King Lear: An Analysis

The Elizabethan world view: The Elizabethan world view was primarily based around classes and god or gods. Elizabethan theater was dated around 1562 to 1642 and Shakespeare, playwright of King Lear was one of the main playwrights of the time. During the Elizabethan era people were acknowledged depending on the class they are in (Lower, middle, upper, etc.) and you could tell what class a certain person was according to their clothing as there were strict laws called the sumptuary laws. This ties in with The Divine right to rule which was based on social status/ class but based around belief and religion because in Elizabethan England and James I there was nothing possibly higher than god. Elizabeth never married because she claimed to be married to her country. Elizabeth used the divine right to rue as she strongly believed that her power was given to her by god. People were religiously and morally obliged to obey their government and monarchs ruled because they were “chosen to do so” and were therefore only accountable to god with the Divine right to Rule. The state of England under Elizabeth I and James I was based around social status and class as well as the great chain of being and the importance of god. The classes were ranked from Monarchy, Nobility, Gentry, Merchants, Yeomen, and Laborers. and are based around
fame, wealth, skills, and even birth. There were rules surrounding what these people could do and what they could wear, even colors. To improve your social status you must marry someone of higher class so the woman of this time were all over the Monarchy and Nobility however it was unlikely for a man of such class to marry into a woman of significantly lower status. Shakespeare has written a number of other plays which are still performed and cherished today. A few of his most successful ones were Romeo and Juliet, a classic which has been recreated over 126 times in Hollywood theatre, Macbeth, another tragedy, and A Midsummer’s Night dream which is also commonly recreated. These were all performed in the Elizabethan theatre style. Shakespeare’s education started around the age of 7 where he attended Stafford Grammar school, walking distance from his residence.

These could have played a part in Shakespeare’s writing of King Lear because he would’ve still wanted to follow things like sumptuary laws and the great chain of being following the basic laws and beliefs of the time. This is most likely why there is always such a religious aspect to his pieces because during this time, god was on the top of the great chain of being.

3 characters that switch to verse and prose a lot are:

  1. King Lear often switches from verse to prose and I noticed this a lot in the storm scene which was a metaphorical exploration of King Lear’s feelings and how angry he was at the time. Some examples of Lear switching from verse to prose is;

2. Fool also changes between verse and prose quite a bit, I also noticed this in the same scene that Lear did, the storm. He doesn’ t switch as often as some of the characters however he still does in this scene. One of Fools line quotes;


O nuncle, court holy-water in a dry
house is better than this rain-water out o’ door.
Good nuncle, in, and ask thy daughters’ blessing:
here’s a night pities neither wise man nor fool.

This is Prose, however on the next line the Fool speaks is Verse;


He that has a house to put’s head in has a good
The cod-piece that will house
Before the head has any,
The head and he shall louse;
So beggars marry many.
The man that makes his toe
What he his heart should make
Shall of a corn cry woe,
And turn his sleep to wake.
For there was never yet fair woman but she made
mouths in a glass.

This is the next line that Fool speaks and as you can see it is using Verse, lines with a metrical rhythm. I think that he does this as ways of getting messages across and showing status because he uses verse and prose at separate times. It illustrates different circumstances to us.

The third character that often switches between verse and prose is Edgar, here are a coupe of his lines demonstrating both verse and prose;


This is the foul fiend Flibbertigibbet: he begins
at curfew, and walks till the first cock; he gives
the web and the pin, squints the eye, and makes the
hare-lip; mildews the white wheat, and hurts the
poor creature of earth.
S. Withold footed thrice the old;
He met the night-mare, and her nine-fold;
Bid her alight,
And her troth plight,
And, aroint thee, witch, aroint thee!


Poor Tom; that eats the swimming frog, the toad,
the tadpole, the wall-newt and the water; that in
the fury of his heart, when the foul fiend rages,
eats cow-dung for sallets; swallows the old rat and
the ditch-dog; drinks the green mantle of the
standing pool; who is whipped from tithing to
tithing, and stock- punished, and imprisoned; who
hath had three suits to his back, six shirts to his
body, horse to ride, and weapon to wear;
But mice and rats, and such small deer,
Have been Tom’s food for seven long year.
Beware my follower. Peace, Smulkin; peace, thou fiend!

In this Edgar switches between verse and prose in the same line. He then goes back to just Prose for a lot of his lines but commonly switches between the two.

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