Shakespeare at the Guildhall
by Emma Lee

(1594 King Leir, a play featuring a king with three daughters the youngest of whom is Cordeilla, published around the time Shakespeare’s company visited Leicester’s Guildhall; 1610 King Lear published.)

Cordeilla knows her sisters will say whatever
Leir wants to hear, falsely thinking flattery
will advantage them, unable to see
short -term gains make for long-term disaster.
Leir calls the tune to his narcissistic dance.
Cordeilla’s ears open to the discordant
undertones so he makes her his scapegoat.
Isolated, sneered at, she’s sent to France.

I stand in the Lord Mayor’s ornate Parlour,
Here Shakespeare learnt of a Leicester king, Leir,
who only welcomed two of three daughters.
Myth became play. I stray. I face my fear.
I’ll fail this. I was my mother’s mirror
to reflect back love, and flatter for her
credit. I wasn’t allowed to falter
away and become my own director.

Leir lost a kingdom to learn his lesson.
Elderly and needing care, he retreated
to Cordeilla when family rejected
him. She saw a humble man able to listen.

I sense echoes in this historic room.
They’d been published: I would read my poems
in a strange city where I’d first felt welcome
and where, for the first time, I had a home.

At the Guildhall, Shakespeare read the Leir play,
which seeded subplots, grew like rosemary.

At the Guildhall, I finally faced my fear.
I can cut my past, my future is here.

PHOTO: The Guildhall, Leicester, England.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Emma Lee‘s most recent collection is Ghosts in the Desert (IDP, 2015). She was one of the co-editors for Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge (Five Leaves, 2015), and Welcome to Leicester (Dahlia Publishing, 2016). She blogs at and reviews for London Grip, The Journal, The High Window Journal, and Sabotage Reviews.