King Lear critical quotations

Cheri Y. Halvorson;’Shakespeare’s Fools’ “The profound wisdom and insight of Feste and Lear’s fool enable them to expose the foolish thoughts and deeds of those who inhabit the higher ranks of society.”
Cheri Y. Halvorson;’Shakespeare’s Fools’ “Shakespeare uses the beings that his world deems lowly and foolish to destabilize conventional wisdom about class and to subvert the hierarchal expectations of his culture.”
Robert Hillis Goldsmith; quoted in Cheri Y. Halvorson’s ‘Shakespeare’s Fools’ “Even in Shakespeare’s day, [people] looked on these ‘innocents’, as they were called, with mingled feelings of awe, amused contempt and something like pity. Out of this mixed attitude toward the fool grew his license to speak freely and behave capricously.”Fools were considered to possess a divine gift as “a kind of seer”.
John Southworth “In some of the earliest European records [the fool] is designated nebulo… a paltry, worthless fellow, a nobody. It was not merely that his position in the feudal hierarchy was low…he was altogether excluded in it. Being neither lord nor cleric, freeman nor serf, he existed in a social limbo…it was only in relation to his master that he was able to gain identity.”
A.C. Bradley(on the sub-plot of King Lear) ‘…the sub-plot simply repeats the theme of the main story…this repetition does not simply double the pain of the tragedy, it startles and terrifies by suggesting that the folly of Lear and the ingratitude of his daughters is no accident…’
R. Heilmann(on the sub-plot of King Lear) ‘Lear and Gloucester are, in terms of structure, not duplicates, but complements: this is one key to the unity of King Lear. The completeness of the play which we sense without being able to put our finger on it, is in part attributable to the repetition of the tragic error of misunderstanding.’
Colderidge(on Cordelia) ‘There is something of disgust at the ruthless hypocrisy of her sisters, and some little fault of pride and sullenness in her.’
G. Wilson Knight(on Cordelia) ‘Her speech sounds plain and stiff, almost clumsy, but the stiffness is natural. It is the sudden awkwardness of anyone who has been called on to ally herself with hypocrisy.’
S. L. Goldberg(on the opening scene of King Lear) ‘For some people, Cordelia is wholly in the right; for others she is not; for most, however, she is more in the right than Lear. But the scene does not offer us clear distinctions between right and wrong, good and bad, so much as to draw us into sympathetic engagement with both characters.’
John Danby ‘Cordelia, for Shakespeare, is virtue.’
A. C. Bradley ‘ ‘Let pride, which she calls plainness, marry her’. The words are monstrously unjust, but they contain one grain of truth; and indeed it is scarcely possible that a nature so strong as Cordelia’s, and with so keen a sense of dignity, should not feel some pride and resentment.’
Gamini Salgado ‘Cordelia has an impact on the play and the audience…out of all proportion to the scanty number of words she utters.’
Gamini Salgado ‘If we ask ourselves what the purpose of [Cordelia’s death] is, the best answer we can come up with may be that the very pointlessness of Cordelia’s death and Lear’s suffering is the point.’
A. C. Bradley(on Lear) ‘We might object to the statement that Lear deserved to suffer for his folly, selfishness and tyranny; but to assert that he deserved to suffer what he did suffer is to do violence to any healthy moral sense.’
Gamani Salgado ‘In the simplest terms, Lear at the beginning of the play is a King, a father, a master and a man. As the action develops, the first three roles are stripped from him and he is forced to consider what the last of them means.’
N. Brooke ‘It is still not uncommon to read account of King Lear which offer Lear’s wilful folly in Act I, Scene 1 as the fault which brings the vengeful heavens literally crashing about him; and this view of the play has been, occasionally, extended to represent Cordelia’s obstinacy here as a crime for which she too must ultimately die.’
Charles Lamb ‘To see Lear acted, to see an old man tottering about the stage with a walking-stick, turned out of doors by his daughters in a rainy night, has nothing in it but what is painful and disgusting.’
John Danby(on nature in King Lear) ‘King Lear can be regarded as a play dramatising the meaning of the single word ‘Nature’…two main meanings, strongly contrasted and mutually exclusive run through the play. On the one side is the view adopted by Edmund, Goneril and Regan. On the other is the view largely held by the Lear party.’
John Danby ‘Edmund is in doubt as to which choice he makes. His Goddess is lion-hearted. Man is merely the King of the beasts.’
G. Wilson Knight ‘ ‘Thou, Nature art my Goddess, to thy law. My services are bound.’ This is the key to Edmund’s ‘nature’. He repudiates and rejects ‘custom, civilisation’. He obeys nature’s law of selfishness.’
John Danby ‘Of this Nature and kindness Cordelia is the full realisation. She is the norm by which the wrongness of Edmund’s world and the imperfection of Lear’s is judged.’
Helen Norris ‘The horror of Lear’s story is the unnatural behaviour of Goneril and Regan. They are daughters who revolt against their father, subjects who revolt against their King, sisters who betray each other, wives who betray their husbands; these are not only personal sins, but an upsetting ofcivilised values.’
J. Dover Wilson ‘To some of the characters ‘Nature’ is a benign force binding all created things together in the true relationships…To Edmund (and also to Goneril, Regan and Cornwall) ‘Nature’ is a force encouraging the individual to think only of the fulfilment of this own desires – to work only for his own success, even if that involves him in trampling others (perhaps his own flesh and blood) underfoot.’
G. Wilson Knight ‘Slowly, painfully…we see a religion born of disillusionment, suffering and sympathy, a purely spontaneous, natural growth of the human spirit, developing from nature magic to God.’
S. L. Goldberg ‘The play does not offer us anything like a single, straightforward, clear-cut attitude to life; or a guaranteed moral vantage point.’
S. L. Goldberg ‘People are frequently imprecating Heaven for heavenly justice. Edgar thinks the gods are just – but there is no supernatural justice – only human natural justice.’
S. L. Goldberg The play throws up the following ‘awkward questions’. How much does it matter, for example, that Cordelia has a touch of hard steel in her, or that Goneril and Regan have quite a good case against their father? Is there any real justification for the sub-plot? Does Lear really come ‘to see the truth’ during the storm?
Lamar(on the principal theme of the play) ‘the education and purification of Lear’
L. C. Knights ‘The first sentence of the play suggests Lear is guilty of bias…His suffering is provisionally seen to be related to injustice of his own.’
Helen Norris ‘The horror of Lear’s story is the unnatural behaviour of Goneril and Regan… not only personal sins but an upsetting of civilised values’
S. L. Goldberg ‘There is no supernatural justice- only human natural justice’
A. C. Bradley ‘Lear’s words are monstrously unjust’

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