Study Guide

The Lion in Winter

by James Goldman

The Lion in Winter Themes

Themes

Dysfunctional Family
The central thematic focus of The Lion in Winter is on the interpersonal dynamics of members of a dysfunctional family. Goldman’s play is essentially a story about dysfunctional family writ large. Although the members of the family are kings, queens, and princes, their complex and troubled emotional attachments to one another are represented as an amplified version of the same kinds of problems people experience in modern families. As is often the case with twenty-first-century families, the Plantagenet family in The Lion in Winter experience such problems as jealousy, sibling rivalry, parental neglect, parental favoritism, marital infidelity, and factionalism among family members. The political implications of the characters’ interpersonal dynamics merely demonstrate these basic emotional relationship issues on a grand scale.

Political Maneuvering
While the characters in The Lion in Winter are motivated by deeply personal feelings about each other, they are also engaged in real power struggles with vast political implications. The issue at hand concerns the outcome of three different questions: who will become the next king of England after Henry dies; who will marry Alais, the sister of the French king; and who will control the important French regions of the Vexin and the Aquitaine? The answer to each of these questions implies a reordering of the existing political power dynamics within the royal family and between France and England. All of the principle characters thus plot and counterplot with and against each other in order to determine the outcome of these three questions.

War and Peace
The political negotiations between the characters in The Lion in Winter will determine whether the outcome will be war or peace between the different factions. History tells us that...

(The entire section is 772 words.)