Shakespeare's Universal Wolf: Studies in Early Modern Reification

By Hugh L. Grady | Go to book overview

4
What Comes of Nothing: Reification and the Plebeian in King Lear

THE POLITICS OF REIFICATION

In the 1608Quarto version of King Learthere is an image of a rapacious, self-destructive animal, much like the universal wolf of Troilus and Cressida, which like it also seems to be a metaphor for reification. Both this metaphor and the thematic logic of the play (in each of its closely related versions) describe reification as a social process seeking the ruin of traditional values, human life, and society generally in an amoral, instinctual drive to power with an inevitable Hobbesian outcome;1

Humanity must perforce prey on itself,
Like monsters of the deep. ( iv. ii. 49-50)2

King Lear, like the two earlier plays I have discussed, represents and analyses an emergent reified (but socially produced) system as a

____________________
1
Something of this diagnosis emerges in David Margolies, Monsters of the Deep: Social Dissolution in Shakespeare's Tragedies ( Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1992), which of course takes its title from this image in Lear. This politically committed and popularizing work in fact touches on a number of the concerns of this study, particularly in the two chapters on King Lear -- but largely in the categories of the early 1960s British Marxist paradigm called 'scientific humanism' by Arnold Kettle in "From Hamlet to Lear", in Kettle(ed.), Shakespeare in a Changing World( London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1964), and it ignores many recent developments in Shakespearestudies; Tillyard, for example, is cited as the source for Margolies's claim that 'There was only one elaborated intellectual system available to the Elizabethans -- a late medieval hierarchical philosophy usually referred to as "the Great Chain of Being" '(p. 10).
2
This passage is in the 1608 Quarto but not the Folio edition of the play. The theme of reification is developed in each of these closely related versions of the play, but with somewhat different emphases due to passages unique to one or the other version. Because I do not think the basic themes differ in the two versions and because I wish on occasion to cite passages unique to only one of them, I use here the composite Riverside Shakespeareedition of the play. My text and/or notes will indicate when a passage I am quoting, like this one, differs significantly in one version or the other. I do not note small changes in wording, and I use the convenient parallel edition by René Weiss (ed.), King Lear. A Parallel Edition ( London: Longman, 1993) for such comparisons.

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