- A.C.Bradley on King Lear
in Kermode (Ed.) Shakespeare's King Lear pp. 81-117,
London: Aurora 1970.
This play is different for its scope, mass and
variety of intense experience, interpenetration of pathos, humour,
passion and atmosphere.
- 1. The three-fold division of the kingdom was
already public (lines 38, 197, 245)
- Cordelia reverses Lear's expectation and his
childish scheme to gratify his love of absolute power and hunger
for assurances of devotion.
- 2. absurdity of his plan to live with his
three daughters; only ever intended to live with Cordelia in the
central opulent portion.
- 3. the blinding of Gloster is proper in
imagination, but a blot on it as a stage play.
- 4. the unhappy ending: where Truth and Virtue
do not at last succeed.
- Does Lear need to die? aren't the tragic
emotions stirred enough?
- this catastrophe is not inevitable
- Is a fair dismissal (= death) better than a
life of continued anguish or perhaps peace and happiness by
Cordelia's fireside; the whole play would not lose its
significance if Lear did not die.
- 1. too many characters, their movements too
complicated, readers' attention is strained with too many centres
of interest changing too quickly . . . leads to emotional
- 2. central battle scarcely affects
- 3. last two Acts too vast
- 4. too many and gross improbabilities in this
play e.g., fate of the Fool.
- a carelessness? or deliberate
- Was the fate of Lear deserved? shocking tragic
- our pity moves to horror at his hubris
(blindness to human limitations) and his presumptuous self
- Shakespeare's first study of a choleric
- Action moves on the nexus of his errors and
- Setting is not a fantastical world but one of
law and reason leads to our horror
- Theme: title should be "The Redemption of King
Lear" because it is a progress where he learns to feel his own
humiliation, learns to feel and pray for the homeless; learns to
pierce below rank to the common humanity. How all things are
vanity except love. see V.iii.
Insanity in Lear
- - domination of a fixed idea
- I looked it up again
upon your question. Read at page 100
- ". . . domination of a
fixed idea. What ever present itself to his
- senses, is seized on by
this idea and compelled to express it; as for
- example in those words
"Poor naked wretches whereso'er you are" which
- first show his mind has
actually given way:
- "Hast thou given all /
To thy two daughters? And art thou come to
- (He notes in a footnote
this is in prose not verse then Lear reverts to
- Bradley observes that
the next action is surely insanity - the
- off of
- What do I (Greg) make of
- That Shakespeare
portrays a fixed idea of insanity but today we know
- is a variety of changing
states and still not understood
- Lear is dominated by the
fixed idea of the moment - the immediate is all; loss
- perspective, loss of
personal memory and history, loss of capacity
- relativise, or value
appearances, to weigh them appropriately
- Lear's insanity means
his senses dominate, reason fails, insanity results in
- - Shakespeare recognises lunatic, lover and
poet are similar; genius is allied to insanity.
- His insanity stimulates moral perception and
- Note simplicity of Lear's dying speech:
monosyllables, brief, plain, familiar, poignant
- not the grand flourish of Othello or
The issue of Cordelia
- appears in only 4 of its 26 scenes; says a
scant 100 lines
- enhances her mystery; her reverence and her
- her assertion of truth and right compels not
just respect but in her loving nature is adorable.
- she is so deeply wronged yet so
- unable to speak for herself. young slight
voice soft and low.
- she knew least of joy; learned early to
repress her emotions
- we do not try to justify or blame her just
feel fear and pity for her.
- symbol of the dumbness of love, her hatred of
- Why should she die?
- an innocent victim swept away in the
convulsion caused by others.
- she is set free by death; a spirit beyond,
untouched by tragedy
- she is closer to the heart of life's meaning;
all that matters is what she is.
- she focuses theme: prosperity versus
- the greater her death, the nobler is her soul.
maior mors, maiora anima (G.
- in the real world, appearances are nothing;
what counts is what's inside.
- theme: the outward is nothing, the inward is
- a crushed flower yields its
- warm room in a castle is hell, a tumultuous
heath is a sanctuary.
- In Shakespeare's day, Cordelia would be a
Catholic or a Puritan =
- averse to commodious conformity.
- Historical precedent for the division: a
cause celebre in the courts in 1588-9:
- Sir William Allen divided his estate between
- theme of play: fault of haste and indiscretion
leads to results beyond all bounds.
Major motifs in King Lear:
- Source: Coleman introduction to Challis
- Notes by G. Smith 11/4/99.
Relationship to the other
Role in the play
What finally happened to each
Lear and Gloucester
Goneril and Regan
Edmund and Edgar
Cordelia and Kent
- Return to Lear