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Some Facets of King Lear

Some Facets of King Lear: Essays in Prismatic Criticism

Copyright Date: 1974
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Some Facets of King Lear
    Book Description:

    The essays in this book - forming neither a casebook nor a 'perplex' - were written because their authors wanted to understand something specific aboutKing Lear, one of Shakespeare's very complicated plays.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-5299-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Performing Arts
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface (pp. vii-2)
  4. ONE King Lear and Its Language (pp. 3-22)

    Is it an accident that a play so intense in feeling should end with Edgar’s injunction to ‘Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say’? Is it an accident that Lear’s incoherence should convey his insight and Kent’s rudeness his nobility, Cordelia’s chilly plainness her devotion, Gloucester’s courtliness his dereliction, and the play’s central negations and affirmations be expressed less often in decorous soliloquy or set speech than in cries or silence? And how can we explain less obvious verbal anomalies: Kent’s and Edgar’s sudden adoption of folk or dialect speech in their encounters with Oswald Edgar’s bravura...

  5. TWO The Subplot as Simplification in King Lear (pp. 23-38)

    Lear’s words just before his death have always eluded the attempts of critics to label what he sees, does, or feels at the moment that he utters them :

    Pray you, undo this button: thank you, Sir.

    Do you see this? Look on her, look, her lips,

    Look there, look there! [Dies(5.3.309-11)

    If we are rigorous in our analysis of this passage, we reject speculations like Bradley’s about whether the king is dying of joy or grief: ‘this’ in line 310 lacks an antecedent and is therefore unclear. But there are other grounds for hesitating to fill in the...

  6. THREE Theatrical Emblems in King Lear (pp. 39-58)

    ‘All dark and comfortless,’ the blinding of Gloucester is not only the most horrible act of physical retribution in Shakespearean tragedy; it is also the most emblematic. Coming toward the end of act 3, it catches up the many previous examples of Gloucester’s ‘blindness’ and crystallizes them in an unforgettable pictorial image. The stage action becomes a dramatic emblem, a highly symbolic visualization of one of the play’s most important themes. One could even find a motto which captures the outrage of this punishment in Regan’s earlier words to Gloucester: ‘O! Sir, to wilful men, / The injuries that they...

  7. FOUR Acting as Action in King Lear (pp. 59-76)

    The brief prologue that opensKing Learhas for one of its functions the task of instructing us how we are to respond to the crucial scenes in which Lear divests himself of his kingdom and exiles the two people who most wish him well. Kent and Gloucester make it clear that Lear’s ‘darker purpose’ is already known. They are aware of his plan to divide the kingdom, and they have learned enough of the details of the plan to be able to express surprise that the Dukes of Albany and Cornwall are to be allotted equal shares. What we...

  8. FIVE ‘We Put Fresh Garments on Him’: Nakedness and Clothes in King Lear (pp. 77-88)

    In the 1968 season the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford decided to shock the audience by nudity rather than violence. Helen, in Marlowe’sDoctor Faustus, pranced about the stage with all her immortal charms plainly exposed, and inTroilus and Cressida, Greeks were distinguished from Trojans by differently coloured jockstraps. Nakedness was most disturbing inKing Lear, where Eric Porter stripped to his underwear at the climactic lines: ‘Off, off, you lendings! Come; unbutton here’ (3.4.111-12). I do not think anyone had ever before seen Lear in long johns - an image for which Aristotle’sPoeticshas not prepared us...

  9. SIX The Artist Exploring the Primitive: King Lear (pp. 89-102)

    There may once have been a King Lear in ancient Britain after whom the city of Leicester was named, and perhaps he had three daughters. But the story about him which Shakespeare retells, both in the form in which he found it and the form into which he cast it, is highly unreal, utterly remote from any familiar history. King Lear lived, according to Tudor historians, at some vague time during the era of the Kings of Judea. Of the mocking prophecy which the Fool recites at the end of 3.2, he says that it will be made by Merlin,...

