King Lear in Modern Day Britain

The Patriarchal Tyranny

The Patriarchal Tyranny of King Lear is very different to the the way Britain is ran today. In Britain, the head of the Monarchy is the Queen, but in Pagan times, women had very little influence, and the influence they had was through their husbands. However, women’s genetics have never changed – we have always been as strong as we were then, except for the fact that women were oppressed into their stations.

We can see this in the characters of Goneril, Regan and even Cordelia. Goneril and Regan weren’t addressed until Lear wanted his daughters to tell him they loved him. This could summarise the societal idea that women were only there to serve men’s reign. Goneril and Regan were there to produce heirs and assist their husbands while they took care of the politics, in theory. The reality was very different for their characters, because they are considered to be among the strongest female characters in any of Shakespeare’s plays.

Cordelia, likewise, isn’t given time to speak and be listened to. Though she doesn’t experience this in the same way as her ‘evil’ sisters, she is ignored. The second she underplays her love for her father, she is banished without him really listening to her reasoning. Her voice isn’t relevant but her forgiveness and love in the end of the play is.


The Monarchy:

I said before, is the head of the British Monarchy is the Queen, however, in Pagan times, women had very little influence within their society. The King’s daughters would never have been allowed to be reigning monarch of England, as happened with Elizabeth II after George VI.

The Peerage was a system in which titles were passed through generations and the country was ran by these families under the monarch. The men in these families would mostly have guided the King in a political way, however some would have ran cities further from the King’s reach.


Old Age, Illness and Death:

In Lear’s opening speech, we are immediately introduced to the idea that at old age comes along with a helpless weakness. He will “crawl” towards his “death” as though it is something inevitable as well as something you struggle towards. While babies crawl towards growth and the ability to walk and live, he will crawl in a way that seems grotesque and sinister towards either a grave or a hooded figure.

From the moment he announces his goal to crawl towards his death, he begins to struggle in life. He falls first when with Goneril, second when with Regan, mightily while he is on the Heath, until finally he is brought to Cordelia – the only person he believed did ever love him honestly. He seems to see her as almost an angel, or a mother, something of comfort, beauty and peace.

In the modern world, old age can likewise come quickly. Mental illnesses can cause people to forget who loves them – their families. It can make people untrusting and alone, much as what becomes of Lear when he is alone with just his fool on the Heath. He has no family, no people worshipping and loving him as before. It leaves him alone and feeling meaningless. We all witnessed how much he relied on the admiration in his court as well as his hundred knights. Without these people, he is empty and feels meaningless.




Lear’s Introduction and First Speech

Lear enters with a large party of people – his daughters, their husbands and “attendants.” Knowing what we later learn about Lear’s “hundred guards,” we can assume he never moves without several people and attendants with him.

As the title character, his first words are of key importance, and from the beginning we can see he relies on his ability to command people. Gloucester is asked to wait upon the two men who are about to bid for his youngest daughter Cordelia’s hand in marriage.

Lear then gives a powerful, formal speech, using the royal plural of ‘we’ rather than just ‘I’ for being in court. He begins to express his “darker purpose” of abdication and the division of his kingdom between his daughters (or their husbands). He wants to “unburden” himself from “business” so that he is able to die knowing what the future of his kingdom will be. He does however make death sound dark and sinister in that he “crawls” towards it, suggesting a frailty in the way he feels, be in something physical he has noticed or mental. The weakness implied from this word suggests that he will soon break, as he does when he becomes insane and wild on the heath with only his fool to accompany him.

Not only is Lear’s power presented to allow for later contrasting, but his arrogant character is also revealed. He lives off of being worshiped, his ego fueling his life and actions. In order to have this arrogance fueled, he offers the biggest portion of his kingdom to the daughter who says they “doth love us most.” He knows this will only make his daughters’ decorations stronger and more satisfying for him to hear and be worshiped. However, once his power goes with his land and position, he is no longer worshiped, which is what could lead to his ultimate downfall.

His speech is written in unrhymed iambic pentameter, and this style of prose which is used in several of Shakespeare’s plays gives the play a poetic style when it is read. In this case, it allows for it to be as though a tale is being told while the story is. It is almost as though Lear is narrating his mistakes in a later reflection, the regular rhythm making it sound like a script – as though his ending was already written from the moment he decided to renounce his title.

