Armchair Book Club: Shakespeare in context

Heather Allen explores the context around William Shakespear's career in The Year of Lear.

It’s been 400 years since William Shakespeare died. You’d think after so long, there would be little left to say about the bard. But in the new book, The Year of Lear, author James Shapiro begs to differ.

Shakespeare wrote the play King Lear in 1606, a particularly tumultuous time in English history. Queen Elizabeth had died three years previously. The English were petrified about what was going to happen without their virgin queen. Would Catholic Spain or France sweep into England and rule over them?

In fact, King James I of Scotland took over the throne keeping Protestant order, and rule within the British Isle. But this relatively peaceful transition caused unrest, particularly among the persecuted Catholics.

In fact, in 1605, a group of Catholics plotted to blow up Parliament, kill the king, the royal family, and all of the country’s leading political figures. This event, called the Gunpowder Plot, would likely have set fire to most of London, killing thousands. Just hours before lighting the stacks of gunpowder, the still-notorious Guy Fawkes was caught red-handed in a room under Parliament.

Although the Gunpowder Plot was foiled, the cultural implications on England were huge. The near calamity changed England much the way 9/11 changed the United States. The Jacobean era became different in tone and outlook than the previous Elizabethan period.

Many people refer to Shakespeare as an Elizabethan playwright, but Shapiro argues that after the death of Elizabeth, Shakespeare was more in tune with the changing Jacobean mindset. It’s an entirely new way to understand his plays and the times that he lived through.

It’s brilliant. Not much is known about Shakespeare’s personal life, but by connecting Shakespeare to important historical events, we can see significant changes in Shakespeare’s writing, use of language and even his choice of material to put on stage.

Although written in an engaging style, The Year of Lear isn’t an introductory book. Unless you’re somewhat familiar with Macbeth, you’re not going to appreciate a full chapter about the introduction of the word equivocation in that Scottish play.

I fully admit to being a bard-o-phile — so much so that back in high school, my sister once stabbed me with a fork at the dinner table in an attempt to get me to stop me quoting Hamlet. For readers with a similar level of interest, you’ll love this fascinating new look at Shakespeare’s plays.


Just Posted

Apex hosting Canadian selections mogul event

Apex Freestyle Club along with some local competitors from the B.C. Freestyle Ski team are competing

Video: Update one man arrested in Okanagan Falls

The RCMP has requested the school go into lockdown

Okanagan Taste: Favourite food and drinks of the past year

When it comes to food and drink, the most frequent questions I… Continue reading

Christmas hamper volunteers pitch in to give back to Penticton

Volunteers begin work in preparation for Salvation Army hamper distribution

New acting vice principal for Penticton Secondary School

The Board of Education of School District No. 67 (Okanagan Skaha) announced a new appointment

What’s happening

Find out about the events happening in your community this weekend

Interior Health holding immunization clinic in Vernon Saturday

IH issues list of Okanagan meningococcal immunization clinics

Court denies WestJet’s bid to toss out discrimination lawsuit of former worker

Mandalena Lewis is suing WestJet over allegations of gender-based discrimination

VIDEO: 3 months later, rescued sea lion released back into ocean

The young animal was found in Campbell River three months ago

Michaels: Big Brother has become a big letdown

“You have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide, but privacy should still have some appeal.”

Sagmoen neighbours recall alleged hammer attack

Woman was screaming outside Maple Ridge townhouse in 2013

One convicted, two cleared in 2014 deaths of men in B.C.’s Cariboo

Andrew Jongbloets convicted of manslaughter in deaths of Matthew Hennigar, 23 and Kalvin Andy, 22

Accused Shuswap drug smuggler to be extradited

Supreme Court of Canada upholds extradition order for accused Shuswap drug smuggler, Colin Martin

AHUS patient Shantee Anaquod is home for Christmas

Less than a month after receiving first dose of $750K drug, 23 year old healthy enough to go home

Most Read