King Lear

The ‘Literalization of Metaphor’ in King Lear College

‘Nothing, my lord.’



‘Nothing will come of nothing…’

King Lear (I.1.78-81)

Shakespeare saturates King Lear with metaphors which, in their ‘literalization’, aid a single, over-arching metaphor that guides the course of tragedy in the play: nothingness. The entire play is an apocalyptic metaphor for the end of the world, epitomized by the storm and Shakespeare’s direct references to Armageddon in the Book of Revelation. The King himself metaphorically represents the reduction of completeness to nothingness, and every other character aids this through their literalizations of various metaphors focusing on the themes of madness, foolery, blindness and nakedness.

The word nothing appears no less than 34 times in the play, five times within the space of ten words in Act I Scene 1; it is the keynote which defines the idea of loss. Harold Bloom, in ‘Shakespeare: the Invention of the Human’ describes King Lear as ‘the most tragic of all tragedies’ where everything ends in despair and despite ‘spasmodic flashes’ of insight there is no sense of ‘redemption’ as A.C Bradley suggests. Nothing is gained in Lear, only lost and sent to nothingness. Loss of love, loss of wisdom, loss of sanity, loss of sight, loss of life, loss...

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