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Word Count: 5,264
William Shakespeares King Lear contains a number of curious temporal allusions Gloucester declares Edgar some yeare elder to his half-brother 1119-20 while Edmund reckons himself twelve or 14 mooneshines junior Lears banishment of Kent matures to a death-sentence on the fifteenth day in Quarto 1 11176-81 but on the sixteenth day in the Folio 187-92 Lear who imposes himself on his daughters by monthly course 11134 sounds evocatively self-referential as he speaks of great ones That ebbe and flow bith Moone 5217-18 1 In this essay I suggest that the common denominator of the temporal allusions in Lear is a lunar calendar I identify this calendar as a primitive pre-Roman Etruscan model and establish Shakespeares ancient source for its form Finally I claim that textual evidence in the Q1 Lear suggests that the play was purpose-written or substantially revised for performance before King James I on 26 December 1606 Scholars accept that Shakespeare was familiar with Holinsheds account of King Leir who flourished in the ninth century BC three generations prior to the founding of Rome in 752-750 BC 2 Logically Leirs early date would seem to preclude Shakespeare from applying to Lear the calendars of Pope Gregory XIII 1582 Julius Caesar 45 BC the Roman Republic 153 BC or even Numa Pompilius c 720 BC 3 Various calendars were operative during the historical Leirs era among them the 355-day Babylonian and Hebrew lunar formulations and the solar 365-day Egyptian But the invocation of Roman deities in Lear entails that Shakespeare imagined his ancient king and kingdom following some form of primitive Roman festal calendar Plutarch Shakespeares favorite Roman source provides a concise epitome of the form of the primitive calendar of Rome and its evolution from Etruscan antecedents Plutarch writes that Romulus successor Numa Pompilius begane also to mende a litle the calendar not so exactly as he should have done nor yet altogether ignorantly For during the raigne of
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