King Lear is set in Ancient Britain, before the arrival of Christianity. Although there is no specific time frame mentioned in the play, it is roughly based on the story of the mythological Leir of Britain who—according to legend—ruled some time around the 8th century B.C.E. Fittingly, the audience encounters a preponderance of references to the ancient pantheons of Greco-Roman religion, particularly through characters’ invocation of gods like Apollo and Fortuna, as well as some rather anachronistic references to Greek philosophers from Athens and Thebes. On another note, the play is set during a particularly harsh winter, and the defining environmental feature in the narrative is a brutal storm that rages through the kingdom.
Although Lear is the King of Britain at the beginning of the play, most of the scenes in the play do not unfold in any identifiable part of real-world Great Britain. Nevertheless, the drama unfolds across several different locations: the castles belonging to the Duke of Albany and to the Earl of Gloucester, Lear’s own castle, and the barren heath upon which Lear finds himself after his banishment, with only his Fool, Kent, and, eventually, Edgar (disguised as Poor Tom) for company. Scenes also unfold down by the cliffs of Dover, where France prepares its impending invasion and Britain plans its defense.