Academic journal article Early Modern Literary Studies

The King and I

Academic journal article Early Modern Literary Studies

The King and I

Article excerpt

Philippa Kelly, The King and I (London: Bloomsbury, 2011). 128pp. ISBN 978 0 2680 4140 3.

The most striking thing about this book is its straightforward intimacy. It comes at you straight-on, directly announcing that 'For me, King Lear is alive' (p. 1). I suppose you could call it bio-criticism, not in the Agamben/late Foucault sense but in a rich narrative open-ness to the way the human experience of living with great literary works over time folds them into your personal history, so that the mad old king starts to feel familiar, connected, part of your life. This is a theatrical book, focused on great performances and productions, and a careful study of the play. By the end you feel as if you'd know Philippa Kelly if you saw her on the street or, say, around a seminar table somewhere.

It's also a thoroughly Australian book, wrestling repeatedly with the insight that 'Both Australia and King Lear are forces I am always catching up with. Neither is for me a simple, comfortable fit' (p. 1). The Oz-ness inside the narrative includes parallels drawn from Australian history, including The Dismissal (her caps, or possibly Australia's) of George Whitlam from the post of Prime Minister in 1975. Kelly connects this notorious event in national politics directly to the play, via the public downfall of a politician who 'thundered that he was every inch a king even though his crown had been ripped away' (p. 20). The interlocking of nation and stage - Kelly notes that the following year, 1976, marked her first student encounter with Shakespeare's great tragedy - suggests not so much that life follows art but that each of our individual experiences of national or personal dramas get filtered through and alongside the texts and stories of that life. In some sense, don't all sacked ministers perform something like Lear's rage and loneliness?

In addition to national politics, Kelly weaves together stories of growing up in the remote interior, an early-career teaching gig at a women's prison, Kelly's immediate family, a parrot named Boris, dementia, and the politics of race and rural culture in Australia. Despite all that variety, the book moves at an easy, personal pace. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.