The Literary Imagination: Studies in Dante, Chaucer, and Shakespeare

By Derek Traversi | Go to book overview

5
“Unaccommodated Man” in King Lear

THE third act of King Lear, which covers Lear’s exposure to the storm, is the keystone upon which the whole elaborate construction of the play rests. It is, above all, a marvelous example of poetic elaboration for dramatic purposes. At the center of the action, at once the main protagonist and symbol of a humanity wrenched out of its “fixed place” in “the frame of nature,”1 provoking our wonder and inviting our compassion, stands the figure of the aged king. The intimate fusion of inner conflict and external convulsion has often been noted and is indeed an essential part of the entire conception. The “storm” that has broken out in Lear’s mind, the result of his rejection by his children, is intimately fused with the evocation of the warring elements mainly entrusted to his lips; and the external storm, which exercises upon his aging physique the intolerable strain under which it finally breaks, is in turn a projection of his inner state. Related in this way to the action of the elements—which, as it were, he draws upon himself in the process of reacting to it—Lear assumes a stature more than merely personal, becomes not merely a man, but man, the microcosm of a problematic universe, exposed to an ordeal to which the frame of things contributes but which finds its most acute expression in the intimate disunion that the earlier action has introduced into the family bond.

The opening dialogue between the disguised Kent and a

-145-

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The Literary Imagination: Studies in Dante, Chaucer, and Shakespeare
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 5
  • Author's Note 7
  • 1 - The Theme of Poetry in Dante's Purgatorio 11
  • 2 - Why Is Ulysses in Hell? 47
  • 3 - The Franklins Tale 87
  • 4 - The Manciple's Tale 120
  • 5 - [Unaccommodated Man] in King Lear 145
  • 6 - The Imaginative and the Real in Antony and Cleopatra 197
  • 7 - Shakespeare's Dramatic Illusion in the Tempest 228
  • Index 260
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