Internet Shakespeare Editions

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  • Title: The Mirror for Magistrates (Selection)
  • Editors: Michael Best, Sarah Milligan, Joey Takeda

  • Copyright Internet Shakespeare Editions. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Authors: William Baldwin, John Higgins
    Editors: Michael Best, Sarah Milligan, Joey Takeda
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    The Mirror for Magistrates (Selection)

    The Mirror for Magistrates is an anthology of narrative poems telling of those in power who suffered a tragic fall from grace. First published in 1555, later editions added material from various writers; the edition of 1575 included additions by John Higgins, including the story of Cordelia's life and death. Like Chaucer's "Monk's Tale," the Mirror for Magistrates follows the tradition of Boccaccio, whose De Casibus Virorum Illustrium (Of the Falls of Famous Men) tells the stories of famous men whose good fortune abruptly came to an end.
    The life of Cordila (as her name is spelled here) is a good example of tragedy conceived fundamentally as the inevitable turning of Fortune's wheel, where the subject of the tragedy is not necessarily the cause of her own downfall. While her father, King Leire, is clearly guilty of misjudgement and excessive attention to flattery, Cordila's defeat and imprisonment is brought about by a kind of echo of Leire's foolishness, since the rebellion against her is led by the sons of Gonerell and Ragan. Her actual death, by suicide, is of course choice, and the narrative makes much of her moral failure at the end as well as emphasizing the fickleness of Fortune.
    The narrative is expecially interesting in the way it is presented from Coridila's point of view (apparently narrated after her death). Her tragedy is made personal and, to a degree, interior. This extract is a modernized version of the edition by Lily Bess Campbell (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1946, 146-60). The syntax is often tricky to untangle, as Higgins contorts sentences to allow for the right word to appear for the rhyme.