Historical Context in King Lear
Shakespeare wrote King Lear around 1605, between Othello and Macbeth, and right after King James VI of Scotland ascended the English throne as King James I of England in 1603. Before James I ascended the English throne, there was a lot of anxiety about who the next heir would be after Elizabeth I died. This is because she had no male heirs, and people feared that a war over the title would ensue. Elizabethan England’s social and political structure depended on very strict hierarchy determined by status, wealth, and, most importantly, bloodline. Thus, family and political affairs were constantly at odds. King Lear emphasizes this, as well as the prevalent fear that children of monarchs would take advantage of their vulnerable, elderly parents to attain wealth or power. The Elizabethan audience would certainly relate to this fear, making the tragedy of King Lear resonate even more deeply for play-goers.