«by JANE ELIZABETH KINGSLEY-SMITH A thesis submitted to the Faculty of Arts of the University of Birmingham for the degree of DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY The ...»
atone for his predecessor's original sin and the misfortunes it had brought about. 7 In Anthony Munday's pageant 'The Triumphs of Reunited Britannia' (1605), the first Brutus pays tribute
In his first speech to parliament, James emphasised the unnaturalness, even the monstrosity, of division. He described the two realms united by language, religion, 'matters' and by geography. The natural boundaries of the island expressed the unity of these kingdoms. The King figures the relationship between himself and the two realms as that between husband and wife, head and body. To insist upon the individuality of England and Scotland is to profane the marriage, making the King a polygamist, or to insist 'that I being the Head, should have a divided and monstrous Body'.9 Not only is division an act of political dismemberment, it is an offence against Creation. This argument is expanded upon by
Edward Forset. who argues thus in support of reunification:
Have we not had within this one land of England, the hideous Heptarchie of seven heads at once? nay hath not the whole Hand of Britania, being a bodie perfectly shaped, rounded, and bounded, with an invironing sea, beene a long time thus dissevered, and disfigured by that unluckie dualitie the authour of division? untill at the last the mightie and onely wonder working hand of 7 See John W. Draper. The Occasion of King Lear\ Stud, in Phil. 34 (1937), 176-85, and Glynne Wickham 'From Tragedy to Tragi-Comedy: King Lear as Prologue', Sh. S. 26 (1973), 33-48.
8 'The Triumphs of Reunited Britannia' in Jacobean Civic Pageants ed. by Richard Dutton (Keele: Rybura Publishing, 1995), 119-36, 129.
9 'A Speach, as it was delivered in the upper house of the Parliament to the Lords spirituall and temporal!, and to the Knights, Citizens and Burgesses there assembled', 19 March 1603, in The Political Works ofJames I. a reprint of the 1616 edition, ed. by Charles Mcllwain (New York: Russell & Russell Inc., 1965), 269-80, 271-2, 272.
God, wyping away the deformitie (not by any violent cutting off, but by a new moulding as it were of the two heads into one) hath restored it againe to his first right, imperiall, and most monarchiall greatnesse. 10 James's incorporation of the two kingdoms invokes the principle of the king's two bodies (as discussed regarding Richard II). According to this theory, the realm (the land, its laws and government) is incorporated in the mystical crown which passes from one sovereign to another. This inheritance is figured as a divine body invested in the king's mortal one. The irony in James' appropriation of the two bodies' theory was that he consistently urged the king's proprietorial claim to the kingdom. 11 Where Plowden's theory proposed the realm as inalienable, inviolable and eternal, James argued that the king inherited a kingdom as a man inherits property and could thus bestow it as he wished. Plowden also explicitly condemned the division of a kingdom between heirs, particularly daughters. He warned that the crown must descend to the eldest alone, otherwise 'then shoulde the subiectes have dyvers rulers, and then woulde one rule one waie, and an other an other waye. Et nemo potest duobus divis servire\ He speaks of the 'muche inconvenience' arising from the division of a kingdom into six or seven parts! 12 James concurred with this advice, warning his son, Prince Henry, not to divide the realm and again using Brutus as an example. 13 Nevertheless, the prerogative James I claimed is both claimed and acted upon by Lear.
In the context of such theory and polemic, Marie Axton posits Lear's division of the realm as the central fatal action of the play. The chain of events thus created is 'politically absolutely 10 A Comparative Discourse of the Bodies Natural and Politique, 58.
1 ' See James' autocratic claims in The Trew Law of Free Monarchies in Political Works, 53-70, 62.
12 Quoted by Marie Axton, The Queen's Two Bodies, 31.
13 In Basilikon Doron. published before his accession to the English throne in 1599 and reprinted in 1603, James warns his son that 'by deviding your kingdomes, yee shall leave the seed of division and discord among your posteritie; as befell to this He, by the division and assignement thereof, to the three sonnes of Brutus. Locrine, Albanact. and Camber'. Political Works, 3-52, 37.
