Philip Weller caricature
Philip and Weller hugging

Welcome to my web site, now under development for more than twenty years.   
-- Philip Weller, November 13, 1941 - February 1, 2021
Dr. Weller, an Eastern Washington University professor of English and Shakespearean scholar for more than 50 years.

Scholars agree that Shakespeare must have read the story of "Leir" in Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, first published in 1577, and again in 1587. The opening of the story as Shakespeare read it in Holinshed's Chronicles is closely matched by the first scene of Shakespeare's play, but Shakespeare gave his a version of the story a dramatically different ending. This is all very well explained in the following extract from the introduction written by Henry Norman Hudson for The Tragedy of King Lear published in 1911 for The New Hudson Shakespeare series.

(In the very long quotation the 16th century spelling looks odd, but you can almost always make it out. Just remember that "v" is used where we expect "u," and vice-versa. Also, you can often sound words out if you allow for the fact that over time vowels change a lot; for example, "othes" is "oaths" and "toong" is "tongue.")

While Shakespeare may have learned the outlines of the Lear story from many sources, — tradition, or the works in prose and verse just mentioned, — it is certain that he was familiar with the version given in his favorite source book of British history, the Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, by Raphael Holinshed (Holynshed, Hollynshed, Hollingshead, etc.), first published in two folio volumes in 1577. A second edition appeared in 1587, "newlie augmented and continued." In this second edition are many interesting changes in the text, and the fact that Shakespeare adopts some of these in his historical plays, strengthens the conclusion that this was the edition used by him. The following extracts are from The second Booke of the historie of England, chapters v and vi:

