Shakespeare: A Very Short Introduction

By Germaine Greer | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
Teleology

The vision of entropy: King Lear

After he had completed his history sequence by adding Henry V, Shakespeare abandoned English history, until some time between 1603 and 1606 when he wrote King Lear. The story was known from at least one old play, from Holinshed, from The Mirrour for Magistrates, and from The Faerie Queene. This time, Shakespeare did not carefully mix and match in order to supply a coherent dramatic demonstration of historical and political issues. He did not build character upon factual indications left by the chroniclers, but catapulted the action into a region beyond human history, denying man's right to impose his own interpretation of the meaning of life or to demand satisfaction in the way that events are ordered.

There is a strange reluctance in scholars to admit that King Lear is about senility, perhaps because they feel that to admit that Lear's brain is ageing is to diminish his heroic stature. The point of course is exactly that: however great the hero, to this he must come, if he has the misfortune to live so long. The play has two strands: one is the strand of optimism, the belief that there is a providence in the fall of a great man as in the fall of a sparrow; the other, the strand of rage against the dying of the light. Shakespeare cannot have known the

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Shakespeare: A Very Short Introduction
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • List of Illustrations viii
  • Chapter 1 - Life 1
  • Chapter 2 - Poetics 24
  • Chapter 3 - Ethics 49
  • Chapter 4 - Politics 78
  • Chapter 5 - Teleology 100
  • Chapter 6 - Sociology 122
  • Note on Sources 143
  • Further Reading 145
  • Index 152
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