The old King's banishment, the storm, thunder, war, and death of Cordelia all stem from this act which divides the realm and places power in the hands of Lear's two evil daughters. 14 Nevertheless, as Axton points out, Lear is not conscious of any crime against kingship and thus does not recognise the political origins of his tragedy. It is questionable whether the play will support such a reading either. Axton notes that after 3.4, there is no reference to Lear's responsibility as a king and that the audience is now asked to focus upon him as a man. 15 Any political critique of King Lear confronts a certain amount of resistance from the play itself.
To interpret the immediate political significance of division in King Lear, we need to ask two basic questions: what is Lear's motivation for dividing his kingdom and what does he hope to achieve. Neither question is easily answerable from the material of Act 1 scene 1. In Gorboduc, the King expresses his desire to relinquish sovereignty in his old age. By placing his two sons in power whilst he lives, he will avoid contention over the succession (1.2.7-21) and he will also be able to teach his sons how to rule (47-76). In John Higgins" version of A Mirror for Magistrates, Brutus is already on the point of death. His formal announcement of division in the presence of his kindred and retainers is intended to prevent future discord. 16 hi neither scene does the King justify the division of the realm between his sons over the conventional primogeniture. In King Lear, we have even less sense of the policy behind the division. 17 In both texts, the King expresses a desire to relinquish cares of state. Yet it is only in the Folio that Lear anticipates his death (1.1.40-1) and thus recognises the need to settle the 14 The Queen's Two Bodies, 137.
15 Ibid., 141.
16 The First Pane of the Mirourfor Magristrates (1574) by John Higgins STC 13444, Fol. 11-3.
17 In the Folio text the King refers to his 'darker purpose', 1.1.36, whilst the Quarto obfuscates further with 'darker purposes', 1.37.
question of the succession:
The absence in the Quarto of any political foresight on Lear's part is striking. Where Brutus and Gorboduc act in what they believe to be the national interest, 18 Lear says nothing to suggest he has any conception of the nation. His definition of kingship is of cares and business (40) but not the preservation of Albion's interests. The succession is a private decision with ramifications for Lear's family but it is projected no further at this point. This is most evident if we compare the criteria for succession in A Mirror for Magistrates and King Lear.
In Higgins' poem, the division of the realm is founded on the feudal system of reciprocal bonds. Brutus' love test is primarily addressed to his counsellors not to his sons. He reminds the former of all that they have received at his hands. He has loved and rewarded them for their virtues and now they must express their gratitude by discharging 'the trust reposde in
Britain's future depends upon the lords' and counsellors' fulfilment of their obligations: to 18 Brutus tells his audience that if they obey his will and precepts, 'There is no double, but evermore with fame/ You shall enioye the Britaynes realme and name', Fol. 12. Similarly, one justification for Gorboduc's actions is that by empowering both sons equally he will prevent civil war (172-202).
uphold Brutus' will, to teach his sons to rule wisely and to work for peace. This passage anticipates Lear's insistence on asking for love, on proving love, and on the horrors of ingratitude. Brutus also anticipates Lear by bringing on a map. 19 But Lear's love test is very different in its appeal to his daughters for expressions of affection rather than for a commitment to the future of the kingdom. Lear does not recognise the significance of Cordelia's bond of love and duty. He demands an excessive and passionate self-abnegation, apparently divorced from any political context as implied by the bond. 20 Ironically, this is the qualification for rule in Albion. The daughter who limits love within reasonable bounds, who lives more in the world than in her father's looks, is unfit to hold sway in the kingdom.
