At the end of King Lear, when the only characters left standing are Albany, Edgar, and Kent, is the audience supposed to come away from the play with any feeling other than remorse? This search for emotional release by the audience is one which J. Stampfer believes is the most profound problem in King Lear.
The overriding critical problem in King Lear is that of its ending. The deaths of Lear
and Cordelia confront us like a raw, fresh wound where our every instinct calls for
healing and reconciliation. This problem, moreover, is as much one of philosophic
order as of dramatic effect. In what sort of universe, we ask ourselves, can wasteful
death follow suffering and torture?
In his essay “The Catharsis of King Lear,” Stampfer discusses sevearal readings of Lear’s death, proves them faulty, and, through analyzation of this and other Shakespearian texts, arrives at his own conclusion concerning Lear’s denouement and the audience’s reaction.
The essay begins with Stampfer defining the relevance of Lear’s death to King Lear and the essay reader. Stampfer does not waste the time of the reader with an elaborate introduction. Instead, the first line defines the problem:
The overriding critical problem in King Lear is that of its ending (361).
Still in the first paragraph, he quotes the line from Lear that causes the interpretation problems, referring to it as Lear’s “desparing question” (361):
Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life,
And thou no breath at all? (v,iii, 306-7)
The rest of the paragraph discusses problems which, in Stampfer’s opinion, cannot be pushed aside, such as the source Shakespeare used to write King Lear, and the Christian referenc…
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…ld, and abandons athiesm and attempts to save Lear and Cordelia.
This creates a paradox for Stampfer: if characters such as Lear, Gloucester, and Edmund all go through some sort of awakening, why do they all die? Is there any justice in the universe? Stampfer examines Othello, Hamlet, and Romeo
Society and Sexuality in Waiting for the Barbarians and The History of Sexuality
Society and Sexuality in Waiting for the Barbarians, and The History of Sexuality
Within our modern minds reside two very different ways in which we deal with the subject of sexuality. The conceptual framework of modern society, to some extent, has developed out of past notions about the body. We can see that springing from our historical roots, issues concerning sexuality have been dealt with through mutual feelings of desire and disgust.
The relationship between these two opposed feelings arises from a dual sense of our awareness of our sexuality. One direction we are pointed in, is to view anything sexual in content, as socially digressive. The other crosses to the opposite extreme. Sexuality is something which is talked about constantly, but usually not openly. We are also, in some ways, drawn by our sexuality to feel desire for our “other side”–the side which we do not show to many other people. Both of the poles represent aspects of a spectrum on which all of us lie, at once drawn to both extremes. The fact that we fall somewhere on that scale in the first place, points to another reason outside the reaches of the immediate family. The situation we are placed in as individuals of modernity, is an arena of pre-constructed rules and regulations regarding our sexuality. The doctrine of sex in our world has been determined by the actions and thoughts of past generations. We build upon their conceptual machinery to generate our own meaning within the world. The duality between desire and disgust, in relation to sexuality, is something which has been passed down to us through generations of social learning.
In his book, The History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault presents evidence pointing to the connection between…
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…nterest in the subject as a hidden part of human existence. The double mechanism of distancing one’s self and the desire to personally experience something, serves to formulate the ways in which we view our sexuality. Through the creation of this binary relationship, we as a society, have been taught that there are parts of ourselves which are off limits in normal discussion. To go past those lines is to travel in realms which hint of “perversion” or of experiencing an “alternate lifestyle”. This societal creation tells us that some parts of our personality are ones which we should not explore, though we might be driven to. It is because of those drives, which exist in all of us, that we are forced to come to terms with ourselves, and what it means to be a part of our society.
Coetzee, J.M. 1980 Waiting for the Barbarians Harmondsworth, Penguin.