Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Context from 'The Year in Lear' - James Shapiro

  • Unlike most other leading dramatists at this time, Shakespeare chose not to write civic or courtly entertainments in praise of the king. 
  • After Guy Fawkes- there were competing narratives to try and get the audience to imagine the deaths of a monarch- something that Shakespeare had been doing for years. Shakespeare grasped the dramatic potential of popular reaction to the Guy Fawkes plot: 
  • 'a maelstrom of fear, horror, a desire for revenge, an all-too-brief sense of national unity, and a struggle to understand where such evil came from.' 
  • Anthony Weldon in 1650 saw James I as the 'wisest fool in Christendom' 
  • 'The mortal moon hath her eclipse endured/ In-certainties now crown themselves assured/ And peace proclaims olives of endless age.'  All the anxious predictions that preceded the eclipse of Elizabeth were misplaced - the crowning of the new king as a peacemaker had put an end to these 'incertainties' 
  • Will Kemp- played many comedic roles and when he left the King's Men in 1599- it was a blow to the company.  People were drawn to the company for Kemp's clowning as Burbage's tragic roles of Shakespeare's words. 
  • Kemp's replacement was Robert Armin a different kind of comedian. Armin was able to step into Kemp's roles. But Kemp's improvisational and physical style and commonsensical if at times dim-witted demeanour was v. different from sardonic, witty style of Armin 
  • It took Shakespeare a while to write well for Armin- he played Touchstone in As You Like It and Feste in Twelfth Night and the Gravedigger in Othello. But it was the Fool in King Lear that was his defining role as John Davies wrote Armin could 'wisely play the fool' 
  • James I: "Do we not yet remember, that this kingdom was divided into seven little kingdoms, besides Wales? And is it not now the stronger by their union?" 
  • Before 1560, England and Scotland had often been at war, and that Scotland was allied with England's sometime enemy France. England considered themselves superior to their poorer backward nothern neighbours 
  • "I thought the King had more effected the Duke of Albany than Cornwall" - Jacobean playgoes knew that King James' elder son Henry, was the current Duke of Albany and his younger one, Charles, the Duke of Cornwall ( James did prefer Henry over his younger brother). Albany = Scotland (James had previously been Duke of Albany as had his father). For Shakespeare it was an uncharacteristically topical start- the opening gossipy exchange marking the play as distinctively Jacobean 
  • It was treasonous to distinguish between the physical and political bodies of kings (so that subjects couldn't sweat allegiance to one and not the other) 
  • Opening scene when a map of Britain is brought onstage, it wrestles with what Britishness means especially in relationship to the long standing national identities it superseded. 
  • The role in play of the kingdom of France further complicated matters. Playgoers at the Globe should naturally have sympathised with the British forces in their efforts to defeat French invaders. But nationalistic sympathies become compromised when it turns out that the virutous Cordelia now married to the King of France is on the wrong side
  • In King Leir there is now sub plot - but Shakespeare needed it as the story in Leir lacked counterpoint, a way to highlight Lear's figurative blindness by juxtaposing it with something more literal. Enable him to critique the very notions of authority and allegiance at the heart of the main plot
  • Shakespeare uses 'nothing' to suture together the Lear and Gloucester plots. Cordelia's initial response to her father are 'Nothing my lord' and Edmund when asked by Gloucester about the contents of the letter replies with the very same words: 'Nothing, my lord' 
  • The words 'never' and 'nothing' - 30 times and the word 'no' more than 120 times and 'not'- 240 times. Negativity is reinforced by the sixty or so times the prefix 'un' occurs as the characters are 'unprized', 'unfortunate', unmerciful'
  • 'What wilt thou do, old man?' - addressing the King as 'thou'. In Jacobean England ''thou' and 'you' were used with precision and purpose. 
  •  'You' = superiors or members of the upper class speaking to each other eg. 'You have begot me, bred me, loved me.'
  • Inferiors were for 'thou' - even addressing someone of equal rank as 'thou' could be taken as an insult
  • 'Come sonne and daughter, who did me advance/ Repose with me awhile, and then for France.'
  • KL is considered anomalous among Shakespeare's great tragedies because it lacks a supernatural element- ghosts of Caesar and Old Hamlet in Juliet Caesar and Hamlet, magic sin the web of Desdemona's handkerchief in Othello or the sisters in Macbeth. Demonic possession is feigned by Edgar it serves a similar purpose. Invocations of the 'devil' and 'fiend' sliding uneasily between the literal and figurative. 
  • In Lear's increasingly maddened and diseased imagination, women and their sexual organs are reimagined as a site of the demonic, a kind of hell that fills him with revulsion 
  • The mock trial shifts in and out of lucidity,from prose to blank verse to snatches of song, the scene captures the ways in which sanity yields to overpowering and terrifying visions. In collapsing the distance between the possessed and the truly mad it is unlike anything else Shakespeare would ever write- closer to Samuel Beckett than a Jacobean drama
  •  There is evil that stems from the abuse of authority and there is another kind that cannot be so easily explained by self-interest and the human propensity for cruelty. 
  • In KL , WS wrestles with the nature of this kind of evil as well something that Harsnett, in a book about the demonic, takes as given but never confronts. 

