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King Lear. Historical background. Lear is a mythical king, appears in several works. Written at height of Shakespeare’s tragic period (1601-1608) Lear first played in spring 1606. Elizabeth had died March 1603; court degeneracy followed. National grief. Historical background.

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King Lear

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historical background
Historical background
  • Lear is a mythical king, appears in several works.
  • Written at height of Shakespeare’s tragic period (1601-1608)
  • Lear first played in spring 1606.
  • Elizabeth had died March 1603; court degeneracy followed. National grief.
historical background1
Historical background
  • Elizabethans were going through a confusing and difficult time.
  • 1606—Plague—30,000 died.
  • Feeling that the universe was corrupt and at the point of dissolution.
  • Universal gloom. Fear of vast and vague calamity.
  • Difficult, mature plot. Not an easy play.
  • Playing Lear requires power and maturity from actor.
  • Elaborate plot/subplot.
  • Timeless and universal themes.
plot synopsis
Plot synopsis
  • Lear is a pre-Christian King in southwest England. He decides to retire and to divide his kingdom among his three daughters. He asks if they love him. Goneril and Regan claim extravagently that they do; Cordelia answers honestly. Lear disinherits Cordelia.
double plot not subplot
Double plot (not subplot)
  • Lear and Gloucester. Lear has three daughters; Gloucester has two sons.
  • Stories parallel and complement each other.Makes tragedy universal.
  • Lear is a powerful man who imposes his will on the world; Gloucester too easily accepts the will of the world.
  • Gloucester’s flaw is passivity; Lear is violently active on wrong principles
themes parental authority
Themes—Parental authority
  • How children and parents treat each other.
  • Relationship of children/fathers.
  • How should children show love/loyalty to their parents? Should parents reward love/loyalty?
  • Clash of ages/generational conflicts.
theme nature as universal order
Theme—Nature as universal order
  • Elizabethan belief—order of nature reflects human law. Nature was ordered for good of Man.
  • Is nature a norm for conduct?
  • Erosion of order leads to an amoral collection of forces.
  • Storms symbolic of chaos.
nature and order
Nature and order
  • Natural order=family
  • Family and birthright—legitimate vs. illegitimate
  • Need to look beyond surface to understand love, affection, and loyalty.
great chain of being
Great Chain of Being
  • A belief that every being occupies a predetermined place in hierarchy of universe.
  • Strong belief in power and influence of starts, fate and the gods.
  • Great chain of being—divinely preordained—invited human passivity, despondence, and lack of initiative
great chain of being1
Great Chain of Being
  • Renaissance is a time of moving away from this belief.
  • Renaissance shifts away from human passivity and influence of gods/fate and toward an emphasis on human self-determination, independence, and responsibility
theme madness
  • Man’s ability to reason an important part of his personality.
  • Real madness in Lear? When Lear is mad, he reasons better.
  • Feigned madness in others
  • Fool=wisest character.
theme pride self will
  • Lear’s over-confidence causes him to make several mistakes:
  • 1. believes he can retain privileges of kingship w/o responsibilities.
  • 2. insists love can be measured by words and land.
  • 3. fails to understand language/words of his daughters.
role of women
Role of women
  • Marriages were arranged.
  • Women occupied lower social status than men.
  • What picture of women is Shakespeare painting in this play?
  • Can be seen as protagonist; similar to Antigone.
  • Must make difficult choice; penalty for either option--Tell her father what he wants to hear or stand on her dignity.
  • Cordelia tries to compromise.
importance of paradox
Importance of paradox
  • Gloucester is physically blinded at the moment he receives spiritual insight.
  • Lear is more lucid when he is mad.
  • Fool is wisest character.
  • Watch for other examples.
  • Animal/Nature imagery most prevalent in the play. 57 different animals named in the play.
  • Clothing/nakedness
  • Fortune/fate
  • Eyesight/blindness—Sight/Insight vs. Blindness and Ignorance
aristotle s definition of tragedy
Aristotle’s definition of tragedy
  • Reversal is essential in Aristotle’s view of tragedy. State of affairs change rapidly; climax; reversal of discovery; from ignorance to understanding.
  • Moment of discovery is highly dramatic moment. Recognition scenes.
  • In Lear the process of self-discovery is the center of the tragedy. It is the play.
  • Lear as tragic hero. What is his flaw?
macrocosm microcosm
  • By understanding the small world of Lear, we can better understand the entire world.
  • Human nature.