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Dover: Lock and Key of the Kingdom

William Shakespeare - King Lear (1606)

Some of the action of Shakespeare’s play ‘King Lear’ takes  place around Dover. The play was first performed at court on  26 December 1606, and was probably written in late 1605 or  early 1606.  On 4 October 1605 the ‘King’s Men’, Shakespeare’s theatre  company, visited Dover and it is quite likely that Shakespeare  himself was with them. He certainly must have visited Dover  at sometime as he uses one of its landmarks as the setting  for one scene. In Act 4, Scene 1 the blinded Earl of Gloucester asks Edgar to  lead him to Dover:   GLOUCESTER  Dost thou know Dover?  EDGAR  Ay, master GLOUCESTER  There is a cliff whose high and bending head   Looks fearfully in the confined deep   Bring me to the very brim of it, And I’ll repair the misery thou dost bear   With something rich about me: from that place I shall no leading need.  That cliff, to the west of Dover, is now called Shakespeare  Cliff in honour of its mention by the Bard. In Act 4, Scene 6  Shakespeare wrote of the view as seen from the green cliff  top: EDGAR   Come on, sir; here's the place: stand still. How fearful And dizzy 'tis, to cast one's eyes so low! The crows and choughs that wing the midway air Show scarce so gross as beetles: half way down Hangs one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade! Methinks he seems no bigger than his head:   The fishermen, that walk upon the beach, Appear like mice; and yond tall anchoring bark,   Diminished to her cock; her cock, a buoy Almost too small for sight: the murmuring surge, That on the unnumbered idle pebbles chafes, Cannot be heard so high. I'll look no more;   Lest my brain turn, and the deficient sight Topple down headlong.   The "Samphire" is a succulent plant that was once made into  tasty pickle but seldom found today.
William Shakespeare. The title page of the first folio edition of his plays published in 1623. Shakespeare Cliff. Back to Words Index