Sep 16, 2009
Charles H. Cameron as King Lear (1872) / print by A.L. Coburn, ca. 1915, Photo by
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
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, from St. Francis Xavier University, and I discuss the themes of succession and the divine right of kings in Hamlet and King Lear.