King Lear Ultimate Critics’ Quotes

‘Questioning the nature of madness is part of the tragedy’s larger investigation into what constitutes humanity’ Gillian Woods on the nature of madness
‘Everyone is just a shadow of himself; just a man’ Jan Kott on madness
Poor Tom is a ‘fractured mirror for Lear himself’ Gillian Woods on Poor Tom
‘King Lear stages a total breakdown in civilisation’ Gillian Woods on social order
‘Edgar is forced into the disguise because … of the increasing cruelty of the play’s social world’ Gillian Woods on disguise
‘All bonds, all laws, whether divine, natural or human, are broken’ Jan Kott on social order
‘Shakespeare offers us a story without redemption’ Julian Walker on social order
‘It is the wilful action of the king and father… [that is] responsible for the explosion of this chaos’ Lynda Boose on social order
‘The Fool provides a choric commentary no one else is allowed to speak … his topsy-turvy language suits the political and moral chaos’ Gillian Woods on the Fool and social order
‘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’ Gamani Salgado on Lear’s breakdown
‘We think of King Lear less as the history of one man and his sorrows than as the history of a whole evil time’ WIlliam Butler Yeats on social order
‘King Lear makes a tragic mockery of all eschatologies’ Jan Kott on the religion of King Lear
‘Edgar thinks the gods are just – but there is no supernatural justice – only human natural justice’ S. L. Goldberg
King Lear is ‘a Christian play about a pagan world’ J. C. Maxwell
‘It is obviously impossible to decide, simply, whether or not King Lear is a ‘Christian’ play’ Barbara Everett
‘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.’ Helen Norris
Gloucester’s blinding is ‘contrary to the natural ideas of justice’ Samuel Johnson
king Lear must surely ‘be read in terms of the danger of a monarch cutting himself off from the people he rules, …. The play does not represent a king who is ineffective or unimpressive, but one who has not taken care of his kingdom’ Andrew Hadfield
‘Cordelia is pulled between the two important males in her life’ Lynda Boose on Cordelia
Goneril and Regan are ‘the demonic opposites of their saintly younger sister’ Martha Burns
‘Cordelia is, along with Kent and Edgar … the most steadfastly natural character in the play’ Tony Tanner
‘To Edmund (and also to Goneril, Regan and Cornwall) ‘Nature’ is a force encouraging the individual to think only of the fulfilment of his own desires’ J. Dover Wilson on Edmund and Nature
Edmund ‘obeys nature’s law of selfishness’ G. Wilson Knight on Edmund
‘The idea of nothingness and negation is philosophically central to the play from start to finish’ James Shapiro on nothingness
‘The insistent and almost apocalyptic negativity becomes a recurring drumbeat’ James Shapiro on the play’s consistent negativity
‘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’ Charles Lamb on Lear’s performance
The principal theme of the play is ‘the education and purification of Lear’ Lamar on Lear
‘Lear’s words are monstrously unjust’ A. C. Bradley on Lear
‘Lear is ridiculous, naive and stupid’ Jan Kott on Lear
Lear’s ‘misfortunes correct his misconduct’ Richardson
‘Lear’s shadow is in Gloucester, who also has ungrateful children, and the mind goes on imagining other shadows, shadow after shadow until it has pictured the whole world’ William Butler Yeats on links between the main plot and subplot
Cordelia’s ‘speech sounds plain and stiff, almost clumsy, but the stiffness is natural’ G. Wilson Knight on Cordelia
‘Cordelia, for Shakespeare, is virtue’ John Danby on Cordelia
‘Gloucester is Everyman’ Jan Kott on Gloucester
‘The high born beggar acts as part of the insanity’ Schlegal on Edgar
‘Poor Tom’s mad display helps Lear to recognise the human value of the most vulnerable’ Gillian Woods on Lear’s anagnorisis
‘[The Fool’s] unexplained absence is apt since he exists outside the proper order of things’ Gillian Woods on the Fool’s disappearance
‘Albany is the last remaining figure of authority’ but his speech about justice and restored order is ‘a nonsense’ Andrew Gurr on Albany
‘The sisters seem evil not solely because they are female but because they simply are evil’ Catherine S. Cox on female evil
‘Cordelia’s polysemous gender identity is regarded with an uncomfortable ambivalence in the play’ Catherine S. Cox on Cordelia’s gender identity
Cordelia ‘speaks as a daughter but like a son’ Catherine S. Cox on Cordelia’s language
‘While Cordelia’s character exhibits a dimension of moral goodness, she nonetheless displays unnatural gender which poses a threat to natural order’ Catherine S. Cox on Cordelia’s contribution to natural order
‘Family relations in King Lear are seen as fixed and determined, any movement within them is portrayed as a destructive reversal of natural order’ Kathleen McCluskie
‘A play in which the wicked prosper and the virtuous miscarry’ Samuel Johnson
‘We see a religion born of disillusionment, suffering and sympathy’ G. Wilson Knight
‘As man, father, and ruler, Lear has habitually suppressed any needs for love, which in his patriarchal world would normally be satisfied by a mother or mothering woman’ Coppelia Kahn
The play is ‘a microcosm of the human race’ L.C. Knights
‘The play is an early critique on capitalism and selfishness’ Don Froan
‘Fall from the highest elevation into the deepest abyss of misery’ Schlegal
‘The coils of evil spread and fester in the subplot of the play’ Hal Holbrook
‘The various roles Edgar plays are the means by which he matures into royalty’ Kenneth Muir
‘The paranoia of age is stalking him’ Hal Holbrook
‘Lear loses the world but gains a soul’ Ard

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