Edgar, King of England, 959-975: King Lear subplot


In the revised First Folio text of King Lear the last lines of the play are assigned to Edgar after Albany and Kent have refused the office of king while Edgar effectively accepts the role, as authoritative commentator, like Octavius, Fortinbras, and Malcolm at the end of their plays.

That fits the name of Edgar, celebrated for over a thousand years throughout England as that of one of England's greatest rulers. King Edgar "The Peaceable" was a strong leader who consolidated the political unity of England. Edgar was crowned at Bath, but not until 973 in a ceremony planned as the culmination of his successful reign. Memorably, the other kings in Britain, including those of Albany (Scotland) and Strathclyde, pledged their allegiance to Edgar, by plying the oars of Edgar's state barge on the River Dee. Edgar died in 975 leaving two sons, the elder, Edward (illegitimate by Æthelflæd), and Æthelred (by his wife Ælfthryth). He was succeeded by Edward. Edgar also had an illegitimate daughter by Wulfryth, later abbess of Wilton, where this daughter, Edith, was a nun. Both nuns were regarded as saints.

Shakespeare enriches his play by co-ordinating Ancient Britain with such material from Anglo-Saxon England. After the defeat and death of a wicked brother, Edgar restored the unity of England through a Christian tolerance of adversaries as Lear's pagan justice could not. Edgar is associated with several saints, despite a misspent youth, like Prince Hal's, reflected in his illegitimate children (and unexpectedly confessed by Edgar in King Lear, III.iv.84-99). The play adds other Saxon names: Oswald and Edmund (one Edmund was King of East Anglia, sanctified after murder by Vikings). Shakespeare's younger actor-brother was called Edmund after the saint, and was buried in Southwark, near the Globe in 1607.

[Data courtesy of the Yorck Project, under Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License (Wikipedia)]

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