King Lear Ao3

First performance 1606St Stephen’s Day
when written 1604-7 ish
Full title ‘The Tragedy of King Lear’
Death of Elizabeth I 1603
Derived from . . . the legend of Leir of Britain, a mythological pre-Roman Celtic king
After the English Restoration – changes made to the play the play was often revised with a happy, non-tragic ending for audiences who disliked its dark and depressing tone
publication in a quarto 1608’King Lear – The History of King Lear’
publication of First Folio 1623’The Tragedy of King Lear’, a more theatrical revision
how editors blend the two versions Before the 1990s, editors usually “blended” the two texts, taking what they believed were the best versions of each sceneIn recent times, some editors have started focusing on the “original” 1608 edition
Setting England, pre-Christian times
Shakespeare’s theatre troupe adopted by King James 1603Named the King’s Men
Shakespeare died 1616
Political context of when written King James VI, King of Scotland and England, was trying to persuade English Parliament to approve of union of two countries into one nation
first use of ‘Great Britain’ King James used it to describe the unity of the Celtic and Saxon lands: England, Scotland, and Wales
accession a combination of nations like Great Britain
James’ references to King Leir in his speeches to Parliament James referenced the disunion of England under King Leir
Shakespeare’s sources for KL Raphael Holinshed’s ‘Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland’ (1587)Edmund Spenser’s ‘The Faeries Queen’ (1590)Sir Philip Sidney’s ‘Arcadia’ (1580-90)
Raphael Holinshed’s ‘Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland’ (1587) took the story of Lear from the ‘History of the British Kingdom’ by Geoffrey of Monmouth, 12th century
Lear’s rejection of Cordelia resembles . . . numerous classical British fairy tales, where a father rejects a daughter on the grounds that he does not believe she loves him enough
Edmund Spenser’s ‘The Faeries Queen’ (1590) features a character named Cordelia, who dies by hanging
Sir Philip Sidney’s ‘Arcadia’ (1580-90) contains an outline of the Gloucester subplot
‘bedlam’ slang word for ‘Bethlehem’ which was the name of a mental institute in London
basis of character of Poor Tom vagabonds or madmen considered dangerous in England
doubling of roles of Cordelia and the Fool never onstage at the same time; – first time that Lear summons the Fool, in 1.4, both he and his Knight observe that the Fool has been melancholy ever since Cordelia was sent to France- in 5.3, upon learning of Cordelia’s death, Lear remarks “And my poor fool is hanged”
stars, heavens, gods strong belief that order on earth depended on order in the heavensCelestial bodies are thus both a metaphor of order and a potential source of disorder, when they go awry
hysterica passio Egyptian papyrus first described the malady 1900 BC – disease of the ‘hyster’, the wombwomen suffering from various illnesses such as epilepsy, were said to be ill with hysteria, caused by the wandering womb
wandering womb caused by either lack of sexual intercourse or retention of menstrual blood: patient prescribed with advice to get married
life expectancy in early modern England Under 30High infant mortality ratesEstimated that in the poorer parishes of London only about half the children survived to 15 – children of aristocrats only fared a little better
plague – effect on Shakespeare city officials kept records of the weekly number of plague deaths – when they surpassed a certain number, theatres were peremptorily closed: prevent contagion and avoid angering God with a spectacle of idleness
16th/17th century England – post-war for the most part a nation at peace, and with peace came a measure of enterprise and prosperity – people visited the theatre
social significance of fabric chief source of England’s wealth in the 16th century was its textile industry, which depended on a steady supply of woolThis led to the practice of enclosure: displacement, and food shortages led to repeated riots, some of them violent and bloody
practise of enclosure throughout the 16th and early 17th centuries, many acres of croplands once farmed in common by rural communities were enclosed with fences by wealthy landowners and turned into pasturage
female literacy Books published for a female audience surged in popularity in the late sixteenth century, reflecting an increase in female literacy. – many of Shakespeare’s women are shown reading
all-licensed fool the fool can say what he likes without fear of repercussions because it is all supposedly nonsensicaloutside of Renaissance social hierarchy
‘Out of the mouth of babes’ (especially prudent in regard to the Fool)published as part of Psalm 8:2 in the King James Bible in 1611
Robert Armin Shakespeare’s Fool, a middle aged comic actor
the popularity of the fool functions as comedic relief but began losing popularity in the 16th century
Early Modern England – a culture of normalised violence Public executionsBear-baiting
unrest in Jacobean England recovering from religious volatility of previous century fear of civil war and anarchyfear of elites who are above-all-law due to unease about new king
modernity a liberal, above-all-law society
Shakespeare’s fear of anarchy in a society of liberalism It is said that Shakespeare was obsessed with the concept of stability and therefore had a fear of anarchy: these are strong themes of King Lear
Shakespeare’s use of storms in his works Shakespeare often suggests links between human and natural disturbances through storms, although there is usually a supernatural aspect, as in The Tempest or Macbeth, whereas the storm in King Lear is independent of human agency
the storm in KL metaphor for Lear’s internal conflictviolence of the storm is hyperbolised in the context of Lear’s madness
chain of being concept was Christianised by the fourth-century theologian St Augustine, who believed that the rational, the animal, and the vegetative needed to be kept in that order if they were to lead to God
‘Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life / And thou no breath at all?’ this is the last animal imagery in a play that has more references to nature than any other of Shakespeare’s
reference to dogs dogs receive the most mentions in King Lear- emphasise their servility or savagery, often in reference to Goneril or Regan
reference to horses horses receive the second most mentions in KL – horses are referred to as modes of transport
natural moral order animals are superior to men as they do not have reason and therefore cannot have evil intent- man’s belief in his superiority over the natural world is, paradoxically, his weakness
Aristotle’s definition of a tragic hero male and of noble birth, while having one tragic flaw that caused a reversal of fortune that brought about the hero’s terrible downfall
madness was a familiar theme in Renaissance theatre could pertain to a range of inappropriate behaviour, such as disordered clothing, rather than clinical insanity
Shakespeare’s exploration of madness in his other works Characters largely either pretend to be mad, as in ‘Hamlet’, or are wrongly thought to be mad, as in ‘Comedy of Errors’
Shakespeare’s exploration of madness in KL explores different types of madness through Lear’s aging, the Fool’s antics, and Edgar’s behaviour in his disguise as Poor Tom
Lear’s tragic flaw has been argued differently by numerous critics as either self-delusion or pride; given that pride largely motivates self-delusion, and self-delusion in turn motivates pride, it is likely that Lear’s tragic flaw is a combination of both
Shakespearean tragedy catastrophic, world-wide tragedy
Greek tragedy character falls due to combination of personal failings and circumstances – a self-contained tragedy
Aristotle’s ‘Poetics’ (regarding a tragic flaw) affected Elizabethan and Jacobean England scarcely at all no English translation was made until the eighteenth centuryfirst Latin translation did not appear in England until 1623
neo-classicists on the Restoration and eighteenth century – opinion of Shakespeare they understood that Shakespearean drama was not constructed upon Aristotelian principles, and they consequently attacked Shakespeare for not being more classical
theme of family (parent and child) in Shakespeare’s tragedies In ‘Hamlet’, ‘Macbeth’, and ‘King Lear’, it is the death of children, or a keen sense of childlessness in the case of ‘Macbeth’, that drives the tragedy- about political power built on familial stability, often where a character damages another’s family and the harmed family cannot rest until they are avenged
patrilineage lineage based on or tracing descent through the paternal line
symbolism of nakedness in Renaissance era nakedness = truth and clothing/disguise = deception (likely due to Adam and Eve)

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