Palimpsest and Metonym: Early Modern Variants of the Leir Story

PhD Thesis

Cutcliffe, Katrina Ann. 2022. Palimpsest and Metonym: Early Modern Variants of the Leir Story. PhD Thesis Doctor of Philosophy. University of Southern Queensland.

Palimpsest and Metonym: Early Modern Variants of the Leir Story

TypePhD Thesis
AuthorsCutcliffe, Katrina Ann
1. FirstProf Laurie Johnson
2. SecondProf Patrick Danaher
Institution of OriginUniversity of Southern Queensland
Qualification NameDoctor of Philosophy
Number of Pages416
PublisherUniversity of Southern Queensland
Place of PublicationAustralia
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Today, variants of the story of King Leir are addressed as either sources for, or adaptations of, Shakespeare’s King Lear. This linear and teleological approach has unnecessarily obscured a rich and complex palimpsest of cognate variants of the Leir story that existed in the early modern era. In this thesis, a new method, the historical collation, is proposed and utilised in order to understand this palimpsest. A historical collation of the bibliographic, paratextual, and narrative elements of substantive retellings of the Leir story, found in works printed in the British Isles between 1557 and 1710, reveals several trends and influences within the palimpsest. Variants of the Leir story were initially consistent and conservative, factual historiographies written to praise the monarch and the nation. Then, driven by trends within the book trade, and the diversification of historical genres, variants of the Leir story fractured and diversified in content and context, with the exigencies of new generic forms motivating the inclusion of topicalities and fictional elements. Finally, responding to trends within historiography, variants of the Leir story stagnated in number, style, and content, largely failing to respond to the politicised nature of contemporary print. Co-occurring with, but not causing this stagnation, was Shakespeare’s nascent canonisation, with the story of King Leir no longer relevant as a history, but instead becoming sought after as a Shakespearean creation. Thus, a historical collation illuminates the palimpsest of early modern variants of the Leir story and reveals trends within the book trade as its greatest influence, impacting first upon the diversification and popularisation of the traditional historiography, and then upon its stagnation and regeneration.

KeywordsKing Leir; King Lear; Source Studies; Early Modern Studies; Book History; Shakespeare
Contains Sensitive ContentDoes not contain sensitive content
ANZSRC Field of Research 2020470504. British and Irish literature
470503. Book history
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Byline AffiliationsAcademic Transformation Portfolio
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