King Lear

Gender, Power, and Economics in King Lear

A common practice that William Shakespeare employs in many of his works is the experimentation with gender politics. Shakespeare often shows how notions of gender become unstable as a result of social forces. To discuss Shakespeare's treatment of gender in his plays, it is helpful to use Joan Wallach Scott's definition of gender, which she presents in her book, Gender and the Politics of History. Scott defines gender as "an element of social relationships based on perceived differences between the sexes, and gender is a primary way of signifying relationships of power." She notes that gender is constructed, in part, through relationships, including kinship as well as broader gender relations, based on politics and economics. Scott also asserts that the binary between males and females is unstable, and that gender gets constructed and reconstructed as conditions in society change. This phenomenon is played out in one of Shakespeare's most complex plays, King Lear.

A historical event in the context of King Lear that influenced relationships and reconstructed gender roles was the decline of feudalism and the emergence of capitalism. In his article, "King Lear and the Decline of Feudalism," Paul...

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