King Lear - June 02 - June 18, 2017

Rubber City Shakespeare Company

 Dramaturgical Note 

Historical Overview:

King Lear was written during a period when the monarchy was of central importance. In the 1590s, Shakespeare often dwelt on the nature of monarchy, and the history plays of the period can be read not just as historical narratives featuring kings, but also as meditations on monarchical rule. The two Richard plays explore the limits and abuses of such rule and the possibilities for its overthrow, the Henry IV plays deal with the issue of succession, while Henry V focuses on the role of king as national figurehead. In Lear, we see Shakespeare tackle the issue of patriarchal monarchy, where the king is figured as head of both his own family and of the state, a staple of Jacobean understandings of the relationship between monarch and country that saw in it an analogy to the relationship between a patriarch and his household. While Lear may have been a ruler of almost mythical status from ancient Britain, King Lear articulates pressing contemporary concerns about the power of early modern kings.


Plot Summary:

The story begins in ancient Britain, where the elderly Lear is deciding to give up her power and divide her realm amongst his three daughters, Cordelia, Regan, and Goneril. Lear's plan is to give the largest piece of his kingdom to the child who declares to love him the most. She is certain that her favorite daughter, Cordelia, will win the challenge. Goneril and Regan, are both corrupt and deceitful. They lie to their mother with sappy and excessive declarations of affection. Cordelia, however, refuses to engage in Lear's game, and replies simply that she loves her as a daughter should. Lear disowns Cordelia completely. When Lear's friend, the Earl of Kent, tries to speak on Cordelia's behalf, Lear banishes her from the kingdom. Cordelia accepts the King of France's proposal, and leaves Lear with her two evil sisters. Kent then disguises herself and takes a job as Lear's servant to protect Lear from his daughters. Now that Lear is left behind with his two daughters, their true natures are emerging along with a plot to murder Lear.


Lear Family:

Queen Lear -  The aging queen of Britain. Lear is used to enjoying absolute power and to being flattered, and she does not respond well to being contradicted or challenged. Nevertheless, she inspires loyalty in subjects such as Gloucester, Kent, Cordelia, and Edgar, all of whom risk their lives for her.

Cordelia -  Lear’s youngest daughter, disowned by her mother for refusing to flatter her. Cordelia is held in extremely high regard by many others, especially the king of France. He marries her for her virtue alone, overlooking her lack of dowry. She remains loyal to Lear despite her cruelty toward her, forgives her, and displays a mild and forbearing temperament even toward her evil sisters, Goneril and Regan. 

Regan -  Lear’s middle daughter and the wife of the duke of Cornwall. Regan is as ruthless as Goneril and as aggressive in all the same ways. In fact, it is difficult to think of any quality that distinguishes her from her sister. When they are not egging each other on to further acts of cruelty, they jealously compete for the same man, Edmund.

Goneril -  Lear’s ruthless oldest daughter and the wife of the duke of Albany. Goneril is jealous, treacherous, and amoral. Shakespeare’s audience would have been particularly shocked at Goneril’s aggressiveness, a quality that it would not have expected in a female character. She challenges Lear’s authority, boldly initiates an affair with Edmund, and wrests military power away from her husband.


By David Tomilson 

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