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Darkness and Devils
Exorcism and King Lear

By John L. Murphy

Shakespeare’s King Lear appears twice in the records of dramatic performances before the closing of the theaters in 1642. The King’s Men played it before the King’s Majesty in Whitehall on December 26, 1606. The Lord Cholmeley’s Players gave it at Gowthwaite, a manor house of Sir John and Dame Julyan Yorke, Nidderdale, West Riding, in Candlemas, 1610. The activities of this acting company, a Yorkshire recusant group formed in the North Riding, occasioned the largest body of Star Chamber record material that we have. For the first time, Darkness and Devils fully explores the ties between King Lear and these worlds.

In 1733 Lewis Theobald established a clear link betwen Shakespeare’s King Lear and Archbishop Samuel Harsnett’s A Declaration of Egregious Popish Impostures, and in 1953 Professor Kenneth Muir set out an elaborate network of verbal echoes and associations between the two works. Darkness and Devils is the first published work since Theobald to examine Harsnett’s Declaration to see what it really is.

Murphy explains the detailed connections between the English Papist exorcisings of the mid-1580s, the “The Babington Plot,” the trial and execution of Mary Queen of Scots, and Harsnett’s satire as they relate to the world of King Lear. Further, in connection with the rhymes and enigmatic language of the quartet on the heath in Lear, Murphy examines the old play, King Leir, John Day’s use of Sidney’s Arcadia in The Isle of Gulls and Day’s Blind Beggar of Bednal Green. By identifying sources and concerns in Lear never before touched upon, Murphy argues for a new theory for the play’s performance.

John L. Murphy is professor of English at the University of Colorado, Boulder. His previous publications include The Late Medieval Religious Plays of Bodleian MSS. Digby 133 and e Museo 160 (Oxford, E.E.T.S., 1982), Collections IX (Malone Society, Clarendon Press, 1972–77), and articles in English Language Notes, Shakespeare Quarterly, and Medium Aevum.   More info →

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