A “True Chronicle Historie” of Britain: King Lear and Its Early Catholic Audiences

Wymer, Rowland (2021) A “True Chronicle Historie” of Britain: King Lear and Its Early Catholic Audiences. Shakespeare. ISSN 1745-0926

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Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1080/17450918.2021.1995474

Abstract

It has been known since the 1930s that one of the two documented performances of King Lear within Shakespeare's lifetime was by a touring group of Catholic recusant actors in Yorkshire during the winter of 1609–10. Their performances (mainly at the houses of Catholic gentry) were not simply “entertainment” but were an attempt to sustain and celebrate a collective Catholic identity in the face of continual persecution. Despite all that has been written about the religious and philosophical meaning of King Lear, there has been relatively little attempt to understand what the play might have meant to an English Catholic audience in 1609–10. Why did this group of travelling players think King Lear was an appropriate play to perform before their mainly Catholic audiences? In fact, its picture of a British kingdom divided into clearly marked groups of good and evil characters, in which the good are brutally persecuted by the evil and sometimes denounced as “traitors”, offers a surprisingly close “fit” with the perspective of English Catholics both before and after the Gunpowder Plot. Irrespective of what Shakespeare himself might or might not have intended, it seems time for modern critical discussion of King Lear’s religious and political meaning to take proper account of how some of Shakespeare’s contemporaries would have understood the play. Since their “misreading” of it has considerable support from the text, possible explanations for this also need to be considered.

Item Type: Journal Article
Keywords: King Lear, Catholics, Simpsons, Yorke, Jauss
Faculty: Faculty of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences
Depositing User: Lisa Blanshard
Date Deposited: 15 Feb 2022 12:41
Last Modified: 31 May 2022 16:18
URI: https://arro.anglia.ac.uk/id/eprint/707326

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