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Key Themes and Ideas

The Pastoral

Primarily concerned with images of an idealised country life and work. Involves figures of shepherds + tells stories of their humble but happy lives. Concerned with the purifying and gladdening effects of physical labour.

Pastoral, normally classical. But can be associated with Christian ideals of purity and innocence. Depicts people living in harmony with the natural world, and achieving simple satisfaction through their day-to-day work.

Pastoral protagonists = self-sufficent and morally elevated - A + E

english pastoral

Innocence and piety reflected in the amount of gardening work that they do. Labours they take obediently undertake which places them closer to God = peaceful, mild and loving; they live in union with nature.

Milton adds religion to traditionally Pagan mode. Pastoral as part of the religious discourse. However, it's wild pastoral imagery. GofE = unruly jungle and a 'Labyrinth' of vegetation. Imagery surrounding the scene is of obscurity, darkness, mist and dankness.

Harmonious growth and orderliness is not easily identifiable in the 'midnight vapor' of Eden.


Shifts meaning throughout the book. A + E lead a humble life, labouring in the GofE following God's commandments. Live with an awareness of God watching them + shape all actions in way that is complaint with his precepts. Worshipping God according to Christian ideals of worship- being obedient to him, loving each other + working hard for their daily bread.

Things change when S enters the GofE. Encourages the humans' fall by tempting Eve to breach God's law. Convincing Eve of his false worship of her. False worship is a forceful tool used by Satan to induce Eve to sin

After eating the apple- starts praising the Tree of Knowledge. Admiring the tree as it if was a God, a deity. Beginning of Eve's downfall- returning to Animistic beliefs.

Animism = not only humans have a soul but plants and animals are all spiritual beings worthy of worship. Seen as tribal and savage

Couple experience a sinful sexual awakening. Abandon religious worship altogether. No room for religious worship at the end of Bk 9- irreversibly lose their innocence and goodliness.

Temptation and Sin

Eve tempting Adam to separate- uses rhetorical devices and he yields. A surrenders to E temptation

E's sin when S succeeds in tempting E to the forbidden fruit.

E tempts A again to eat the fruit and breach Gods main commandment.


Physical and emotional. Couple's physical parting in the beginning of the book. A wary of the idea as sees potential danger in Eve leaving A , but eventually he yields.

E spiritual separation from God after eating the forbidden fruit. Thinks she is in the divine position of an all-knowing goddess. She is a god-like figure + abandons her love for God = separation from Christian tradition.

A + E separate emotionally - relationship breaks down. Turn to spiteful accusations + not much is left from their previous 'State of Mind...full of peace.' Followed by A + E separation from God they are expelled from Paradise.

The Sublime

Feeling that combines both admiration and fear in the presence of a force that is magnificent and mighty. Often powers of nature or spiritual phenomena that evoke the sublime feelings in its beholders.

Sublime through God and S's influence over  A + E.

  • G sublime power as spiritual force that produces a mixture of emotions. Admire and worship him as he's the superior force. Creations are awe- inspiring and wondorous. But they fear consequences of their disobedience + terrified of breaking his laws. 

They love God for the incomprehensible greatness of his creations and they fear God's punishment at the same time.

  • S's = elements of the sublime. E does not resist S's temptation is because she is blinded by his sublime disguise. Unfamiliar but magnificent in its strangeness. 

  • Tree of knowledge - inexpressible power, wondorously capable of giving a sense and deeper knowledge to any creature that eats its fruit. 
Eve is mesmerised by the tree's grandeur and supernatural characteristics. E seems to praise the tree because of the powers that are beyond her understanding. 

