The role of women

Women barred

In Shakespeare’s day, women were not allowed to act on the stage in England. All the female roles in Shakespeare were played by adolescent boys whose voices had not broken – including such famous romantic leads as Cleopatra and Juliet. In King Lear Cordelia, Goneril and Regan would all have been played by boys.
This situation did not change until after the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, who had spent many years in France where customs were different. 
In several of his plays, such as The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, Cymbeline, and Twelfth Night, Shakespeare has female characters disguise themselves in boys’ clothing, which must have been more comfortable for the boy actors.


The population of London was still closely knit enough for the theatre of Shakespeare’s day to have a profound impact on the whole of society, much as television drama does today. It was a powerful medium to entertain, and to unite popular sentiment and provoke thought, something that ‘everybody talked about’. 
In King Lear, Shakespeare provided his audience with many ideas and challenging concepts, particularly about the exercise of power and who has the ‘right’ to govern and/or dispense with government. With memories of discontent with the ‘old Queen’ (Elizabeth I) still fresh, as well as the contemporary attempt to usurp power by force (the Gunpowder Plot), King Lear reflected the concerns of contemporary society.
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.