King Lear: The Disintegration of the Social Structure

Lesson rationale

These activities encourage students to examine the tensions that characterised the political and social landscape of the early 17th century and to compare these with fears about the disintegration of the social structure expressed in King Lear – with its exploration of the ‘machinations, hollowness, treachery, and all ruinous disorders’ that follow Lear’s division of his kingdom.

Key questions in this lesson:

  • What kinds of instability, disorder and disintegration existed at the time Shakespeare was writing King Lear?
  • What did King James I say about the role of the monarch in bringing about harmony?
  • What evidence is there in King Lear of the disintegration of the social structure?
  • In what ways could the staging of King Lear be used to emphasise the theme of social disharmony and disintegration?