E spiritually elevates the tree + is in awe and inspired by it. Almost seen as Godlike. 

Milton's sublime is negative.

Characters- An Analysis

Adam and Eve- Love, Marriage and the Power Dynamics

The first and only man in the text: 'Growth, Sense, Reason' have 'all summ'd up in Man'. Emphasis on the male and the masculine in the text.

Adam- the Protective an Loving Husband

A tries to protect E from the temptation God warned the couple about. Tries to persuade Eve not to leave his side when she wants to work alone:

"....leave not the faithful side/
That gave thee being, still shades thee and protects." 

Adam's protective attitude and considers 'guarding' Eve as his responsibility and is 'safest' when she is near.

A believes in traditional gender roles + gendered distribution of duties. He appreciates Eve for taking on domestic responsibilities- 'for nothing lovelier can be found/ In Woman, than to studie houshold good' 

Adam is a loving husband who uses 'healing words' in 'his care and matrimonial love'.

He recognizes and admires Eve's celestial qualities. He puts emphasis on Eve's coming second after himself. A treats E as an equal in terms of her human superiority over God's other creatures

Eve- the Independent and Austere Wife

E very different to Adam in her values. Speaks to A first, letting him know of her wish to sepeate and carry on gardening in different areas of the GofE.

Eve dislikes her husband's attempts at her independence:

"With sweet austeer composure thus reply'd"

Eve is 'austeer' which is unlike 'mild' Adam. Milton wanted to introduce a degree of doubt about Eve's celestial qualities even before Eve is tempted by Satan.

The Married Couple

Role reversal taking place. Traditional female sphere (care, domesticity, docility) is embraced by Adam, the figure of a husband. Whilst masculine traits (austerity, independence and mobility) are found in Eve.

Adam is 'the Patriarch of mankind' which is highly empowering, masculine identity- implies Adam's authority and leadership. Adam has enough authority to decide whether to give permission to Eve.

Eve suddenly 'submiss' and finds it difficult to take up the opportunity that has arisen with Adam's permission. Clear submission as Eve refrains from speaking until Adam has finished.

Tasting the Forbidden Fruit

E experience the first feelings of jealousy as she imagines 'Adam wedded to another Eve' and sees this vision as 'a death to think'.

Eve also seems to realise her own inferiority. Sees it not as natural and right but as something imposed on her and limiting her freedom:

"In Femal Sex, the more to draw his love,/
And render me more equal and perhaps/
A thing not undesireable, somtime"

A is their erotic awakening soon afterwards. A experienced 'carnal desire enflaming'. Symbolise the end of their innocence in Paradise and the embracing of carnal pleasures, which seemed base and beastly.

A + E discover shame and seek to cover their intimate body parts with fig leaves. Regard nakedness as 'obnoxious and unseemliest'.

At the end, they are quite equal as Adam submits to E's right of speech before he speaks. Eve wins her equal status- but it does not serve her any good. The consequences of the shift are ruinous and the couple:

"spent the fruitless hours, but neither of them self-condemning/
And of thir vain contest appeer'd no end.

Humanised Satan 

First-person insights into S reasoning help to provide justification for his actions and render him a fuller, rounder character who is disturbingly sympathetic.

His coming to Earth is concealed by mists and vapours rising- Satan comes 'in mist/ Of midnight vapor.' This image is not only obscuring and unsettling the scene, but it also seems to portray the character of Satan as one who is lost and uncertain.

Satan's Soliloquy 

Encouraged to see S as a damned soul, a troubled individual who tries to justify his ways. S talks with painful admiration about the greatness and perfection of the Earth and all of God's creation, including humans.

Destructive power and disposition of Satan.  He is a lost soul, punished by God, unable to partake in any natural pleasures offered by the Earth, and he is only satisfied by acts of destruction, which he laments.

Commits this transgression of denying his submission to God. Suffers the eternal punishment of being excluded from the joys and enjoyments of both Heaven and Earth. Sense of being wronged gives way to envy and destructive desires. Pleasure to 'destroy' stands in contrast with God's constructive pleasure to create forming a clear binary opposition.


Listen to views and motives- hear his spiteful and wronged voice.

  • arch-villain Satan himself, the fallen angel who turned his back to God and uses his infernal powers to destroy God's beloved creations, humans
  • Animalistic appearance of the serpent that Satan deceitfully employs in order to enter the GofE + tempt Eve in disguise 
  • Humanised self , the emotive self, self which seems to stand behind S 1st soliloquy 
S capable of an array of human emotions and feelings 

Triune God- consists of God, his son Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Christian triune God consists of the celestial spirit of God the Father, the humanised God a well as the Holy spirit -represented as a dove.


