Accommodation and Synecdoche: Calvin's God in King Lear

[First published in Shakespeare Studies 20 (1988): 147-68, this essay was reprinted in Shakespeare Criticism: SC-52, ed. Kathy Darrow (Detroit: Gale Research, 2000), pp. 95-105—where it was bizarrely categorized as “moral criticism.” The epigraph should have been enough to suggest that the essay was actually on the trail of bigger game than that. A version of this essay was presented at the Association of Canadian University Teachers of English Conference, University of Manitoba, 28-31 May 1986.]


Deinde si maxime talis est deus, ut nulla gratia, nulla hominum caritate teneatur, valeat....

Cicero, De natura deorum, I. 124



One striking feature of William Blake's Illustrations of the Book of Job (1825) consists in his having made both God and his servant Job after the same image. Blake's engravings assert the identity of the two: Job has the same face as does that figure placed above him who, in Blake's subversive understanding of the text, represents the constricting selfhood that Job has made his God.1 It may come as no surprise that the same pattern also appears in the polychrome print of God judging Adam which Blake made three decades earlier:2 Adam is commonly supposed, after all, to have borne his creator's image and likeness. However, the close similarity between another two of Blake's images of God and man may provide Shakespeareans with a small jolt—and with a motive (should one be required) for rereading yet again Shakespeare's darkest tragedy, that “fierce dispute,” as Keats called it, “Betwixt damnation and impassion'd clay.”3 The Blakean images in question are that of the weeping Urizen, the Ancient of Days, who in one of the plates from Europe: A Prophecy (1794) is represented as setting a compass upon the face of the deep, and the painting, which now hangs in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, of King Lear grasping a downturned sword.4 These two figures are recognizably close in inspiration: the brows of both are furrowed by the same lines, and their flowing hair and beards are blown across their right shoulders by what might be the same wind.

Blake was I think right in intuiting such a resemblance. The central argument of this paper is that the relationship between Shakespeare's Lear and the powers which preside over King Lear is (though with obvious differences) alarmingly like what Blake saw in the book of Job. I wish to show that Calvin's God—who was for most purposes also the God of the Elizabethan Anglican Church,5 and whose similarity to Blake's tyrannical Urizen need hardly be demonstrated—is a pervasive presence in this play. I will argue that by a species of synecdoche it is Lear himself who makes us aware of this presence, and that the play incorporates a sustained dramatic meditation upon what Calvin called “accommodation,” the process by which a wholly unintelligible and incomprehensible deity represents himself, in human terms, to mankind.6

To take this line of approach is not, I hope, to reduce the play to a theological allegory. For while this paper is indebted to previous attempts to understand the religious overtones of the play in their relation to the massive discords which compose King Lear as a whole,7 it differs from most such attempts in one important respect. King Lear has tempted many of its interpreters into allegory; L. C. Knights went so far as to describe it as “a universal allegory.”8 But the dominant mode by which King Lear incorporates Christian allusions is not, I think, allegorical—at least in the sense in which critics of the play have usually understood allegory. I would propose that although this latter mode may be persistently implied by the homiletic and emblematic features of the play, the continuities which it would suggest are shattered by the competing presence of other more disturbing modes of figuration.

I am concerned with synecdoche primarily as a figure of thought through which an individual recapitulates or incorporates the attributes of a higher order of being that, in a sense, encloses him. This figure might be seen as linked in various ways to allegorical figuration, to that form of metonymy which substitutes effect for cause, and to the metaphysical doctrine of correspondence between the microcosm and the macrocosm (a doctrine which, as Kenneth Burke observed, is synecdochic in nature).9 But the kind of synecdoche in which I am interested differs from all of these, in that the relationships which it establishes between the individual, the transferred attributes which he incorporates, and the order of being to which these properly belong are not natural or integral ones;10 on the contrary, these relationships are recognizably discordant and ironic. The emphasis falls, not upon the likeness of the two terms linked by this figure, but on their incommensurability. 

