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5-7-2021

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King Lear

King Lear


King Lear is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare. There are two versions, but modern editors usually conflate these to produce a single play.  Both versions are based on the mythological Leir of Britain. King Lear relinquishes his power and land to two of his daughters. He becomes destitute and insane and a proscribed crux of political machinations.


The first known performance of any version of Shakespeare's play was on St. Stephen's Day in 1606. The three extant publications from which modern editors derive their texts are the 1608 quarto (Q1) and the 1619 quarto (Q2, unofficial and based on Q1) and the 1623 First Folio. The quarto versions differ significantly from the folio version.


The play was often revised after the English Restoration for audiences who disliked its dark and depressing tone, but since the 19th century Shakespeare's original play has been regarded as one of his supreme achievements. Both the title role and the supporting roles have been coveted by accomplished actors, and the play has been widely adapted.




John F. Danby, in his Shakespeare's Doctrine of NatureA Study of King Lear (1949), argues that Lear dramatizes, among other things, the current meanings of "Nature". The words "nature", "natural", and "unnatural" occur over forty times in the play, reflecting a debate in Shakespeare's time about what nature really was like; this debate pervades the play and finds symbolic expression in Lear's changing attitude to Thunder.





The two Natures and the two Reasons imply two societies. Edmund is the New Man, a member of an age of competition, suspicion, glory, in contrast with the older society which has come down from the Middle Ages, with its belief in co-operation, reasonable decency, and respect for the whole as greater than the part. King Lear is thus an allegory.


The older society, that of the medieval vision, with its doting king, falls into error, and is threatened by the new Machiavellianism; it is regenerated and saved by a vision of a new order, embodied in the king's rejected daughter. Cordelia, in the allegorical scheme, is threefold: a person; an ethical principle (love); and a community.  Nevertheless, Shakespeare's understanding of the New Man is so extensive as to amount almost to sympathy. 




“This is the excellent foppery of the world, that, when we are sick in fortune,--often the surfeit of our own behavior,--we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars: as if we were villains by necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and treachers, by spherical predominance; drunkards, liars, and adulterers, by an enforced obedience of planetary influence; and all that we are evil in, by a divine thrusting on: an admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition to the charge of a star.

                                                                               William Shakespeare, King Lear


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