII 224f, cf. The Merchant of Venice V.i.14 'that did renew oold Aeson') 2189-90.


Compound words: among many such examples, after-wishes 51, father-sick 294, mourning-wise 1082, o'er-jealous 1599, safe-seated 1159 and tongue-whip 1049 are unknown to the OED; ill-fitting 616, new-fashioned 784, and new-waked 2472 far antedate the OED citations; and never-dying 74 and sea-gown 2015 antedate the Shakespeare sources listed as first recorded use.


Flora and fauna: e.g. sheep 18, branches...stock...tree...blossoms...nipped with winter's frost 227, stock...branch...graft...stock...branch...root 1242 (cf. 'I find practically no sign of first-hand gardening knowledge or observation in the images of the other writers'...'I do not find, in all my search of the other dramatists, any single image of frosts and sharp winds nipping buds, which is so common with Shakespeare...' Spurgeon 1935, 90-1) peacock 285, falcon 487-8 (+ dim the glory of her mounting fame 114, clip her woings for mounting up too high 488: cf. 'there is evidence of personal experience of [falconry]', Spurgeon 1935, 31), pelican 514, eagle 515, mouse…lion 644-5, viperous 813, coney 1051, flea 1215, beasts 1249, fowls 1268, fish 1269, horse 527, cat...mouse 1559, tree...fruit 2116, vipers 2558, toad 2587, lionlike 2659.


Law: course of time hath cancelléd the date/of further issue (cf. dateless…cancelled, Sonnet 30.6-7) 24, [death] summons me unto his next assizes (cf. sessions...summon up, Sonnet 30. 1; sergeant death, strict in his arrest,Hamlet V.ii.336-7) 230-1, a strong bond, a firm obligation, good in law 1022, sue you upon an action of unkindness 1853-4.


Noun-verb discord (as pointed out not only by Moore at 3b above, but also by Lee 1909, xviii who interestingly comments that 'this habit suggests rusticity'): words…cuts 1118, king and queen...salutes 1376.


Proverb: tis needless to spur a willing horse 2409


Puns, word-play ('the old dramatist indulges in many unimpressive puns...', Lee 1909, xxxv): senseless senses 159, outward forwardness 262, an answer answerless 283, Blunts/bluntest 389, Cordella, cordial 711, queen crowns 1299-1200, stand upon our hands...legs 1445-6, will/will 1521-2, hop without her hope 1803, sea/see 1865, Gauls/gall 2418-24, sharp-point/pointed 2425-6, beacon/bacon 2445, as/ass 2451.


Rhyming couplets: 12-3 et passim.


Thesaurus diction: so nice and so demure, so sober, courteous, modest and precise 107-8; speak, look, salute, kiss 379; misery, dishonour and disgrace 688; doting, doltish, withered 786; reject, contemn, despise, abhor 906-7; slander scandal and invented tales 986; this head, this heart, these hands, arms, legs, tripes, bowels and all the members else 1015-6; for zeal, for justice, kindness and for care 1071; hollow, spare and lean 1134.


Whirlwind wooings: ('the crudely comic episode of an accidental and unpremeditated courtship, Lee 1909, xxxvi) 584f.


Words beginning with 'un-': there are some thirty such words altogether, from unacquainted 2215 to unworthy 1587, a much higher proportion of total vocabulary than usual in Tudor plays.


Other parallels:

1. The hatefulness of flattery (RS1 4n, 9, 27, 152, 161) is ceaselessly condemned, e.g. in 175-6, 256, 304-6, 338, 657, 751, 819, 876, 880, 2149, 2157, 2248.

2. The typically solemn vocabulary of marriage (RS1 16, 51-2, 145, 153) occurs at consummate/the celebration of these nuptial rites 549-50, again after a few lines of wooing.

3. The association of butchery and fatherhood (RS1 29) is explicit: butcher of their father 1732.

4. The red-white contrasts (RS1 88, 119) continue: see how her colour comes and goes again/now as red as scarlet now as pale as ash 1172-3.

