• Created by: Pip Dan
  • Created on: 20-09-17 16:42

Like many of Shakespeare’s plays, Hamlet and Macbeth being key examples, King Lear offers insight into Kingship and power. Shakespeare was writing at a time when most governments were headed by a monarch and so this was a very relevant them. Many critics have noted the similarities and differences between Lear and James I, the King of Britain when Shakespeare was writing. The theme of kingship itself is mostly connected to Lear

The humanity of kings

Shakespeare explored tensions between the private lives and public roles of his powerful characters in many of his plays. It is the dual identity of Lear as King and Father which is a key idea in the play but also the concept that Lear is just a man. Shakespeare shows that kings are at their most vulnerable and human when they are beset by a combination of family and political problems. When Lear gives away his kingdom to Goneril and Regan, he exposes his humanity to their cruelty and is not protected by his kingly status and all the private and public power which that had bestowed upon him.

Shakespeare also reveals the depth of suffering to which Lear's common humanity renders him susceptible. When he strips off his robes he reveals himself to be a man just like any member of the audience. In one scene he appears to be indistinguishable from a naked beggar. It is only when the trappings of power are removed that Lear learns the importance of equal justice for everyone in his (former) kingdom, the significance of not being blinded by appearance and rank. He realises how addicted he has been the role of King and its power and authority to boost his ego. Only when he suffers does the audience witness Lear’s capacity for justice, mercy, devotion, courage and fortitude but by then these qualities are relatively ineffective in their impact on wider society.

Goneril and Regan

Goneril and Regan associate their share of the land with absolute power of a monarch. They reject any allegiance to God or to any divine justice. Instead, they establish their own system of morality, one based on their father's law rather than natural law. Goneril and Regan can be as absolute in their decisions as King Lear chooses to be-their behaviour can be seen as echoing King Lear’s. In their choices, Cornwall and Regan remind the audience of Macbeth and his wife. Cornwall and Regan present a ruling couple,  perhaps even more ruthless, but just as ambitious as the Macbeths, willing to murder their way to absolute power.

Goneril and Regan dismiss Lear's one hundred knights, who are really his small personal army. Their action is reasonable if they expect to seize rule and authority. Although the threat of losing a personal guard warrants remedy, King Lear's response to this move causes further crisis. No king should allow his army to be disbanded, and so Goneril and Regan's actions are certainly dangerous to the king. But by this time, Lear…


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