King Lear

The Relationship Between Essays and King Lear

John Florio's English translation of Michel de Montaigne's Essays was published in 1603. William Shakespeare's King Lear was written between 1604 and 1605, after he wrote Othello and before he wrote Macbeth. The extremely close time relationship between Essays and King Lear has led many to believe that Montaigne had a great influence on the play. It has been noted by critics that King Lear contains more than one hundred words which Shakespeare had never before used, words which can be found in Essays. In addition, many themes that Montaigne addresses in Essays play a vital role in King Lear.

One theme common in the two works is the conflict between nature and culture, between the natural state of humanity and the state which culture has imposed on it. Montaigne stresses his preference for the natural from the beginning. In "To the Reader," he writes:

Had it been my purpose to seek the world's favor, I should haveput on finer clothes, and have presented myself in a studiedattitude. But I want to appear in my simple, natural, andeveryday dress, without strain or artifice; for it is myself thatI portray. (p. 23)

Montaigne sets up clothing as a metaphor for culture, a metaphor which he uses often in the...

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