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Shakespeare: King Lear

1. Introduction

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About this Lecture


In this module, we provide a broad introduction to the play, focusing in particular on: (i) the basic plot of the Leir/Lear myth, which dates back to at least the 12th century; (ii) the historical context to the play (early 17th-century England); (iii) the position of ‘King Lear’ in Shakespeare’s career; (iv) the importance of family (especially the relationship between a father and his children), as well as the themes of nature and old age; and (v) Shakespeare’s experimentalism, and the ways in which ‘King Lear’ might have confounded audience expectations.


In this twenty-five part course, Professor John McRae (University of Nottingham) explores Shakespeare’s King Lear. We begin with a broad introduction to the historical, political and intellectual context of early 17th-century England. After that, we go through the play scene by scene, providing close reading and detailed analysis, with commentary on character, plot, themes and motifs, language, symbolism – and more.

We use the Arden (Third Series) edition of the play. Students using a different edition of the play may encounter slight differences in both the text and line numbers.


John McRae is Special Professor of Language in Literature Studies and Teaching Associate in the School of English at Nottingham University, and holds Visiting Professorships in China, Malaysia, Spain and the USA. He is co-author of The Routledge History of Literature in English with Ron Carter, and also wrote The Language of Poetry, Literature with a Small 'l' and the first critical edition of Teleny by Oscar Wilde and others.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

McRae, J. (2019, February 26). Shakespeare: King Lear - Introduction [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

McRae, J. "Shakespeare: King Lear – Introduction." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 26 Feb 2019,

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