Accommodation, the other form of allusive figuration which concerns me, must be approached in a different manner. I have already suggested that it is present in King Lear in a displaced form, as the object of a sustained dramatic meditation, rather than directly. This could hardly be otherwise, since “accommodation,” as used here, is a theological term which arose in the first place out of the interpretive need of theologians to reconcile the human attributes ascribed to God in various scriptural passages with indications elsewhere in the Bible of his unchanging nature and transcendent otherness. Origen, for example, wrote in the third century that “the Logos of God seems to have arranged the scriptures, using the method of address which fitted the ability and benefit of the hearers.... The Logos speaks like this because he assumes, as it were, human characteristics for the advantage of men. There was no need for the multitude that the words put into God's mouth, which were intended to be addressed to them, should correspond to His real character.”11

In a scriptural context, the notion of accommodation confers authority upon the practice of allegorical exegesis; Origen is one of the great allegorizers in the Christian tradition. But once the notion is displaced into a secular text, it can only undercut allegorical allusiveness in the most radical manner. Accommodation as a scriptural mode of figuration is, in effect, allegory through the looking-glass—a form of “dark conceit” whose tenor and whose author are one and the same. What is figured by accommodation is also the agent of figuration and its inventor. A divinely authored discourse thus serves to bridge the chasm of incomprehensibility which separates the divine from the human. But in bridging this chasm, in making the unknowable known in terms appropriate to the forms of human understanding, the discourse of accommodation is unavoidably duplicitous. The knowledge which it offers rests upon natural analogies—yet since the object of this knowledge transcends any possible analogy, the whole process must be in some sense fictive. The discourse of accommodation is thus, if you like, a kind of metafiction; although it signifies the transcendent being of whom it is a self-representation, its insistent subtext is the chasm which necessitates this bridging discourse, and which makes it fictive.12 Lacking the divine authority which empowers scriptural accommodations, a secular displacement of this discourse becomes overtly fictive.

This structure may inspire subversive reflections as to the actual origins of theological accommodations. Two millennia before the birth of Jean Calvin, the pre-Socratic philosopher Xenophanes proclaimed the existence of “One god, greatest among gods and men, in no way similar to mortals either in body or in thought.”13 But unlike Calvin, whose emphasis upon divine transcendence is supported by an unusually heavy and systematic reliance upon the idea of accommodation,14 he also dismissed anthropomorphic notions of divinity as the creations of mortals after their own varying likenesses—remarking, for example, that if horses and cattle had hands, “horses would draw the forms of gods like horses, and cattle like cattle....”15 It would be helpful to be able to say that this “learned Theban” also speculated about “the cause of thunder” (III. iv. 152, 154). But alas, it was Anaximander rather than Xenophanes who could have helped the mad Lear (their approximate contemporary, according to Holinshed's dating) in his meteorological inquiries—and Xenophanes was born in the city of Colophon, not Thebes.16 Nevertheless, certain aspects of King Lear—most obviously Lear's and Edgar's shared concern to “show the Heavens more just” (III. iv. 36)—form part of a similar structure of thought, one in which accommodation, displaced from a scriptural to a secular and supposedly pagan context, no longer serves allegory but subverts it. After considering this structure, I will turn in the concluding section of this paper to an analysis of the manner in which, through a form of synecdoche, Calvin's God is made an active presence in the play. 



A pivotal moment in the dramatic unfolding of King Lear is Lear's recognition of poor Tom as “the thing itself; unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor, bare, forked animal as thou art” (III. iv. 104-06). The word “unaccommodated” in this speech comes to us as part of an already immensely complex movement of words, events, and stage-images, which might be crudely summarized by referring to Lear's loss of authority, possessions, social and familial function, followers, shelter, and, in this passage, of reason itself. But what, more precisely, does this word mean, and what overtones does it carry?