Transcedent. Deeds are carefully observed and noted by his omniscent figure. Everything in Paradise revolves around God and his commandments- humble life of A + E

God the Maker and the Almighty 

Referred to as 'Maker' and 'the Almightie'. To A, God is his loving 'Lord' and both A and E refer to God with respect and devotion. S explicitly undermines God's authority + status in Paradise. E visibly attracted to the idea of her divine self as she falls for S's rhetoric. 

Shift in her attitude towards G. Idea of goodliness and the divine loses its focus and becomes elusive. Eve sees herself almost like a deity, also refers to 'Gods' - possible return to polytheism + withdrawal from the Christian tradition. Removes God the Maker from the position of authority. 

E thinks that G is not a loving Lord and carer but 'our great Forbidder'. Does not cease to watch the couple with the help of 'all his spies' by which Eve means the angels.  Lost her faith not in God's existence but his authority and sincerity of intentions. 

God is compared to Satan, with his guile and destructive purposes. 

End of Bk 9 = fortifies the notion of God's power over Paradise. A + E suffer from the results of going against God's commandment and are evidently punished. Experience shame and guilt for the 1st time in human history + their relationship crumbles as they argue endlessly and fruitfully, full of the infernal spite. 

Paradise Lost: A Reading Guide

The historical-political context

  • Marriage and the right of man to seek divorce, in an unhappy marriage was something that Milton worried about after his first wife, Mary Powell abandoned him. 
  • Milton appealed to parliament in a prose treatise called 'The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce' to allow a man to divorce his wife and remarry on grounds of intellectual incompatibility resulting in loneliness of desertion. 
  • Milton wrote 4 highly unorthodox, divorce tracts 
  • According to English canon law - complete dissolution of marriage bond allowing the parties to remarry if there was threat of polygamy or incest or if one person entered the marriage because they were forced
  • Milton argued that marriage was to alleviate loneliness in fit companionship therefore it is unchristian an uncharitable to allow a marriage if the conditions are not met
  • Presence of marriage in paradise- politicizes Eden
  • A + E marriage = ideal married state where wife is obedient intellectual helpmeet to her husband but also ideal human household where masculine principles of rationality and hierarchical liberty must hold sway  
  • A + E split the ideal spiritual and intellectual union they shared
  • Fall becomes a type of divorce = dissolution of the ideal union between man and God, man and wife
  • In earlier divorce tracts, Milton was snobbish towards those who entered marriage solely for the purpose of enjoying legitmised sexual intercourse 
  • Milton stated that the act of procreation when enjoyed for its own sake 'a quintessence of an excrement' BUT narrator celebrates A + E's prelapsarian sexuality
  • Love is founded not in lust but 'reason, loyal, just and pure.'
  • Before the Fall, A + E enter 'Handed' but after inflamed with a sudden lust, Adam'seize' Eve by the hand dragging her 'nothing loath' into a 'shady bank' 
  • In PL, the Fall and the loss of liberty entails debase human desires
  • The resulting slavery of the rational faculties to sensual appetites and passions leave humanity in a state of naked shame divested of 'native righteousness' 

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Grotesque in King Lear

"strange, fantastic, ugly, incongruous, unpleasant, or disgusting...often used to describe weird shapes and distorted forms. In art, performance, and literature, however, grotesque may also refer to something that simultaneously invokes in an audience a feeling of uncomfortable bizarreness as well as sympathetic pity

These NSFW King Lear Illustrations Are Gorgeous—And Incredibly Grotesque G. Wilson Knight, "King Lear and the Comedy of  the Grotesque,"  the point is made that not only are tragic pathos and ridiculous nonsense intermingled most clearly in the storm scenes with Lear, Edgar in his role of 'poor Tom', and the fool, but that even the barbarously cruel events of the play are not devoid of a kind of comedy that these days we would call 'black'

'Go thrust him out at gates, and let him smell His way to Dover' is Regan's comment after Gloucester's eyes are put out.

The effect of the grotesque here is to screw even tighter the cruelty and tragedy: one's reaction to Regan's remark would not be so intense were it not expressed in the form of a witticism. And how are we to react, if not with a maximum of pity and with a sense of the comic which only increases the piteousness to the brink of the unbearable, to the blind Gloucester' s mock death? 