     Leir the sonne of Baldud was admitted ruler ouer the Britaines in the yeare of the world 3105, at what time Joas reigned in Juda. This Leir was a prince of right noble demeanor, gouerning his land and subjects in great wealth. He made the towne of Caerleir now called Leicester, which standeth vpon the riuer of Sore. It is written that he had by his wife three daughters without other issue, whose names were Gonorilla, Regan, and Cordeilla, which daughters he greatly loued, but specially Cordeilla the yoongest farre aboue the two elder. When this Leir therefore was come to great yeres, and began to waxe vnweldie through age, he thought to vnderstand the affections of his daughters towards him, and preferre hir whome he best loued to the succession ouer the kingdome. Whervpon he first asked Gonorilla the eldest, how well she loued him: who calling hir gods to record, protested that she loued him more than hir owne life, which by right and reason should be most deere to hir. With which answer the father being well pleased, turned to the second, and demanded of hir how well she loued him: who answered (confirming hir saiengs with great othes) that she loued him more than toong could expresse, and farre aboue all other creatures of the world.
     Then called he his yoongest daughter Cordeilla before him, and asked of hir what account she made of him, vnto whome she made this answer as followeth: "Knowing the great loue and fatherlie zeale that you haue alwaies borne towards me (for the which I maie not answere you otherwise than I thinke, and as my conscience leadeth me) I protest vunto you, that I have loued you euer, and will continuallie (while I liue) loue you as my naturall father. And if you would more vnderstand of the loue that I beare you, assertaine your selfe that so much as you haue, so much you are worth, and so much I loue you, and no more." The father being nothing content with this answer, married his two eldest daughters, the one vnto Henninus the duke of Cornwall, and the other vnto Magianus the duke of Albania, betwixt whome he willed and ordeined that his land should be deuided after his death, and the one halfe thereof immediatelie should be assigned to them in hand: but for the third daughter Cordeilla he reserued nothing.
     Nevertheless it fortuned that one of the princes of Gallia (which now is called France) whose name was Aganippus, hearing of the beautie, womanhood, and good conditions of the said Cordeilla, desired to haue hir in mariage, and sent ouer to hir father, requiring that he might haue hir to wife: to whome answer was made, that he might haue his daughter, but as for anie dower he could haue none, for all was promised and assured to hir other sisters already. Aganippus notwithstanding this answer of denial to receiue anie thing by way of dower with Cordeilla, took hir to wife, onlie moued thereto (I saie) for respect of hir person and amiable vertues. This Aganippus was one of the twelue kings that ruled Gallia in those daies, as in the British historie it is recorded. But to proceed.
     After that Leir was fallen into age, the two dukes that had married his two eldest daughters, thinking it long yer the gouernment of the land did come to their hands, arose against him in armour, and reft from him the gouernance of the land, vpon conditions to be continuied for terme of life: by the which he was put to his portion, that is to liue after a rate assigned to him for the maintenance of his estate, which in processe of time was diminished as well by Maglanus as by Henninus. But the greatest griefe that Leir tooke, wa to see the vnkindnesse of his daughters, which seemed to thinke that all was too much which their father had, the same being neuer so little: in so muche that going from the one to the other, he was brought to that miserie, that scarslie thy would allow him one seruant to wait vpon him.
     In the end, such was the vnkindesse, or (as I maie saie) the vnnaturalnesse which he found in his two daughters, notwithstanding their faire and pleasant words vttered in time past, that being constreined of necessitie, he fled the land, & sailed into Gallia, whom before time he hated. The ladie Cordeilla hearing that he was arriued in poore estate, she first sent to him priuilie a certeine summe of monie to apparell himselfe withall, and to reteine a certeine number of seruants that might attend vpon him in honorable wise, as apperteined to the estate which he had borne: and then so accompanied, she appointed him to come to the court, which he did, and was so ioifullie [joyfully], honorablie, and louinglie receiued, both by his sonne in law Aganippus, and also by his daughter Cordeilla, that his hart was greatlie comforted: for he was no lesse honored, than if he had beene king of the whole countrie himselfe.
     Now when he had informed his sonne in law and his daughter in what sort he had beene vsed by his other daughters, Aganippus caused a mightie armie to be put in a readinesse, and likewise a great nauie of ships to be rigged to passe ouer into Britaine with Leir his father in law, to see him againe restored to his kingdome. It was accorded, that Cordeilla should also go with him to take possession of the land, the which he promised to leaue vnto hir, as the rightfull inheritour after his decesse, notwithstanding any former grant made ot hir sisters or to their husbands in anie maner of wise.
     Herevpon, when this armie and nauie of ships were readie, Leir and his daughter Cordeilla with hir husband tooke the sea, and arriuing in Britaine, fought with their enimies, and discomfited them in battell, in the which Magianus and Henninus were slaine: and then was Leir restored to his kingdome, which he ruled after this by the space of two yeeres, and then died, fortie yeeres after he first began to reigne. His bodie was buried at Leicester in a vaut vner the chanell of the riuer of Sore beneath the towne....Cordeilla the yoongest daughter of Leir was admitted Q. and supreme gouernesse of Britaine in the yeere of the world 3155, before the bylding of Rome 54; Uzia was then reigning in Juda, and Jeroboam ouer Israell. This Cordeilla after hir fathers deceasse ruled the land of Britaine right worthilie during the space of fiue yeeres, in which meane time hir husband died, and then about the end of those fiue yeeres, hir two nephews Margan and Cunedag, sonnes to hir aforesaid sisters, disdaining to be vnder the gouernment of a woman, leuied warre against hir, and destroied a great part of the land, and finallie tooke hir prisoner, and laid hir fast in ward, wherewith she tooke suche griefe, being a woman of a manlie courage, and despairing to recouer libertie, there she slue hirselfe.

In Holinshed's Chronicles, as in the earlier narratives, no supreme catstrophe overwhelms the old king; he has no great rage deepening into madness; there is no mention of Gloucester and his sons, of Kent's banishment and disguise, or of the Fool. Only in the simple statement that Cordelia slew herself is suggested the unutterable pathos of what Wordsworth would have called an old unhappy far-off thing.