Regarded as the earliest extant ‘regular’ (i.e. five-act) tragedy, Gorboduc has echoes of the sibling conflicts of Greek myth (Eteocles and Polyneices, Thyestes and Atreus), but was based on the chronicles of Geoffrey of Monmouth. Geoffrey also described the consequences of Lear dividing his kingdom, which Shakespeare was to dramatize some 40 years later. This theme and the dangers inherent in having no legitimate heir would have been of particular interest to the audience, whose Queen, Elizabeth I, remained childless. While in some respects following the model of ancient classical drama – the five acts, the use of a chorus to comment on the action, all violent action taking place offstage and being merely reported – the authors also introduced important innovations – the dumbshows prefacing each act, the disregard for the unities of time and place, and the first extant use of blank verse, the wonderfully flexible unrhymed iambic pentameter, which was to be so successfully exploited by Shakespeare. An ‘academic tragedy’, it was written by two politicians and performed by students at the Inns of Court, not by professionals.
Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).
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