King Lear critics quotes

Cordelia’s kindness in juxtaposition to Edmund and Lear ‘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.’ – John Danby
Goneril and Regan’s sins ‘these are not only personal sins, but an upsetting of civilised values.’ – Helen Norris
Edmund’s ambition and resentment at his bastardy ‘To some of the characters ‘Nature’ is a benign force binding all created things together in their 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 his own desires – to work only for his own success, even if that involves him in trampling others (perhaps his own flesh and blood) underfoot.’ – J. Dover Wilson
The principal theme of the play ‘the education and purification of Lear’ – Lamar
Justice ‘There is no supernatural justice- only human natural justice’ – S. L. Goldberg
Edmund’s nature over nurture ‘ ‘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.’ – G. Wilson Knight
The pride in Cordelia’s plainness ‘ ‘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.’ – A. C. Bradley
Cordelia’s death ‘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.’ – Gamini Salgado
Lear vs Cordelia in 1.1 ‘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.’ – S. L. Goldberg
Cordelia’s reaction to the love-test ‘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.’ – G. Wilson Knight
Is Cordelia a little proud? ‘There is something of disgust at the ruthless hypocrisy of her sisters, and some little fault of pride and sullenness in her.’ – Coleridge on Cordelia
Role of the fool “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.” – Cheri Y. Halvorson; ‘Shakespeare’s Fools’
Fool’s being wise “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’
Role and purpose of nature within the play “”King Lear” can be regarded as a play dramatising the meaning of the single word ‘nature'” – J.F. Danby in “Shakespeare’s Doctrine of Nature”
Lear’s prayer “At the very core of the play, out shelterless in the rain, Lear expresses this new egalitarian moral vision in a prayer”
The last scene of the play – A. C. Bradley Here the focus is on character, especially that of Lear. Bradley tended to feel that at the end of the play virtue triumphed, despite suffering endured. His reading was in some ways based on a Christian sense of redemption.
Psychoanalytical criticism (end of play) A reading from this perspective would consider the influence of repressed and unconscious desires on personality. For instance, Lear might finally regress to a sort of childhood and sees Cordelia as a mother-figure.
Marxist historicist political criticism Lear might be read as subverting traditional views about power and the state and as exposing the social injustices of Elizabethan/Jacobean England. The final moments of the play might thus be seen as a vision of the fractured remnants of an essentially corrupt and flawed political system.
Feminist criticism The end of the play marks the death of all the female characters. The suggested new order is entirely male (but it’s suggested by a servant “if she (Reg) live long and in the end meet the old course of death, women will all turn monsters”, i.e. society is better off without women)
Todorov The idea of an equilibrium in society, and the desire to break/create a new equilibrium.
Levi Strauss Binary opposites.
Frank Kermode Under the fine clothes, there is nothing but greed and lust
Genesis (disputes Lear’s idea that “nothing can come out of nothing” The world came out of nothing
C.J. Sisson – effect of the play The play destabilises our theological and moral assurances
Harold Bloom – justice For those who believe that divine justice somehow prevails in this world, King Lear ought to be offensive
Johnson – good vs bad in KL A play in which the wicked prosper and the virtuous miscarry
A.C. Bradley – the overall play The play ‘King Lear’ is monstrously unjust
Isaac Asimov – fool The great secret of the successful fool, is that he is no fool at all
G. Knight – KL in relation to people King Lear is representative of “not ancient Britain, but humanity, not England, but the World”
Kenneth Muir “human beings are entirely responsible for their own actions…the tragedy is absolute”- Humanist Critic
Elton – Cordelia Cordelia is “defined as a Christ-like figure, therefore her downfall is a direct representation of a God-less society”
Hudson Goneril and Regan are “personifications of ingratitude”
A.C. Bradley (end of the play and attitude of Lear) in the culminating scenes the King is very passive.
Paul Delany – marxist comment on Edmund See Edmund typifying the new bourgeois ethic of individual materialism
Wolfgang Clement – Lear’s mental turmoil Lear is “engaged in a constant monologue and questioning of his identity”
Hare – binary opposites One must be poor to be rich, a fool to be wise and blind to see
Dalrymple There is a boundary that, once crossed, deprives a man of his full humanity
Stephan Booth The fool “breaks out of every category in which he might be fixed”
Michel Foucault – power Power is the sole determining influence on the beliefs and values within any given culture
Stephan Greenblatt King Lear is “part of an intense and sustained struggle in late sixteenth- and early seven- teenth-century england to redefine the central values of society”
Jonathan Culler – Lear’s main characteristic the disputing of ‘common sense’
Ed+G+R vs Lear + Cord (Danby) G+R+Ed = greedy self-seeking capitalismLear + Cord, he sees as “representatives of an ideal community”
Linking Ed+G+R to, vs Cord + Lear (Danby) links Ed+G+R to the rise of fascismLear and Cord’s deaths to the loss of a “communal tradition”
changes of order in KL – in Marxist terms, according to H. Turner “an order collapsing because of its own internal contradictions”from a rougher physicality that values masculinity/virility (shown by Lear (and his “dragon”) and his knights “that all particulars of duty know” and “support the worships of their name” ), to a more refined and more cultivated society (shown by fool’s use of impotency imagery in his riddles and his two daughters taking away his train and power)