King Lear Context



  • It is thought that Lear may have had Lewy body dementia or parkinsons.
  • He had many of the symptoms, including; Hallucinations, jerk movements, anger, irresponsible behaviour, lack of inhibition.
  • "I hereby disclaim all my paternal care, proquinity and property of blood, and as a stranger to my heart and me." - irresponsible behaviour.
  • "Poor old man." - Lack of inhibition.
  • "Hear me recreant! On thine allegience, hear me!" - Anger
  • "[Kneels] Dear daughter, I confess that I am old." - Jerk movements.
  • "I'll see their trial first. Bring in their evidence. Thou, robbed man of justice, take thy place. And thou, his yokefellow of equity, bench by his side. You are o' the commission, sit you too." - Hallucinations.

State of Mind

  • Lear seems to be falling into a state of madness. 
  • Mental health and madness were seen as supernatural events.
  • They were seen as dangerous and were locked up to protect society. 
  • Symptoms - blindness, impulsiveness, poor judgement, mood swings.
  • Familiar theme in renaissence theatre, and plays a large part in a tragedy's larger investigation of what constitutes humanity.
  • Taking clothes off and being naked on stage confronts the audience with the fraility of the human body.
  • Shakespeare's thoery of second youth being the final stage of man.
  • From a psychoanalytic viewpoint, Lear experiences regression to childhood, seeing Cordelia as a mother-like figure. 
  • Sir Brian ANnesley's eldest daughter and husband tried to have him certified as a senile lunatic so that they could take over his property. His youngest daughter Cordell, saved him by challenging her older sister in court.
  • People at the time believed that hysteria was mainly in women as the word originates from a word meaning womb.


  • During Lear's reign, the crown is granted by God to those who are capable. The king would rule for life and die as king.
  • Played a key role in the 1600s
  • Well established families had birth and lineage. 
  • If a nobleman died with no hier, his wealth would be shared out. 
  • Elizabethan era found importance in people showing respect to the wealthy and powerful, and have a deference paid.
  • There was rigid class system. 


  • Stood apart from the social order in the Renaissance era. 
  • Royal and nobel household often employed them for recreation.
  • Sometime referred to as 'naturals' if they were mentally disabled. 'Naturals' who had an inability to adopt sophisticated social conventions were regarded as humerous. 
  • Other fools were witty and mocked the court.

Poor Tom

  • Acting as a Bedlam Beggar. 
  • Acting as though they had just come from the institution for the mad, BedlamHospital. 
  • These people also cried poor tom and poor toms a cold.
  • They were often seen 'halfe naked' and 'talke frantickly of purpose."
  • "Frateretto calls me, and tells me Nero is an angler in the lake of darkness." - Shakespeare has taken the demons from Declaration of Egregious Popish Impostures published just before King Lear. It is propoganda based on a series of exorcisms by Jesus priests. Adds satirical tone to…


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