  10. SEVEN Recognition in King Lear (pp. 103-116)

    ‘What art thou?’ Lear asks, and the disguised Kent answers, ‘A very honest-hearted fellow, and as poor as the King.’ ‘If thou be’st as poor for a subject as he is for a King, thou are poor enough’ (1.4.19-23). We are still in the first act of the play; only about one-seventh of the playing time ofKing Learhas elapsed, and already the protagonist is experiencing ‘recognition’ and the audience is perceiving ‘reversal of situation.’ It is this fact (most unusual in dramatic literature) and its bearing on the structure of the play and on the phases of our...

  11. EIGHT The Energies of Endurance: Biblical Echo in King Lear (pp. 117-144)

    Although many standard moral, social, and literary paradoxes have been brought to life inKing Lear, reanimating the difficulties of moral living in a particularly absorbing and involving way,¹ these paradoxes do not, as they might, utterly confuse the audience’s own set of values: from beginning to end in this play, we know whose side we are on; we know, at least relatively, the right from the wrong, virtue from vice. Shakespeare’s dramaturgy is partly responsible for this - Edmund tells us his intentions before we see him putting his schemes into action; Regan and Goneril draw off some of...

  12. NINE ‘Ripeness is All’: Sententiae and Commonplaces in King Lear (pp. 145-168)

    A critical commonplace aboutKing Learis that it is a play full of commonplaces: a recent study has even demonstrated that nearly every utterance in the play has its analogue in favourite Renaissance literary and philosophical sources.¹ In this essay, I am less concerned with identifying these inherited formulations than with considering the thematic and dramatic functions of commonplaces, aphorisms, and sentences inKing Lear. So closely woven are commonplaces in the fabric of the play that any one of them links with many others in complex patterns of meaning and effect; one example of an aphorism catching up...

  13. TEN King Lear as Pastoral Tragedy (pp. 169-184)

    ThatKing Learhas some connection with pastoral literature is not altogether a new idea. Critics ofAs You Like Ithave long noted various parallels between that play andKing Lear,¹ and recently Maynard Mack has suggestedLear’s relation to pastoral romance. In Professor Mack’s assessment,King Learalludes to the patterns of pastoral romance only to turn them upside down: ‘It moves from extrusion not to pastoral, but to what I take to be the greatest anti-pastoral ever penned.’² What I wish to suggest instead is thatKing Learmakes no apologies for taking its pastoral ‘straight’ and...

  14. ELEVEN Reason and Need: King Lear and the ‘Crisis’ of the Aristocracy (pp. 185-220)

    These comments fromKing Learshow some of the topsyturvyness in the social order that informs the play, which has often been criticized as if its tragedy sprang from the simple disruption of an hieratic, orderly, customary society in which each man knew his place and responsibilities and kept to them both, in which duty and deference were expected and exacted in proportion to a man’s known social and political status. According to one interpretation of Lear (as of many Shakespearean and other Renaissance dramas) the plot itself, with its manifold difficulties and sufferings, results from the deliberate abrogation of...

  15. TWELVE Edgar: Once and Future King (pp. 221-238)

    It is not difficult to understand why generations of readers, like the Folio editors before them, have rejected the Quarto description ofKing Learas a ‘True Chronicle Historie.’ In the play’s final scene alone, with Lear dying after his children have died, without an heir, with an unaccountable Edgar as his successor, we witness violations of recognized historical sources that leave us little choice but to dismiss as fanciful any claims concerning this play’s historicity.King Leardoes not invite us to speculate about antecedent actions, and, as it ends, we are, I think, impressed less by what remains,...

  16. Afterword (pp. 239-240)

    Rosalie colie died just as this - her most characteristic project - was accepted for publication. Her essays contained here are of a piece with her other work. The volume itself celebrates the kind of scholarly and critical co-operation that she describes in the Preface and that her friends and colleagues will recognize as her hallmark.

    We who have been cajoled and encouraged by her appreciate that this is -quintessentially- her book....

  17. Contributors (pp. 241-241)
  18. Back Matter (pp. 242-243)