King Lear

'All's Cheerless, Dark and Deadly'

'All's Cheerless, Dark and Deadly' Are Kent's Words a Fair Summary of The Tragedy of King Lear?

Samuel Johnson asserted that the blinding of Gloucester was an 'act too horrid to be endured in a dramatic exhibition', and that he was 'too shocked' by the death of Cordelia to read the play again until he was given the task of editing it.1 Nor was Dr Johnson alone in finding himself unable to stomach the violence and apparent injustices that unfold in King Lear. The 18th century certainly found the play 'all cheerless' and preferred Nahum Tate's 1681 watered-down History Shakespeare's original, a tragedy simply too tragic, condemned to be unperformed for almost 150 years.

King Lear is a dark play, with the near triumph of the malcontent Edmund, the intense sufferings of Lear and Gloucester, and the seeming lack of justice at the piece's conclusion. Shakespeare locates his tragedy in an extreme and entropic universe that makes his audience uncomfortable, and indeed is supposed to. On its own, the sheer violence of Act III.7 bears witness to Kent's nihilistic utterance at the plays close. However, Lear's universe, as I have just stated, is one of extremes, and not merely...

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