King Lear Themes


Theme of Family

  • Families act as a microcosm of state
  • Play has a cyclical structure regarding families: begins with images of a broken family (Gloucester's relationship with Edmund) and ends with death and desctruction caused by fractured family

Family and Deceit Quotes

  • "Legitimate Edgar, I must have you land." Edmund, 1.2
  • "A love that makes breath poor and speech unable" Goneril, 1.1
  • "They valour and thy heart, thy are a traitor" Edgar to Edmund, 5.3

Links with Oedipus

  • "She had conceived a husband by a husband, and children by a child" Chorus


  • Jacobean era - religious and social change. Feudal view of the world was changing. Deceitful family (i.e Edmund, Regan, Goneril) a rebellion against old feudalistci system?
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Theme of Authority and Power

  • Shakespeare presents a world filled with characters desperately grasping for authority, leading to acts of cruelty - affirms power attacks and corrupts societal structures?

Authority and Power and Deceit Quotes

  • "You should be ruled and led/ By some discretion that discerns your state/ better than you yourself" Regan. 2.4
  • "The laws are mine not thine" Goneril, 5.3

Links with Oedipus

  • "Political rank, wealth and power and men's ambitions clawing at each other"


  • Shakespeare's portrayal of a fracturing kingdom at a time when James I was uniting England and Scotland was likely deeply shocking to Jacobean audiences, presents pessimistic view of monarchy's validity and warns danger of absolute power.
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Theme of Disguise/Truth

  • Characters find more success and truth in disguise than when they are themselves. Edmund's Machiavellian maniuplation nearly leads to him to kingship, Edgar spends much of play as Poor Tom, ends up as a King-like figure at the end of the play.
  • Lear in his diguise learns more about the outside world and the abuse of power.

Disguise/Truth and Deceit

  • "Edgar I nothing am" Edgar, 2.3 - In his soliloquy. Soliloquies usually written to indicate a character's madness, Edgar disguises as a mad beggar - deceives the audience as well?
  • "Through tattered clothes great vices do appear/ Robes and furrowed gowns hide all" Lear, 4.6

Links with Oedipus

  • "I am the King. I enjoy Laius' title, his bed, and his wife."
  • "We live in the shadow of a curse."
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