Sep 16, 2009
Shakespeare wrote Hamlet before James l came to the throne. Events in the play reflect many of the real world concerns that Englishmen had about being ruled by a foreigner. At the play’s end, Denmark’s line of rulers is extinguished, and a foreigner (Fortinbras) takes the throne. James was married to Anna of Denmark, some feared that if he were to attempt a military takeover, he might call on the forces of his brother in law Christian IV of Denmark.
King Lear was written after James’s succession. At the start of the play Lear is firmly established as king of a united Britain. This reflected James’s wish to be ruler of a fully united kingdom. In fact he approached Parliament, without success, in 1607 in hopes of securing a closer political union.
The names of the Dukes in King Lear are taken from real life. James had recently made his sons Henry and Charles the Dukes of Cornwall and Albany respectively. In the play Albany is an honest man who realises too late the evil doings of his relatives. Once aware, he works to restore natural order. At the end, hope for the monarchy rests with him, Albany from Scotland, who is free to reunite the fractured kingdom. In this he represents what James wanted to achieve with his succession.
Listen here as Prof. Joseph Khoury, of St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, and I discuss the themes of succession and the divine right of kings in Hamlet and King Lear.