Edward Bond's Lear was first produced at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 1971. Bond's 1965 play Saved had already established his position as an important new playwright, and some believe early reviewers of Lear did not fully understand the play but were reluctant to condemn it, largely because of Bond's reputation. Many did find fault with the play, however, and much attention was focused on Leafs tremendous violence. Some were critical of that violence, while others defended its extremity as essential to the playwright's purpose. As with Bond's other plays, the violence in Lear remains a subject of critical debate to this day.
Another focus of attention on Lear is its relationship to William Shakespeare's play King Lear. As the playwright has noted, it is important to note that Bond's Lear be seen not simply as an adaptation of Shakespeare's play but as a comment on that drama. In various interviews, Bond has said that current audience reaction to Shakespeare's King Lear, which focuses on the artistic experience of the play, is far removed from the way Shakespeare's audience would have responded. Bond's purpose is to make Shakespeare's play more politically effective, more likely to cause people to question their society and themselves, rather than simply to have an uplifting aesthetic experience. As a socialist playwright, Bond writes plays that are not meant merely to entertain but to help to bring about change in society.
Lear has been called the most violent drama ever staged as well as the most controversial of Bond's plays. It has been revived a number of times since its original production, and its reputation has grown as more critical attention has been paid to Bond's work Although it is clear that Lear is an important work among Bond's plays, its full effect on contemporary drama remains to be seen.