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Conflict in King Lear - Historical and Social Context

Uploaded by kurt007 on Jul 15, 2002

Conflict lies at the heart of tragedy. How have the various conflicts in King Lear been presented and received in different historical and social contexts?

In your response refer to at least three critical interpretations (including your own) and use elements of two productions of the play you have seen to support your points.


King Lear is undoubtedly Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy, and quite possibly the greatest of all time. Although the final scenes of the play may make us cringe and leave a foul taste in our mouths, it would be wrong for us to wish that they be altered. The death of Cordelia, despite being heartrending and seemingly unnecessary to most people, stems from a number of underlying conflicts within the play that send messages relevant to every audience member. Interpretations of these messages have varied since the initial performance of King Lear in 1606 and are continually shifting and adapting to changes within society and human development in general. Similarly, productions of the play have differed considerably depending upon the personal circumstances and views of the director as well as the audience, who are ultimately responsible for discovering their own personal interpretation of the play. Nahum Tate’s The History of King Lear, written in 1681, is one of several attempts at rewriting King Lear during the 18th and 19th centuries in order to make it apply better to a specific audience and be less sensitive to political issues of the time, in this instance the restoration of Charles II to the English throne. Although still called a tragedy, Tate’s version sees Lear return to rule his kingdom and Cordelia marry Edgar. Although the main conflicts still exist, Shakespeare’s point about the nature of humanity is diminished by the complete, calculated redemption at the play's conclusion. While several of the conflicts within King Lear have been altered over the past 400 years in order to increase the appeal of the play to a particular audience of the time, ultimately the timelessness of Shakespeare’s language will see the original play outlast any such imitation.

One reason for the longevity of King Lear is the way it confronts issues that are central and relevant to any society throughout any period of time. The exchange of power between children and their parents and the ensuing conflict occurs in every generation as parents struggle to give up control of their children while the children themselves long...

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Uploaded by:   kurt007

Date:   07/15/2002

Category:   King Lear

Length:   7 pages (1,605 words)

Views:   5521

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