The Important Contextual Influences on Shakespeare's "King Lear"

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  • Topic: William Shakespeare, King Lear, Globe Theatre
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  • Published : October 17, 2008
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The Important Contextual Influences on Shakespeare’s King Lear

Samuel Johnson describes the age of Shakespeare as a time where “speculation had not yet attempted to analyze the mind”, and although he is correct in his statement, people of the Renaissance had many pre-formed conceptions about issues concerning their own lives. Shakespeare took much of his inspiration for his plays from history, but also from situations that effect his own generation. Plays were one of the main forms of entertainment in the 16th century and so they had to be very carefully written as it was important that the audiences enjoyed them. Shakespeare relied quite heavily on the pain of real human emotion in his scripts to allow the audience to empathize with the characters and therefore relate the extreme situations in the plays to their own lives.

In King Lear madness is one of the most dominant parts of the plot, as the King is slowly driven insane by his daughter’s deceit and betrayal. The quotation that perhaps best outlines Lear's reason for madness is "O Regan, Goneril, your old kind father, whose frank heart gave all - O, that way madness lies; let me shun that. No more of that." (III, IV, 19-21). Although this is a very important aspect of the plot, it is by no means the only idea that Shakespeare has used within this play. Another element that inspired Shakespeare in King Lear is the presence of the supernatural. There are continual references to the devil with the play, especially in reference to Poor Tom (Edgar) who is said to be possessed by the five fiends, “Flibbertigibbet”, “Obidicut”, “Hobbididence”, “Mahu” and “Modo”.

Another important part of any Shakespearian play was the actual theatre it was performed in. During the medieval times there were no playhouses or acting companies and plays were performed out in the open or from the back of a cart. But at the beginning of the Elizabethan/Jacobean period theatres became a more prominent feature in towns and...
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