Shakespeares King Lear - Elizabethan Context

Essay by little_macHigh School, 12th grade May 2004

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Research Assignment - King Lear - Year 12

Elizabethan / Jacobean Audience Reception of King Lear

Context of Audience:

Queen Elizabeth's reign from 1558 - 1603 witnessed the rise of England into a world power with international trade connections. It also saw a growing sense of self-confidence heightened by the war against Spain and the defeat of the Spanish Armada. The Reformation and Renaissance reached England at around the same time and there was a great cultural flowering. At this time many were confused with the religious changes in England. Protestants believed in preaching, reading the bible in English and worship in unadorned churches, Catholics on the other hand, enjoyed the ceremonies of Christianity, and decorated their churches with pictures and statues. Most of England remained 'neutrals'. Although education was more widely available by Elizabeth's reign, it was still limited to boys only. Elizabethans had a very strong sense of social order, they believed that their queen was God's representative on earth, and that God had created and blessed the ranks of society.

What did they value from King Lear? :

The Divine Right of Kings - belief that monarchs rule by God's direct appointment. This doctrine is based on the belief that the monarchy is a divinely ordained institution, kings are accountable for their acts to God alone, and that non-resistance and passive obedience on the part of subjects is ordered by God.

The Great Chain of Being - a deep-rooted belief that society was ordered by God for the good of humanity. This concept of order expressed itself in a pyramidal hierarchy that had God placed at the summit. Kings were immediately beneath Him, then in descending order, the nobility and prices of the Church, the knights and gentry, the legal and professional classes, merchants and yeoman,