Places: King Lear

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1608

First produced: c. 1605-1606

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Tragedy

Time of work: First century b.c.e.

Places DiscussedHeath

Heath. King LearLarge tract of uncultivated land covered with small plants and shrubs (the type of landscape also known as a “moor” in Britain), on which the play’s memorable scenes are set. Barren and desolate, far removed from civilized society, the heath represents elemental Nature, a place for fools and madmen–and tragic kings. In the pelting rain and stripped of the garments of majesty, Lear vents his grief and anger by railing against his daughters’ ingratitude, the injustice rampant in society, and the forces of Nature surrounding him.

Lear’s palace

Lear’s palace. Royal residence of King Lear in whose stateroom the play opens. The palace provides a visual contrast with the scenes on the heath, and the setting for the first scene displays Lear at his most powerful. Supported by this environment and invested with the external objects of majesty, Lear can function arbitrarily in the division of his kingdom.

Gloucester’s castle

Gloucester’s castle (GLAHS-ter). Residence of the duke of Gloucester, which is the site of two of the most painful scenes in the play–the moments when Lear is rejected by Goneril and Regan, and when Gloucester is blinded. Significantly, the setting is located halfway between the palace of absolute power and the heath of total nothingness.

Fields near Dover

Fields near Dover. Region in southeastern England, on the edge of the British kingdom, where Gloucester attempts suicide and Lear deteriorates into madness. It is the landing place for Cordelia and the forces that will restore order and justice. These fields are a place of the natural world, where men must deal with themselves as merely “poor, bare, forked animals.”

BibliographyBooth, Stephen. “King Lear,” “Macbeth,” Indefinition, and Tragedy. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1983. In part 1, “On the Greatness of King Lear,” much of the discussion focuses on the repeated false endings of the play. Booth also has an important appendix on the doubling of roles in Shakespeare’s plays, especially in King Lear.Halio, Jay L. Critical Essays on “King Lear.” New York: Twayne, 1995. Contains a selection of the best essays on King Lear, including several on the “two-text hypothesis,” the play in performance, and interpretation. The introduction surveys recent trends in criticism.Leggatt, Alexander. King Lear. Harvester New Critical Introductions. Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, England: Harvester-Wheatsheaf, 1988. Includes a brief discussion of the stage history and critical reception, as well as a thorough discussion of the play’s dramatic idiom and characters.Mack, Maynard. “King Lear” in Our Time. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1965. Surveys the play’s historical background, sources, and aspects of its staging. Also provides many perceptive critical comments on the action and its significance.Rosenberg, Marvin. The Masks of King Lear. 1972. Reprint. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1993. Rosenberg examines the significance of each scene and the “polyphony” of the characters, with extensive reference to the history of King Lear on the stage as of the earliest recorded performances. Also discusses the so-called Lear myth.
Categories: Places