5. References to gardening include e.g. flourishing branches of a kingly stock 227, blossoms now are nipped with winter's frost 228, if so the stock be driéd with disdain/withered and sere the branch must needs remain/but thou art now graft in another stock/I am the stock and thou the lovely branch/and from my root continual sap shall flow 1242-6. 'I find practically no sign of first-hand gardening knowledge or observation in the images of other writers [than Shakespeare]...I do not find, in all my search of the other dramatists, a single image of frosts and sharp winds nipping buds, which is so common with Shakespeare...' (Spurgeon 1935, 90-1).

6. The river imagery is revealing: Lest streams being stopped, above the banks do swell 79, o but my grief like to a swelling tide/exceeds the bounds of common patience 1913-4 (cf. for example 'a gentle flood/who being stopped the bounding banks o'erflows', The Rape of Lucrece 1118, or 'so high above his limits swells the rage/of Bolingbroke', Richard II III.ii.109-10; 'this marked interest in a river in flood is quite peculiar to Shakespeare', Spurgeon 1935, 34).


   It is worth noting that all the headings listed above, and all the idiosyncrasies save items 2 and 6, are exemplified in Edmund Ironside c. 1588, which also shares the following ideas and phrases, among others, withKing Leir. In the following conspectus the Leir context is cited from Everitt 1965, and Ironside from Sams 1985, 2/1986.



King Leir c.1587


[the King's loyal companion is called Perillus

for whom he invented a brazen bull to be

heated red-hot as an instrument of torture]

prepare Perillus' bull 71et passim

fancy [=love] him 143

securely sleep 210

nipped with...frost 229

bridle fancy 274

my plain meaning...misconstrued 303

my tongue was never used to flattery 304

you have saved me a labour 364

tie mine eyes...tie my tongue 369,371

when occasion serves 372

but how far are we distant

from the court? 401

comfort of my life 415

I cannot brook delays 435

to be brief 437

celebrate...happy nuptials 577

whilst i live, each drop of my heart [my blood]

which I will shed even blood will I strain forth,

to do her any good 582-3

poor weak maid...imbecility  607

cost [of a banquet] would well

have satisfied ...384, 388

say or do the best that e'er I can tis

wrested straight into another sense 856-7

tongue...whetted 1028

my kingly husband, mirror of his time 1069

alas poor soul 1179

clouds of sorrow...brow 1230-1

bury...oblivion 1251

honourable mind 1424

the hundred eyes of...Argos 1437

[Ovid Met I 721]

brandishing a falchion 1490

next tree...hang myself [said by villain

in allusion to Judas] 1460


do I look like a Frenchman? ...mine own

face 1572-3 [allusion to syphilis]

lop a limb 1491

borne you company 1688

who...but only I? 1710

she reads the letter: see how her

colour comes and goes again 1723-3

this device is excellent! 1877

Leir and he changeth [clothes] 2015

love be reaped where hatred

has been sown 2049

entreated well 2260

contumelious terms 2267

[king says] my loving countrymen 2396

the meanest soldier 2402

sleep secure 2470

y'are tall men 2501

your lawful king 2510, 2516

(Drum) but hark I hear the adverse

drum approach...(enter...the army) 2548-9

a colour's sake...invasion 2571-2

viper, scum 2594

tis pity two such good faces 2606

Edmund Ironside c. 1588


servant of King Phalaris to punish

me 1275 [with the same recondite

reference to the same source]

(Ovid, Ars AmatoriaI, V.653)

fancy [=love] him  421

securely sleeps 309

nips like...frost 743

bridle...their wills 152

I cannot speak but [someone] misconsters me 86-7

thy tongue rolls headlong into flattery 1064

you save me a labour 694

tie his ears 1164

serve...occasion 2035-6

but what house is this?