Shakespeare's greatest achievement was to experience the comedic elements of the play while not crossing the line of bathos 


This was a term coined in the 1960's as a style of theater.

Their work expressed the belief that human existence has no meaning or purpose and therefore all communication breaks down 

Logical construction and argument gives way to irrational and illogical speech and to its ultimate conclusion, silence.

Absurdism is reflected in many pieces of work but in theater it aimed to how man's reaction to a world apparently without meaning  and man as a puppet controlled or menaced by invisible outside forces . eg. Samuel Beckett's 'Waiting for Godot'

  • Broad comedy mixed with horrific or tragic images
  • characters caught in hopeless situation forced to do repetive and meaningless actions
  • dialogues full of cliches, wordplay and nonsense
  • plots that are cyclical or absurdly expansive
  • a parody of dismissal of realism and the concept of the 'well-made play'
Absurd drama, by its very nature, subverts logic. It deflates the normal and celebrates the unexpected. Being anti-rationalist, it exhibits how rational thought, just like language, defies meaning, while nonsense offers more liberty for an exploration of the infinite and indescribable. Hence, in such plays, not only actions, but also motives behind them are incomprehensible.

Likewise, in King Lear, several scenes can be termed absurd such as 
  • Gloucester‘s blinding
  • Gloucester's suicide
  •  Cordelia‘s death
  •  madness of Shakespeare‘s characters - real and feigned 
  • Love test 
  • The Fool
  • Storm scene
Anne Paulucci ― "Realism holds a smooth mirror up to nature which distorts and exaggerates familiar things in order to shock us into a new evaluation of experience. The crazy mirror of the Absurd breaks up familiar pattern and forces us to accept a new dimension and a new type of communication" 

Myth of Sisyphus- Push a boulder up a hill and rolls back down as a punishment. It's an eternal punishment and constant struggle - metaphor for life

Random AO4 for Lear


  • Appears 50 times- highly polysemic
  • Mother Nature
  • Human Nature- instinct/individual personality. Related to your identity- clothing/ sumptuary laws/stripping of clothing and restoration of clothing 
  • Natural - bonds between parent and children
  • Bastards- unnatural children
  • Natural fools
  • Crowns of flowers with weeds- duality. External human nature/ similar to a Fool's cap

Emblem of Map
  • Map represents his kingdom- demarking his land and power
  • Map making increased during this time due to increased global discovery
  • Initially the land is fertile, plentiful but there's a destruction of the land/withering away= represents the loss of his power. The earth is 'empty and bleeding' (Jan Kott) 
  • They are either there but are benign- In 'King Leir (source material), the Gods were obliging but in Lear they're notable for their absence
  • Or not there at all
  • Absurdism - left to struggle - sense of recklessness and constantly moving but to nowhere
  • Compassion is shown in the servants 
Religion and Suffering
  • For Lear his suffering to the absolute limit of suffering - irreligious as no salvation or no hope
  • Humanism- Dollimore: 'experimental play' - Lear is late in WS's work 
  • Play revolves around 0 therefore a tragedy of nothing
  • 1530's break from Rome = Protestanism = cataclysmic and discord
  • Erasmus- Praise of Folly which corresponds with KHVIII = Humanist thinker - man is at the centre
  • Medieval belief system is shattered and redefines relationship between God and man
  • L starts and ends the play as King= circular structure but nothing happens seen through the symbol of 0
  • Hope which is seen in the source material of 'King Leir' is lost
  • Reconciliation of 4.7= false sense of security and sets up a greater tragedy    
                                      Othello - tragedy of deception/race
                                      Hamlet- tragedy of revenge
                                      Macbeth- tragedy of ambition 

  • People with power and how they handle this power eg. Richard III
  • Most negative ending of any of the tragedies- bleak
  • Normally 1 tragic hero dies - 1 person who can take over in order to represent the future. But Edgar's speech is so depressing that there's no feeling of hope

This is the disease which occurs when the hierarchy is destroyed. 
Job is like Lear but is denied any divine compensation- hints of a Christian redemption - Cordelia is showcase through Christian imagery but this hope is dashed. 

Orthodox Christian journey 


Many critics argue that there is no redemption however it can be argued that there are slivers such as the new found humility of Lear that redeems him from his former arrogance. Or Cordelia's forgiveness.