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King Henry II of England is the "Lion in Winter." The title refers to the fact that the King who is also the "lion" is aging and does not have a son he trusts enough to succeed him on the throne. King Henry II is in the "winter" of his life and fears there is no son which can take his place, even though he has three sons, Richard, Geoffrey, and John.
"In medieval times, however, a fifty-year-old man was regarded as being close to the end of his life. Henry, who is fifty, remarks at one point that he is the oldest living man he knows. Yet he is also aware of the fact that he is approaching death, which adds a sense of urgency to his need to decide on an heir."
The lion is the tradition ruling symbol of the English King. Thus, the lion is probably a symbol of Henry II. The fact that the play takes place during Christmas is another reference to Winter in the title. However, the word "lion" could also be a play on the word "lie". In spite of their love for one another, both Henry and Eleanor lie to constantly to keep each other off guard and compete for the power to name the next king. Thus they are both "lion" to each other in a power struggle that has evidently gone on for quite a while. That's why Eleanor is brought in from exile at the beginning of the play and why she is sent back at the end of the play.
The Lion in Winter, a play written by James Goldman who also wrote the screen play has the dramatic style of huberis and many twists and turns that go all of the way back to when plays were first written in ancient Greece.
Henry the II is the King of England that places him in a position of power but this is as close as it gets to huberis, though he is arrogant, demanding, and the decisions he makes are not questioned, except by his family members, three sons, the King of France, and Alais who is the second cousin of the King of France. Eleanor is the Queen of England that Henry does not trust and confines her all year long until Christmas, so there is the influence of dysfunction of family embedded in the plot.
Any artist, literary or visual has one goal in mind and that is to create an emotional response in the audience - a cathartic cleansing of conflicting emotions. The audience sometimes empathizes with one of the characters such as Alais who loves Henry but Henry uses her as a pawn in the game that takes place in this play. The play also elicits emotional responses from the audience because of the change of the personalities of the characters that are sudden and not expected. The end of the play gives the audience hope for Henry and Eleanor as there are some scenes that show the love they once had for one another and Eleanor does not seem to mind her return to isolation. The most interesting aspect of the play is that the audience has been emotionally manipulated and in the end there is not a resolution about who should be King of England - this is another literary device that writers sometimes use to influence the audience to release their pent-up emotions in their own social surroundings.
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