Lear – Opening Analysis

‘King Lear’ begins with the sub-plot characters Gloucester and Kent discussing Gloucester’s sons, specifically his bastard, Edmund who becomes somewhat the play’s antagonist.

The conversation between Gloucester and Kent reveals that Lear’s reign has allowed for a patriarchal society in which women’s only real significant job is in heir production and sexual activities. This is depicted through Gloucester’s attitudes towards his bastard son’s mother. While Edgar’s mother has no mention, Edmund’s mother provided Gloucester with “good sport” because she was “fair,” making us assume Edgar’s mother was not so and only had purpose for producing a male heir.

Kent’s character is also introduced in this first section of scene 1, and he is shown to be proper in the way he acts and speaks, as well as having loyalties to the King and his friends. These loyalties which are introduced in the first lines of the play continue throughout, and are one of the only things Lear can really rely upon in the end.

Lear Films – Opening Comparisons

  • Darker scenery in Laurence Oliver (1983) and less ‘regal’ than 1971 version.
  • Closer to Pagan setting in ’83.
  • Magee less arrogant version of Lear. Olivier smiles, satisfied when the people bow to the floor.
  • Larger crown in ’83. Camera angle draws attention to the power of it.
  • Off-camera monologue of Cordelia – her character has a bigger role in scene one in 1983 version than 1971.
  • Lear makes Goneril kiss the map of the kingdom when she bows to him, showing respect but also showing his power.
  • Olivier’s Lear seems more wounded by Cordelia’s words, and more hurt by Kent’s attempt to council him. He will not have people disobeying or dishonouring him on any account – even the two characters most loyal to him.
  • Like Cordelia’s part, Kent’s seems to be larger. When he leaves, Lear’s size and power seem more predominant on screen once again.
  • When Cordelia is ‘sold off’ to the King of France, there is very much a feel of ‘three against one.’ She is silent while the men strike deals.


  • (1983) Impending music over Edmund.
  • Camera angle tilts up from a low position, the unusual angle makes viewers uneasy.
  • Gloucester, as Lear is, more arrogant and aggressive in ’83 version.
  • Edmund speaks directly to the camera – plotting becomes scarier and personal to audience as they are directly addressed.
  • The interaction between Edmund and Edgar is after Edmund and Gloucester’s which is the other way around from the ’71 version.


  • Goneril is more dramatic in ’83 as opposed to the sly plotting between other characters in the ’71 version.
  • More people surround Lear and jeer along with him when Caius volunteers his services. Again, this feels more Pagan than the ’83 version and like many scenes doesn’t take place inside a well-furnished palace but rather in a courtyard.
  • When Lear attempts to hit Goneril’s steward, the people laugh along with him, fueling his power. Later, when his power is gone, the people likewise aren’t there to feed his ego.
  • The fool is less stupid, and is more like a comedian in the ’83 version, his entertainment and riddles are clearly organised and comical rather than mad and rambling.

Lear Film Notes (Act I)

Scene 1

  • Goneril and Regan profess their undying love for their father the King who is about to divide his kingdom between his daughters.
  • Cordelia says her love is not as strong as the love her sisters profess.
  • Kent tries to talk sense into Lear’s.
  • France and Burgundy enter and Lear offers Cordelia to Burgundy who says he has no use for her without a dowry.
  • The Kind of France agrees to wed Cordelia.
  • Goneril and Regan plot to reduce their father’s authority as ‘ex-king’, also discussing the banishment of one his most loyal friend/advisers, Kent.

Scene 2

  • Edmund is plotting to get rid of his father’s legitimate son so that he can be legitimised and inherit Gloucester’s wealth.
  • Edgar is told by Edmund that their father is angry, and that Edgar must leave.
  • Edmund ‘attempts’ to hide a forged letter from his father that appears to show Edgar plotting the murder of their father.
  • A search party is sent out after Edgar to kill him and ‘protect’ the Duke.

Scene 3-5

  • Goneril complains about her father to Oswald, her steward.
  • She orders her servants to ignore her father the next time he asks something of one of them to teach him a lesson for his arrogance.
  • Kent is in disguise and hears this conversation.
  • Kent offers himself as a servant to Lear  whogives him a trial period, saying he will keep him if he likes him still.
  • Oswald, who ignores Lear, is slapped by Lear and tripped up by Kent.
  • In the uproar, commotion begins. Goneril eventually arrives, saying she was upset with the manor her father and his knights were treating her people and her hospitality.
  • Lear accuses her of “shaking his manhood” and wishes her barren.
  • Once he leaves with his hundred knights, she tells her husband that her sister (Regan, who Lear is now going to), will not house him and his hundred knights either.