If Lear seems largely oblivious to the political responsibilities of a king, or to the implications of the bond to a feudal lord, he knows when he has received an affront to paternity. Lear presents himself before the court as the benevolent patriarch, referring to his 'paternal care' and his 'father's heart', and this image of him resonates throughout the scene in a way that his kingship does not. Lear describes the division as a generous act of love. Might we then see him as having subordinated kingship to paternity? This was one contemporary interpretation of Brutus's division of the realm. In 'The Triumphs of Reunited Britannia', Munday presents the figure of Britannia alongside the three kingdoms into which she was
divided, Loegria, Cambria and Albania. Loegria rebukes Brutus for this schism:
19 See The Mirror for Magistrates, Fol. 12. There is no reference in The True Chronicle Historie to a map appearing on the stage though Shakespeare had already had recourse to one thus in / Henry IV.
20 John Turner describes this first scene as 'an improvised perversion of the feudal ceremony of commendation, when a subject openly declared his loyalty to the king, and the king in return granted him his particular charters', 'KingLear' in Shakespeare: The Play of History, 89-118, 100. Annabel Patterson rejects the idea that the play presents a feudal world but sees its archaism as a 'ruse' to permit analysis of socioeconomics and of social justice in Jacobean England. She considers the love test in King Lear as an attempt by the King to set up a contractual obligation between himself and his heirs (approximating thus to Brutus' feudal love test). Thus, she argues, Lear complicates the aristocratic system of inheritance by insisting upon a kind of tax. It is the beginning of the play's examination of the distribution of wealth and its insistence on a contract between rich and poor, Shakespeare and the Popular Voice (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989), 106-19.
Similarly, in The True Chronicle Historie of King Leir (1590)22, the monarch's actions are perceived in a dual context of paternity and kingship. Leir is planning to use Cordelia's protestation of love for him to coerce her into marriage with the King of Ireland. Perillus warns him - Yet to become so provident a Prince,/ Lose not the title of a loving father 7 (1.74In a soliloquy before the love test and the division, Leir confesses: 'Oh, what a combat feeles my panting heart,/ 'Twixt childrens love, and care of Common weale!' (3.202-3). He makes the wrong choice and spends the rest of the play being punished for his paternal tyranny. Only with Cordelia's forgiveness can he be restored to the throne. The tragi-comedy punishes the senex who tries to marry his daughter against her will and then banishes her. It punishes only incidentally the king who casts off his kingdom. There is no hint of a conflict between paternal and kingly duties in the first scene of Shakespeare's Chronicle Historie.
The paternal seems to have subsumed all other considerations.
Of the many perceived parallels between Lear and James I, this emphasis upon paternity is significant. 23 In his political writings, the image of the father is one of James I's favourite metaphors for kingship. Fathers provide for their children materially but they are also the 21 Jacobean Civic Pageants, 128.
22 Reproduced in Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, vol. 7, 337-401.
23 Richard Halpem describes how James' wasting of the realm through the granting of monopolies and the creation of new titles may be reflected in Lear's wasting of his realm through division. He also draws a parallel between Lear's division of the sign and power of his kingship and that forced upon James I when he declared that the kingdoms were united but was unable to realise this union, or when he expounded his theories of autocratic monarchy whilst becoming more financially dependent upon Parliament. See The Poetics of Primitive Accumulation: English Renaissance Culture and the Genealogy of Capital (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1991), 231-4. On the Fool's reference to monopolies in the Quarto text see Gary Taylor, 'Monopolies, Show Trials, Disaster, and Invasion: King Lear and Censorship' in The Division of the Kingdoms.
source of affection, education and discipline. In return, the child owes an inviolable duty and obedience to the father. Whatever he may do to them, they must never rise up against him or threaten his authority for this would be 'monstrous and unnatural'.24 James repeatedly used the image of an inviolable paternal authority to argue for the necessary cruelty of a king and to prohibit any thought of rebellion in his subjects. Four years after the first performance of
King Lear, in 1609, James again invoked the image of the father in a speech to Parliament:
Now a Father may dispose of his Inheritance to his children, at his pleasure:
yea, even disinherite the eldest upon just occasions, and preferre the youngest, according to his liking; make them beggars, or rich at his pleasure;