The book sees 'King Lear' as a play about division, and interprets that division in terms of 16/17th-century European-wide religious conflicts that followed the Reformation split between Rome and Protestantism. Countries are ‘in discord’, and kingdoms are divided. King James I claimed four kingdoms. Two were Protestant; two were Catholic.
The book explores these tensions particularly through the suffering of Lear, and the ‘pilgrimage’ of Gloucester with Lear’s ‘godson’, Edgar.
Edgar/Lear’s password (Folio: ‘Sweet Mariorum’) suggests that the name Mary is central, as indeed are other names and anagrams. Mary, Queen of Scots was, like Cordelia, a British princess, who became Queen of France, but also like her died in a British prison at the hands of ruthless political operatives. Thus Cordelia’s unjust execution in Act 5 is a kind of pietà, an image of the cruel fate of Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary’s martyrdom in 1587 created a tsunami of fury that culminated in the madness of the Gunpowder Plot. The drama intends to ‘catch the conscience of the king’, for James had co-operated fully with the English in the execution of Mary in 1587. He had chosen power over love, and the struggle between those incompatible old enemies is a key not only to the opening scene, but is the central preoccupation of the play.
Mike Wilcock has been reading, teaching and directing Shakespeare for nearly forty-five years. He has lectured widely on Shakespeare and his world. He lives with this wife, Kay, in Killiney, Co. Dublin.
Breaking the Shakespearean Code PB
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- Product Code: Shakespearean Code
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