King Lear and the patronage system

Gibson, Jonathan (1999). King Lear and the patronage system. The Seventeenth Century, 14(2) pp. 95–114.



King Lear has in the past frequently been read as a dramatization of the transition from feudalism to capitalism. In this article, I argue that it is more useful to view the play in relation to tensions within the early modern patronage system. There was considerable cultural pressure on early modern patrons and clients to affirm their mutual affection in heightened language, and, accordingly, the composition of patronage texts was a source of anxiety, particularly for clients. I map the relationships of the characters in King Lear (in particular, relationships between masters and servants, parents and children and lovers) onto patronage relations. I also suggest that the bedraggled party attached to Lear in the final stages of the play can be read as a nightmare version of James's highly mobile court, that the demonisation of female agency might reflect upon tensions between James's court and Anne of Denmark's, and that Shakespeare affirms the value of acting and performance.

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