Power and Government in Elizabethan England

Elizabeth I’s England was very structured and  the government had a very complicated format. The national bodies were the Monarch, the Privy Council and Parliament, the regional bodies consisted of the Council of the North and the Council of the Marches, and then there were county and community bodies. These councils and bodies enforced the law of Elizabethan England and maintained the rules of the land.

The Privy Council and Parliament, under the Monarch, created rules, raised money, managed national defence and made decisions on the matter of religion – enforcing the Protestant Church and abolishing Catholicism within Elizabeth I’s kingdom.

The Council of the North and the Council of the Marches provided a more localised method of government and allowed the rules created by the national bodies are carried out throughout England and Wales. While the Council of the North resided in York and managed the northern counties, the Council of the Marches saw to the people of Wales.

Elizabethan England was structured further than this and had a royal representative in every county. Furthermore, many cities and towns had their own hierarchy of government that was ran by their mayor.

Gentry and Nobility played an important part in the early modern period as land was equal to power then. It was the responsibility of the Nobility and Gentry to govern their lands and their tenants. They were well respected by the people they looked after and so their views could often influence their tenants and subjects. An example of the charity these aristocrats is when some members of nobility in Leicester established a hospital in Warwick that could be used by anybody. Because of the power they had by commanding loyalty from their tenants and subjects, the Tudors were weary of aristocrats. If the gentry were to influence the commoners to rebel, the monarchy would be in trouble.

Courts were also very important in Elizabethan England. The Assizes sat two times a year in each county and would deal with crimes such as murder, theft, witchcraft and assault. The Assizes had a lot of power to inflict harsh punishment, but there were many other courts that would hold trials and that were much smaller than the Great Session (the Assizes). The Star Chamber was for the weathier and consisted of people in position of higher power such as Privy Councillors. The Church Courts dealt with religions and moral affairs and in a time when there were such strong conflicts between the two types of Christianity, these courts were of high importance.

Crimes such as Petty Treason, murder, the refusal to co-operate with a court and witchcraft were all punishable by death. High Treason was usually dealt with by the Queen and her ministers and was the only crime the Queen had direct involvement in punishing. Any lesser crimes were usually punished by the use of stocks, imprisonment or both.

Feminist Readings of ‘The Color Purple’

In the patriarchal society of ‘The Color Purple’ women are at the mercy of the men in their life. If we consider the way Celie is treated by her stepfather – the man who should have been a father to her after her own father died – we can see just how cruel it could be to be a female in the 1930’s. Not only does he rape her, causing her to have two children, but he sells these children off, taking them away from her. Celie is then married off once she has been given enough internal damage by her this man to be unable to have any more children. Celie is therefore at his mercy because the way her life pans out is controlled almost entirely by him (until she meets Shug at least) because men and women did not have equal rights within the society of 1930’s America.

The marriage she is forced into by Alphonso to Mr ______ is an abusive one. This physical and psychological abuse could be symbolic of the level of power a man had over his wife in 1930’s Southern society. Celie’s marriage was almost inevitable because of the fact that girls at that time would have mostly become wives. A wife’s job was mostly all that girls were trained for from a young age by their mothers (housework and raising children). While WW1 had changed the level of skills involved with a job a woman could get, it was still mostly common for women to be married off and become what were essentially housekeepers.

Shug and Sofia are the “novel’s feminist characters” (The Color Purple: Feminist Text? document pg 122). The women in the novel all teach Celie things both about herself and about the world. While Celie practises “ostensible submission”, Sofia has “open defiance” as a “model of female empowerment” (pg 111). The building of relationships between Celie and the women around her after all of the horror Celie endured allows her much needed psychological and emotional redevelopment that is expressed through the way in which Celie expresses her reflections and insights.

A2 Coursework – Form and Structure

Both ‘The Help’ and ‘The Color Purple’ are written in first person discontinuous narrative as is a common feature of modernist literature. The multiple narrative nature of both novels allows both Stockett and Walker to explore treatment and attitudes both of and towards the black women in their novels.

‘The Color Purple’ is an epistolary novel structured in a series of letters from the main character Celie to God as well as correspondence between Celie and her sister Nettie while she is in Africa. Celie’s salvation comes from her ability to talk to somebody and so her letters to God keep her sane in her unstable and seemingly evil life. The letters between Nettie and Celie allow for the wider world outside of Celie’s agricultural home in the South to be explored and for comparisons to be made between the lives of black Americans and the lives of native black Africans.

