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Lear-haunted: Shakespeare's last plays

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Nairn, John 1986 , 'Lear-haunted: Shakespeare's last plays', Unspecified thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

This study argues that King Lear and the plays of Shakespeare's final
period should be seen as being stylistically and thematically inter
related. An introduction places the idea in the light of some modern
approaches to King Lear and to Pericles, Cyrribeline, The Winter's Tale
I and The Tempest, both in print and in the theatre. This critical
context suggests possible objections to the idea as well as
encouragement to develop it further.
The first chapter looks at stylistic links. King Lear
resembles the last plays in style, sharing with them an affinity to
the mode of the traditional fairy tale. Elements of the style
include romance, fabulation and grotesquerie. The essential serious
ness of fairy tales is recognized, showing that Shakespeare is not
trivialized by the comparison. A much more specific linkage between
the five plays is outlined in the second chapter. This is the theme
of daughterhood, for which the fairy-tale style is the 'show-case'
or mode of presentation. The outline shows that the theme's main
characteristic is the dual centrality of a royal father and his
daughter, with marked emphasis on the father's emotional need for the
princess. King Lear and the last plays, embodying this theme, form a
kind of king-princess series.
The argument then considers the development of the theme as
narrative in each of the plays, starting (in the fourth chapter) with
an examination of how the daughterhood theme is set up in opening
scenes. In each case the father seems to be trapped in a web of jealousy
and love. He disguises his plight with incredible riddles,
love-tests and other psychological games.
Up to this point the study finds a haunting similarity between
King Lear and the last plays. Shakespeare seems obsessed. The last
chapter follows the variations and differences as each play's
narrative progresses, suggesting that Shakespeare is experimenting
with the Lear-Cordelia paradigm. The concluding inference is that
Shakespeare (like Samuel Johnson) was shocked by the ending to King
Lear, but that he responded to the 'shock with the art of the last
plays. A postlude speculates that a 'real life' basis for Shake
speare's daughterhood theme might have been the relationship of
Henry VIII with his daughter Elizabeth, and that perhaps this is
pointed to in the other 'last- play', Henry VIII.

Item Type: Thesis - Unspecified
Authors/Creators:Nairn, John
Copyright Holders: The Author
Copyright Information:

Copyright 1986 the author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright
owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We
would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s).

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