Archive for King Lear


Posted in King Lear with tags , , , , , , , , on April 14, 2009 by Saera

There several perspectives a person might use to analyze a literary work, especially one of Shakespeare’s.

Gibson outlines the perspectives and defines them as follows:

Feminism:  A fairly new perspective concerned with a “women’s view” about gender equality in roles of institutions such as religion, politics, work, etc.

 Psychoanalysis:  Is preoccupied with love, hate, dreams, fantasy, and confusion. Seeks to make distinctions between the explicit and implicit meanings of a script. Psychoanalytics have a field day with Hamlet.

Structuralism:  Derived from a particular view of language, located in the theories of linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. A structuralist approach to a Shakespeare play assumes that certain structures or systems govern or explain each play. Example, a genre such as comedy is a structural category, because its literary and dramatic concepts strongly influence how a particular play is written, what its topic will be, how it will end, and how it is likely to be performed. Measure for Measure provides structuralists with a headache.

Deconstruction: Is derived from one of structuralism’s assumptions about language, that it is a ‘system with no positive terms.’  In other words, no word or thing has meaning in itself, but derives meaning from the relationships it has within the structure of language. Meaning is always deferred, never absolute. Deconstructionists look at what is missing from a Shakespeare play rather than focusing on the meaning of what is there.

New Historicism:  Is mainly concerned with the conditions of Shakespeare’s own time, and environment. It sees the plays and theatre of that time as strongly influenced by, and reflecting, contemporary politics, economic, and ideological conditions. Claims that Shakespeare’s plays are ‘centrally and repeatedly concerned with the production and containment of disorder.’

Cultural Materialism: Argues that culture and materialism, are always related. Shakespeare cannot be understood without reference to the economic and plitical system of his age, and that of our own. Says that studying Shakespeare is a political activity because Shakespeare is not separate from other social practices, but is shaped by politics, ideology, and economics.

Textual and Critical Scholarship:  Shows how Shakespeare texts have been constructed over the centuries. because every edition is a different one, no script has the coherence and stability it appears to claim. Claims that all interpretations are to some extent shaped by ideology and focuses on the social class of the critics and the particular circumstances of the time at which they wrote.

Reception Theory:   Sees reading as a creative, constructive process. It emphasizes the reader’s active role in ‘making’  any text or script, and therefore epitomizes those teaching practices which stress personal response. Readers are not passive,but actively make some sense out of what they read.

Obviously, each perspective has its advantages and disadvantages, some more than others. There is something to be said for the various perspectives, especially in teaching Shakespeare, but for the average enjoyer/reader of Shakespeare, they are not necessary. Basic familiarity is nice, and will probably be helpful in allowing the reader to gain multiple views of a play, but for the perspectives to be useful at all, the reader must first decide which perspective he or she agrees with and will stick to.

King Lear is a play particularly well-suited to various perspectives. Not only do all the characters have individual ‘perspectives’ on life, the play itself could easily be interpreted several ways through several perspectives.


King Lear Class Notes -Incomplete

Posted in King Lear with tags , , , on April 13, 2009 by Saera

James I was king while King Lear was written. He wanted to unite England, Scotland, and Wales.

Lear looks at the world that contains humanity, rather than the character/individual interior such as Hamlet does.

There is a primary philosophical/dramatic conflict between the “naturalists” and the “medievalists.” The one gives importance only to “facts,” while the other gives facts to importance.

The sense of smell is key in this play.

Gloucester’s situation with his sons  parallels King Lear’s relationship with his daughters, and both men’s situations parallel each other as far as their desperation drives them to madness and harm.

Is Cordelia an echo or representation of the Gospel or a divine figure? I do not see her as such…inless it is to show that she is in the right, because she is imitating Christ? Or is it the opposite – to show that Christ is bad, or a lie, since Cordelia dies, and seems merely an imitation? Either way, it seems to be a stretch.

Edgar wants to show his father how fate is not purely random – Dr. Gurney says he contrives a “fake miracle” for Gloucester. So does this show that miracles (which are associated with the Divine) are non-existent, and that men contrive them, that they are fake? Is this a comment on the perceived absence of God and the supernatural? It does seem to be…as Dr. Gurney mentioned, Gloucester’s physical fall leads to his spiritual rise. Interesting point…

Edgar has saved his father’s life by a necessary fiction.. And, all of Edgar’s disguises (he has several) are fictions, in a sense.