Unlike Walker’s novel, ‘The Help’ does not have one individual heroine. While Aibileen has the beginning and end chapter, Skeeter is the writer of the novel that changes the two main black women’s lives. These main three characters (Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter) narrate alternating chapters (except for “The Benefit” which is written in third person narrative) and by having these individual points of views narrated through their own eyes, attitudes towards the segregated society of the South in the 60’s can fully explored by Stockett in the views of different types of people. For example, though Aibileen and Minny are both black maids, Minny’s opinions seem much stronger than Aibileen’s at first when it comes to the degrading lives they live.

Purple Symbolism

General symbolism: Royalty, power, nobility, luxury, wealth, extravagance and ambition.

Associations: wisdom, dignity, independence, creativity, mystery, and magic.

In ‘The Color Purple’: According to Shug, God created things (such as the colour purple) in order to bring pleasure and happiness to people’s lives. Celie has none of this happiness God intended for people to have early on in her life, but she finds it as her story goes on. In the final line of the novel Celie says it’s “youngest us ever felt” (about herself and Nettie) which suggests the unadulterated happiness children experience was taken from the sisters and instead they get her happiness instead when they’re “real old”.

Marriage in ‘The Color Purple’

Shug Avery

Most marriages in ‘The Color Purple’ seem to reflect the repression of females rights and lives. Shug Avery is ‘unmarriable’ because of her sexual promiscuity. Shug says to Celie that she “just love it” (pg 68) in reference to having sex with Mr _____. Even Albert’s father Mr _____ refers to Shug as Celie’s “husband’s whore” (pg 50). Shug doesn’t seem to like the control that comes with marriage. Celie describes when Albert is saying: “My wife can’t do this…” and Shug’s response is: “Good thing I ain’t your damn wife” (pg 64). She is too much of a ‘free spirit’ and enjoys performing and showing off her sexuality to be what would have been the ‘proper wife’. When Celie is leaving Mr _____ with Shug and Grady, Shug says “Why any woman give a shit about what people think is a mystery to me” showing she embraces herself and her attitudes towards herself, others and her life, allowing her to live her life without following conventions and being the typical housewife.

Mr _____ and Celie

Celie’s own marriage is an abusive and particularly controlling one. Mr _____ hides Nettie’s letters to Celie, beats Celie and, if it weren’t for Shug, Celie wouldn’t have been able to go to Harpo’s to see Shug perform. When Shug suggests Celie wears “pants”, Celie’s response is: “Mr _____ not gonna let his wife wear pants” to which Shug says: “Why not?” (pg 124). Celie’s early view on her marriage is that she just has to obey and she’ll get to heaven but once she finds out about Nettie’s letters, her thoughts turn murderous and it’s Shug who has to remind Celie of the Golden Rule (pg 122). Celie leaves Mr _____ with Shug and Grady and when she does, her new personality is revealed to him when she says calls him a “lowdown dog” and says “your dead body just the welcome mat I need” (pg 170). Celie is finally defying Mr _____’s ill treatment and taking her life in her own hands by, realising she can survive without being his wife. Eventually, however, Celie sees that he isn’t all-bad and in a later letter to Nettie she says: “I don’t hate him” (pg 221).

Harpo and Sofia

Harpo struggles being married to Sofia at first because his example of a marriage has come from Mr____ and Celie’s. When Harpo goes to his father about Sofia’s almost rebellious behaviour, Mr _____ asks him, “You ever hit her?” From here and from Celie’s further encouragement, Harpo turns to physical acts of violence when Sofia acts out. However, when Celie goes around to Harpo and Sofia’s, she witnesses them “fighting like two mens” which shows Sofia really doesn’t take it from anybody. She is fiercely independent, so there would be no way she’d allow Harpo to beat her the way Mr _____ beats Celie. When Celie is leaving Mr _____, Sofia appears to find inspiration in her and finally finds her voice again. Sofia’s attitude returns again now that she’s seen even Celie can voice her opinions. Towards the end of the novel when Celie asks Harpo if he minds about Sofia having a job, Harpo says: “What I gon mind for?… It seem to make her happy” which suggests he’s learned his love for Sofia overrides any expectations he has about married women being submissive to their husbands as Celie was.