King Lear Beyond Genres: paper for: Shakespeare Beyond All Limits: Australia and New Zealand Shakespeare Association Conference
Permanent link to Research Commons versionhttps://hdl.handle.net/10289/16265
King Lear beyond Genre: or, what does Lear really, really want? Famously the two main texts of King Lear, Q1 (1608) and F1 (1623), locate two distinct genres: a “historie” (1608), and then a “tragedie” in 1623. The bulk of the play in either text conforms to genre signals Renaissance audiences would readily understand, and which Shakespeare deploys frequently in plays tragical or historical that draw on Chronicle sources of Roman, British or Danish history. There’s a battle for succession, and rulership, at the end of the final scene, is passed to a new regime. The moral scale of the action is indicated by the frequent use of “high, astounding”, ethico-philosophical terms. When Lear triggers the division of the kingdoms in the first scene of the play, he initiates this kind of tragical history. For the duration of the play, the rest of the characters play lethally inside these genre boundaries. But what makes King Lear so compelling, so baffling and so difficult is that, when he goes into the storm, on the heath, Lear is, in effect, trying to leave that convention-bound play and enter a new realm of discourse altogether. This requires a new kind of dramaturgy, a third kind of genre for which, even now, we don’t really have a name. In the end, Lear enters back into the historical/tragical terrain where the play begins. It’s the friction between these kinds of playmaking, I will suggest, that are at the heart of the text’s “power to claw”.
University of Waikato
Presented at Australia and New Zealand Shakespeare Association Conference. © 2023 The Author.