This whole play seems to be a parody of the real  and the divine. Fictions, disguises  seem to be real, despite their false appearance, but those things that seem to true and normally not able to be seen or have an appearance ( such as God or destiny,  moral order, hierarchy of design, etc.) are shown to be false, in the sense that they are virtually non-existent in the play. Yet, is this because they do not exist, or because the characters act as if they do not, and ignore them? Cordelia’s “I am” is again connotative of God…but is she meant to be overtly associated with God, because she says she “is” but, unlike God, at the play’s end, she is dead.

“Ripeness is all.”

Shakespeare uses many compound words in King Lear: pell-mell, handy-dandy, child-changed, tender-minded, full-flowing, villain-like, bare-gnawn, canker-bit, eldest-born, wide-skirted, self-same, emty-hearted, fore-vouched, still-soliciting, to name a few.

“O undistinguished space of woman’s will!”

“Pray you now, forget and forgive. I am old and forgetful.”

“Gilded butterflies” section….beautiful!

“I have a journey, sir, shortly to go; My master calls me, I must not say no.”

“The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices/ Make instruments to plague us.”

“Come, let’s away to prison./ We two alone will sing like birds i’the cage…/ So we’ll live,/ And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh/ At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues/ Talk of court news; and we’ll talk with them too -/ Who loses and who wins; who’s in, and who’s out;’ And take upon’s the mystery of things,/ As if we were God’s spies; and we’ll wear out,/ In a walled prison, packs and sects of great ones,/ That ebb and flow by the moon.”

Words, Words, Words!

Posted in King Lear, Shakespeare's Language with tags , , , on March 31, 2009 by Saera


Shakespeare used vivid language to describe exactly what he wanted or needed his audience to know.  In order to study his writings, a knowledge of basic terms for literary devices is necessary. Here are a few standard terms and explanations, taken primarily from Rex Gibson’s book Teaching Shakespeare.

Imagerythe use of emotionally charged words and phrases which conjure up vivid mental pictures in the imagination.

King Lear expresses his suffering in powerful imagery upon waking from his madness:

“You do me wrong to take me out o’th’ grave.

Thou art a soul in bliss, but I am bound/ Upon a wheel of fire, that mine own tears

Do scald like molten lead.”

Clusters of repeated images in each play build up a sense of the themes of the play. All of Shakespeare’s imagery uses metaphor or simile, both of which are comparisons. A simile compares one thing to another using ‘like’ or ‘as.’ A metaphor is a comparison which suggests that two dissimilar things are actually the same. Metaphors are often stronger than similes. For example, it is much better in the line from Macbeth, “There’s daggers in men’s smiles,'” than the simile “men’s smiles are like daggers.”

Personificationa special type of imagery that gives non-human objects or things human feeelings and attributes.

In Twelfth Night, Viola uses personification:

                              “She never told her love,

 But let concealment like a worm i’th’bud

Feed on her damask cheeck. She pined in thought,

And sat like Patience on a monument

Smiling at grief.”

Antithesisthe opposition of words or phrases against each other.  “To be or not to be…”

Alliteration – the repetition of consonants, usually at the beginning of words.

More matter for a May morning!”

Assonance – the repetition of vowel sounds. The repeated vowel sounds may be placed consistently at the beginning or ending of words in a sequence, or they may simply be sounds repeated anywhere throughout the passage or sentence.

“The play’s the thing

Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king!”  This uses the hard “c” sound at the beginning of words.

“Thrice to thine, and thrice to mine,/ And thrice again, to make up nine.” This uses several different vowel sounds, all in various places. The “th”  or “t” sound is used in the beginnings of words, the “ne” and “ce” sound is used at the endings of words.

Onomatopoeia – the use of words whose sound mimic what they describe.

In King Lear, Edgar conjures up the sounds of the sea-shore:

“The murmuring surge,

 That on th’unnumbered idle pebble chafes.”  Murmuring is a word that sounds like what it means.

There is also Rhyme and Prose, both of which are already familiar to most.

Shakespeare also uses lists of words arranged in ways to augment their meaning or dramatic effect.

The best known example of this is found in Macbeth where the witches are listing the ingredients used in making their stew.

“…Fillet of a fenny snake,

in the cauldron boil and bake:

Eye of newt, and toe of frog,

Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,

Adder’s fork, and blind worm’s sting,

Lizard’s leg, and howlet’s wing,

For a charm of powerful trouble,

Like a hell-broth, boil and bubble.”