Folly in William Shakespeare's King Lear

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Folly in William Shakespeare's King Lear In "East Coker," T. S. Eliot pleads "Do not let me hear / Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly…." (Eliot 185) The folly of old men must surely be a central trope in any discussion of Shakespeare's imposing tragic accomplishment, King Lear. Traditional interpretations of the play, drawing on the classical Aristotelian theory of tragedy, have tended to view Lear's act of blind folly as hamartia, precipitating the disintegration of human society. In the ensuing crisis, "the basic ties of nature fall apart to reveal a chaos where humanity 'must prey on itself like monsters of the deep.'" and "evil is immanent and overflows from the smallest breach of nature." (Mercer 252) Modernist interpretations have given this scenario an existential spin, treating Lear as a representative of Man, lost in a nihilistic universe. Thus Joyce Carol Oats writes that "the drama's few survivors experience [the conclusion] as in 'image' of the horror of the Apocalypse, that is, an anticipation of the end of the world." She concludes that "we are left with no more than a minimal stoicism…. For what purpose?--to turn the wheel full circle, it would seem, back to the primary zero, the nothing that is an underlying horror or promise throughout." (Oats 215) I. A Postmodern Shakespeare But Jan Kott has suggested that "While Shakespeare is nearly always in one sense or another our contemporary, there are times when, to paraphrase George Orwell, he is more contemporary than others." (Elsom 11) If, as is widely agreed, we are in a new cultural period that is in some sense 'post-modern,' (Jameson 1) then the texts of a culture that witnessed the emergence of the basic structures and dynamic... ... middle of paper ... ...dge, 1989. Grady, Hugh. Shakespeare's Universal Wolf: Studies in Early Modern Reification. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996. Jameson, Fredric. Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke University Press, 1991. Laing, R. D. The Politics of Experience. New York: Pantheon, 1967. Marx, Karl. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. 1869. Nineteenth Century Europe: Liberalism and Its Critics. Eds. Jan Goldstein and John W. Boyer. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988. 242-266. Mercer, Peter. "Tradgedy". A Dictionary of Modern Critical Terms. Ed. Roger Fowler. London: Routledge, 1991. 250-253. Oates, Joyce Carol. "'Is This the Promised End?': The Tragedy of King Lear." Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. Fall, 1974. Shakespeare, William. King Lear. Ed. R. A. Foakes. London: Arden Shakespeare, 2000.
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