Theoretical WrapUp

Getting you a little versed in all of the theories

Psychoanalysis - Paul A. Cantor
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What he ultimately discovers is that there is a fracture between wisdom and power. In Act One, Lear is a commanding leader and his subjects follow him without question. Kent’s devotion to him is testament to the power and authority he has built for himself

As Lear works through the play, his power is undermined and he goes through an extensive process of self-learning, or developing self-knowledge. It is this process that ultimately gains him wisdom, but reduces him to a state where he can no longer have authority.
Once he sees all humanity as beastly, he can no longer separate criminals from authority, and therefore can no longer properly act as a political authority himself The Lear of the storm sees humanity in natural terms, not political terms. This is why the clothing imagery in the play is so important. So, politics and authority can no longer matter when the natural order requires no politics or authority – things just exist in a natural state. Beyond this though, what we get in Act 4 Scene 7 can be seen as a representation of human perfection. So, Shakespeare provides us with both base humanity and perfect humanity, Lear experiences both.

Psychoanalysis - Paul A. Cantor

Lear can no longer rule because the way he sees humanity has fundamentally changed – he sees it as either beastly or angelic, and neither need figures of authority to guide them. That as humans, we need figures of power for the very fact that we are not animals or angels. As Cantor says: “man is a composite being, a perplexing mix of body and spirit. It is precisely for this reason that human beings require political life: to deal with the problems created by the tension between body and spirit.” Unfortunately, Lear is unable to see this, but the play helps us see this and perhaps reassures us as the reason why we allow ourselves to live in systems of power and authority.

Marxism - Paul Delaney

Marxist approaches are interested in how a text is dominated by the underlying attitudes and values of the time in which it was written. Marxist critics would argue that a text cannot exist outside of the social structures under which it was made Within this, we can consider a Christian reading of the play as a Marxist one, as what we are doing is looking at how the core religious system of the time finds its way into the play. What Delaney is ultimately interested in is how the play represents the social conditions of Elizabethan England. The feudal system was dying during the 16th Century (when Shakespeare was writing) and was slowly being replaced by a capitalist style of system. The 16th Century was a time of changing attitudes, and what Delaney argues is that King Lear is representative of this shift in values and attitudes towards power and wealth. The older characters in the play such as Lear and Gloucester represent the old guard; a more feudal approach to the distribution of wealth. Lear’s story then shows him dividing up his land so that his legacy might live on. This is the same with Gloucester – he is the central point of power and wealth Goneri, Regan, and Edmund represent the new capitalist order. Edmund is probably the best representation of this - ultimately selfish, but ambitious and ingenious in methodology

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Marxism - Paul Delaney

It could be argued then that Shakespeare is representing a time that is resistant to this kind of change and it still insistent on keeping wealth and power centralized in the form of God and Queen/King. We get an insight into how Elizabethan’s felt about capitalist modes of power and wealth distribution and we get a pretty good prediction of the type of world we’d exist in if things were left to capitalist forces. If anything, Edmund is a prophecy for big business.

Feminist - Kathleen McKluskie

McKluskie is particularly interested in the relationship between women and power in the play. We see men capable of embracing what are traditionally feminine qualities – care, compassion, love, gentleness, etc. We also see woman as capable of embracing the masculine. Both Goneril and Regan do this. However, McKluskie argues that when women take on these masculine traits they are despised and seen as monstrous. And so this leads to McKluskie’s belief that women in power in the play are only able to bring disgrace upon themselves. The only woman with any sense of positive power in the play is Cordelia. However, McKluskie argues that this too is undermined. Finally, McKluskie would argue that the tragedy of the play exists because gender norms are undermined or devalued.

Feminist - Kathleen McKluskie

She is able to illuminate how the play is representative of Elizabethan power relationships and is able to show how the play works to reinforce the patriarchy that existed at the plays time of writing.

We get to see that feminine power is always compromised in the play, which ensures that the audience’s belief that power should reside in the masculine isn’t challenged.
While an interpretation of the play that stresses this interpretation would probably be poorly received today, McKluskie’s work helps us to see the enormous battle women had to (and still have to) fight in order to be respected as figures of power and authority. We should also remember that every time the play is read or performed, it is capable of reinforcing these attitudes towards women and so McKluskie’s work is important if we are to deconstruct those beliefs.