King Lear

The Lost Leader; Group Disintegration, Transformation and Suspended Reconsolidation

in Critical Survey
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  • 1 University of Hertfordshire
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King Lear (1605–6) is the primary enactment of psychic breakdown in English literary history. It constitutes, also, the most spectacular instance of a controlled explosion of the formal ‘container’ in Western drama – such that it not only violated whatever Aristotle or Boileau might have to offer on the proper structure of tragedy but provoked, too, the very different sensibilities of Dr Johnson and Count Tolstoy. Set in its raw pre-Christian world, the play remains the major Shakespearean rebuttal of Sophoclean fearful symmetry (Oedipus Rex) – corrosive in its existential negativity, yet paradoxically fructive in spawning such twentieth-century ‘countertransferential’ progeny as George Bernard Shaw’s Heartbreak House, Samuel Beckett’s Endgame or Edward Bond’s Lear. Keats, on rereading it wrote about the ‘bitter-sweet’ of being ‘consumèd in the fire’, with all the intensity of one closely associated with ‘Consumption’.

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