how far off are we from Southampton? 475-6

comfort of my life 1493

to cut off long delays 540

be brief 1867

celebrate....marriages 445

drop by drop ere I will see you harmed

....if I live 131-2, 134


women...imbecility 1351

Enter a banquet...Half this expense well suffice for twice 791

I cannot speak but [someone] straight misconsters me 86-7

whet...tongue 1912

[king] mirror of majesty 251

alas poor souls 639, 641

cloudy look...woes 1097-8

bury...oblivion 1725

honourable minds 634

as many eyes as Juno's bird 1636

[i.e. 100, Met I.722].

brandished my falchion 1664

tis night, tis dark, beware you

stumble not [said of villain in allusion

to Judas] 792

Frenchmen 688-9 [allusion noses off [like]

to syphilis]

lopped of [hands] 599

bear [him] company 733

who...but only he? 169-70

He reads the letter] See...

his colour comes and goes 1305-6

some device...it is excellent! 1841,1843

they shift apparel 1225

see peace grow where foul debate

was sown 2025

entreat them well 1486

contumelious threats 830

[king says] gentle countrymen 108

the meanest soldier 340

securely sleeps 309

y'are a tall man 1135

our lawful king 262 thy lawful king 826

(Drum...) what...drum?

(enter soldiers) 955-8

onset...for colour's sake 1405-6

viper...scum 167-8.

twere pity....two such faces 683-4



   The affinities of style and phrase strongly suggest the same author at the same time; and Ironside has long been attributed to Shakespeare. The two plays also share graphological characteristics. King Leir 1605 was presumably set up from an authorial holograph which resembles the Ironside MS in several significant respects. One example is its arbitrary capitalisation, as in Cherubins1 (4), or Crowne (21, 30); another is its consistent italicisation of stage directions and proper names; a third is the italicised FINIS at the end. The spellings too are entirely conformable, as analysis shows, though here the possibility of compositorial alteration may invalidate detailed comparison. Scene-structure however offers a further field of verifiability. Of especial interest is E.B.Everitt's comparison (1954, 61-69) of three pre-battle scenes, in Leir lines 2550-612, Ironside 1770-834, andTroublesome Reign 520-635. First comes a preamble with drums announcing the arrival of conflicting forces. Then challenges are exchanged, and rival rights are claimed; as Everitt says these latter are anachronistically couched in terms of Tudor property law, which which Shakespeare was especially concerned (RS1 39-43, Knight 1973). Next ensues a scene of passionate invective, ending with a final declaration that in the absence of agreement swords must decide. 'I believe that the [quoted] passages are so homologous that unless other evidence can be adduced against the inference, we must see one mind at work in all three [plays]' (Everitt 1954, 69). Everitt draws the same conclusion from his comparison of parallel wooing scenes (Leir 586-744, EI 385-460). Leir also has its own quota of canonical pre-echoes; 'age hath made deep furrows in my face' (34) suggests 'time's furrows' (Sonnet 22.3); the idea was new then, and this Leir usage may well antedate the OED's first citation (4b, 1589). The Sonnets are also anticipated in 'were my horse as swift as was my will I long ere this had seen your majesty' (527-8); cf. 'then can no horse with my desire keep pace' (51.9). Similarly 'she'll lay her husband's benefice on her back even in one gown, if she may have her will' looks forward to 'she bears a duke's revenues on her back' (2 Henry VI I.iii.80). There are dozens of other examples. Two in particular are worth citing because of their dating evidence, as cited by an authority on the Lear plays and their sources (Greg 1940, 124). In Leir the murderer says 'now could I stab them bravely while they sleep' (1467), which instantly reminds the reader of Hamlet's 'now might I do it pat, now 'a is a-praying' (III.iii.73). Equally evocative is the comic colloquy of the two watchmen at 2452f: 'No...say here stands the pot of ale...here stands your nose...you set your nose to the pot and drink up the drink', which presages the two gravediggers: 'Here lies the water...here stands the man...', no doubt with the same clowning. These two examples confirmed Greg's view that Shakespeare was, consciously or not, so fully familiar with King Leir 1605 before it was published that he hadprima facie access to the manuscript. And indeed no doubt he had.



1 a form later found in Shakespeare (e.g. The Merchant of Venice V.i.62).