King Lear Context

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  • King Lear Context
    • Set/Written/ Published
      • Roughly 800bc - second earliest setting of plays
      • Written between 1604 and 1606, first performed in 1606 on boxing day for King James 1 at Whitehall Palace
      • First published version appeared in First Quarto in 1608
    • Religion
      • Henry VIII created protestant state in 1530
      • Deep suspicion of Roman Catholics as potential traitors, reinforced Gunpowder plot in 1605
        • Roman Catholic attempted to destroy government
        • KL written same year, time of uncertainty/unrest
    • Influences
      • Lawsuit where the eldest of three sisters attempted to get father (Sir Brian Annesley) declared as insane to possess property
        • Annesley's youngest daughter - Cordell, successfully defended her father against her sister.
      • William Allen - Mayor of London who was treated very poorly by daughters after dividing wealth among them.
    • Shakespeare's life
      • 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems
      • Between 1585 and 1592 he begain a successful career in London as an actor, writer and part owner of a playing company (Lord Chamberlain's men, later known as King's men)
      • Produced most of his work from 1589-1613,
    • Women and Patriarchy
      • Husbands/fathers had absolute authority over women
      • Women's rights restricted legally, socially and economically
      • Lear shows assertive, powerful and impressive female characters.
      • Ultimate subservience evident at end of play as all three sisters lie dead.
    • Family
      • Extremely hierarchical society - absolute deference and respect be paid not only to the wealthy and powerful but also to parents and the elderly.
      • Demonstrates how vulnerable parents and noblemen are to the depredations of unscrupulous (immoral) children and thus how fragile the fabric of Elizabethan society actually was.
      • Abdication of Lear (renouncing the throne was considered shameful act - going against the belief of the divine right of kings.
        • Audience would have been shocked and may have predicted tragic downfall of  Lear.
    • Nationalism
      • Renaissance society was intensely nationalistic
      • Shakespeare fascinated of rivalry between evolving nation states - politics/power
      • Royal Courts were of great interest to people of time.
      • Play's were subject to censorship and direct criticism of monarchy or court wouldn't be tolerated.
        • Shakespeare could change setting/context of plays for this reason.


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