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To browse Academia. Skip to main content. You're using an out-of-date version of Internet Explorer. Log In Sign Up. Future Histories in King Lear. Meredith Beales. This prophecy shall Merlin make, for I live before his time. The early modern Britain the Fool foresees — a world populated with the citizens of early modern London — is a funhouse distortion of British society rather than a mirror image of it. Throughout Lear, characters gesture towards a future that never quite comes into focus.
The result is a portrait of a future that recedes, awkwardly, into the distance: even as the Fool describes post-Lear Britain, Shakespeare presents a reimagined history in which that future the early modern present, or sometimes the medieval past , could not have existed, had events unfolded as he portrays them. At the same time, these predictions serve to suggest, repeatedly, that a future should be possible.
The play teases visions of the future while playing out the ancient tragedy which forestalls its appearance. King Lear frustrates attempts to locate it firmly in time, as the play seems to be set in a British antiquity that vibrates with modern and medieval resonances.
Instead of chronicle history, Shakespeare substitutes theatrical intensity, collapsing the tragic history of several generations of ancient British kings into one. In King Lear, the anticipated future can never quite come to pass. The Tudor and Stuart monarchs traced their ancestry back to the ancient legendary kings of Britain, a line which includes Lear.
Shakespeare transfers the dynastic defeat dramatized in Gorboduc back several generations to the Lear story, but, like Sackville and Norton, Shakespeare explicitly describes the end of Britain as a function of both family discord and dynastic failure. The Leir play ends happily, but this uncomplicatedly happy ending is also a simplification of the much longer and more fraught narrative in the chronicles. A keen reader of the chronicles would be aware that the offspring of these two characters would parent the next generation of the dynasty.