King Lear

  • Study for the Head of King Lear

    Study for the Head of King Lear, by an unknown artist in the style of Joshua Reynolds.

    In this image King Lear is shown wearing a rich cloak trimmed with ermine, symbols of his royalty and power. This is in contrast to the wild, unkempt appearance of his hair and beard. His facial expression and windswept appearance remind the viewer of his descent into madness and the ultimate tragedy of the play. In one study the artist shows that King Lear is both privileged and tragic. The play itself tells us that it is perhaps his very power that leads to his downfall.

  • Fool's sceptre from King Lear, 2007

    Fool's sceptre carried by the Fool (Sylvester McCoy) in King Lear, 2007, directed by Trevor Nunn.

    In the 2007 production of King Lear the Fool, played by Sylvester McCoy, carried this sceptre, or marotte. After the Fool is hanged, King Lear carries the Fool's sceptre. This strong visual link between the two characters reminds the audience of the Fool's constant judgement that it is King Lear who is a fool. Real court jesters would carry similar sceptres to mimic a King's. When King Lear carries the mock sceptre in the play it reinforces his foolishness and fall from grace.

  • Ian McKellen as King Lear, 2007

    Ian McKellen in the role of King Lear, 2007.

    This photograph shows King Lear in his madness - stripped of his royal clothes and dressed in rags with flowers in his hair. He is holding a Fool's sceptre that was owned by his court jester played by Sylvester McCoy. In his madness he is a wandering exile and comes across Gloucester who has been blinded for his loyalty to the King and has been sent into the wilderness to die. His meeting with Gloucester brings Lear to a new awareness of the world when he recognises his friend.

  • Poster for the 1982 production of King Lear

    Poster for the 1982 production of King Lear, directed by Adrian Noble.

    In this production the Fool was played by Anthony Sher and King Lear by Michael Gambon. The difference in size between the two is exemplified here, with the Fool looking like a puppet on Lear's lap. The dark, almost grotesque cartoon image on the poster hints at the set design which changed from being idyllic to stark and oppressive after Lear's abdication.

    The poster was designed by Ian Pollock, screenprint by GandB Arts Ltd, typography by the Drawing Room.

  • Dress worn by Peggy Ashcroft in the role of Cordelia, 1950

    Dress worn by Peggy Ashcroft in the role of Cordelia, 1950.

    Ashcroft played King Lear's daughter Cordelia in this production, directed by John Gielgud. At the beginning of the play, Lear decides to divide his Kingdom between his three daughters and give the largest part to the daughter who loves him the most. Unlike her sisters, Goneril and Regan, Cordelia refuses to flatter him saying to herself 'I am sure, my love's more richer than my tongue'. Cordelia's costume often reflects her goodness and innocence in contrast to her sisters. In this production, Goneril and Regan wore much darker and more exaggerated costumes to emphasise their greed and falsity.

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Teaching Shakespeare