King Lear, King James and the Gunpowder Treason of 1605

I’m not sure if I buy into Taunton and Hart’s argument that the apocalyptic language in King Lear was a reference to James’ reaction to the Gunpowder Plot. They refer to the fear of separate kingdoms and a new ruler as “apocalyptic” (pg 713) in order to place King Lear in an apocalyptic framework. To me, placing King Lear in a doomsday framework is a bit of a stretch. Admittedly, James’ rule brought much anxiety to England, as many citizens did not trust him to rule effectively. This distrust finds its parallel in Lear’s corruption after handing his legitimate power as king over to his daughters, though this transfer of power does not necessarily invoke doomsday imagery.

Taunton and Hart reference the storm in which Lear is caught, as well as his mad ramblings, though Act III Scene 2 is up to interpretation. In order to make the leap from Lear’s experience in the storm to James’ fascination with Armageddon, Taunton and Hart assume that Lear’s storm-driven madness represent an apocalyptic mindset. Lear’s madness can represent the end of his rule, as well as the madness in which his kingdom descends. However, whether or not that madness is truly apocalyptic still remains up to personal interpretation. If audience members don’t make the connection between Lear’s madness and Armageddon, the apparent reference to James’ apocalyptic fascination and rhetoric is even more difficult to find. While apocalyptic rhetoric may have helped James appear as a hero for stopping the Gunpowder Plot, there is not enough clearly apocalyptic language in King Lear to make this connection between Lear and James.