One might do worse than to begin such an inquiry by turning to Act III, scene ii of King Henry IV, Part Two. This scene contains what could be thought of as a teasingly proleptic commentary on the notion of accommodation as it later appears in King Lear. Justice Shallow ought by right to be an authority on the subject, since Falstaff's memory of the young Shallow as Clement's Inn is, in its own way, a vision of unaccommodated man: “When a was naked, he was for all the world like a forked radish, with a head fantastically carved on it with a knife. A was so forlorn, that his dimensions to any thick sight were invisible; a was the very genius of famine, yet”—Falstaff adds, as though in comic anticipation of poor Tom's injunction to “keep thy foot out of brothels, thy hand out of plackets” (III. iv. 94-95), and Lear's devolution into sexual disgust—“yet lecherous as a monkey, and the whores called him mandrake” (III. ii. 304-09).17 Unfortunately, though, even if one could believe that the word which so pleases Shallow earlier in this scene has any connection with Lear and poor Tom, Shallow's venture onto the wide seas of semantic disputation is a brief one: “'Accommodated'—it comes of 'accommodo'; very good, a good phrase” (III. ii. 70-71). And it seems characteristic of his fellow inquirer, “honest Bardolph, whose zeal burns in his nose” (II. iv. 326-27), that his words shed less light than does his face: “Accommodated: that is, when a man is, as they say, accommodated, or when a man is being whereby a may be thought to be accommodated; which is an excellent thing” (III. ii. 76-79).

At the beginning of King Lear, the king (as Falstaff would be the first to say) is grossly thick-sighted. “See better, Lear,” cries Kent (I. i. 157), but thanks to Lear's furious rashness, Kent is displaced as the “true blank of [his] eye” (158)—first by the Fool, and subsequently by poor Tom. When on the heath the thing itself, unaccommodated man, becomes visible to Lear in the form of Edgar disguised by near-nakedness, his recognition of this shape as an example of a universal (parallel to Falstaff's description of Shallow as “the very genius of famine”) has already been prepared for by his “prayer” outside the hovel—a meditation addressed, not to the gods, but rather to the “Poor naked wretches, whereso'er you are, / That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm...” (III. iv. 28-29). Similarly, Lear's response to this recognition—“Off, off, you lendings!” (III. iv. 106-07)—is conditioned by the last lines of that meditation:

                                  O! I have ta'en
Too little care of this. Take physic, Pomp; 
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel, 
That thou mayst shake the superflux to them, 
And show the Heavens more just.   (III. iv. 32-36)

The concluding half-line of this speech is at once magnificent and slightly odd. Lear has moved from the apocalyptic tone of his great outcries in Act II, scene ii, to what might be called the bare outline of a kind of interventionist theodicy. Theodicy, the technical term for the vindication of divine justice, involves the reconciliation through argument of two apparently incompatible things, the manifest imperfections of the world and the goodness of the powers that rule it. Lear, however, is concerned here with action rather than argument, and the implications of this passage are thus thoroughly paradoxical. Humans cannot make the heavens more just than they are. But the human habit of deducing from the observed particular the nature of its presumed universal cause—a habit which in this instance is powerfully reinforced by Lear's synecdochic sense of the macrocosm as reproducing the structures of the microcosm—means that attempts to make human society more just are likely to entail fictive consequences. Like the arguments of a theodicy (which are liable to be perceived as fictive in a less honorable sense, they serve to show the heavens more just—but at the same time constitute an admission that they are not adequately so. 

Unaccommodated man is an affront to any possible theodicy. Yet Lear's desire, when confronted with poor Tom, to expose himself to the same wretchedness—to shed even the accommodations of clothing and of reason—merely compounds the problem. For poor Tom is himself a fiction. His naked madness, which is Edgar's strategy of self-preservation, has, in Howard Felperin's words, “the status of a sign emptied of its significance and divorced from the realities of nakedness and madness to which it refers, the absent referent in both cases being supplied by Lear.”18 Since Lear no longer has any “superflux” to distribute, his descent to Tom's level is more than a redoubling of the affront; it is a supplementing of strategic, quasi-fictive disaccommodation with the thing itself.

Appropriately enough, it is Edgar who, in two subsequent scenes of encounter and partial recognition, provides a kind of commentary on this situation. In Act IV, scene i, the blinded Gloucester's apostrophe to his “dear son Edgar” (of whose presence he is unaware) is preceded by the reflection:

I stumbled when I saw. Full oft 'tis seen, 
Our means secure us, and our mere defects
Prove our commodities.    (IV. i. 19-21)

As the cognate word implies, we have re-entered with this gnomic paradox the semantic field of “unaccommodated.” Edgar replies with an aside:

O Gods! Who is't can say “I am at the worst”? 
I am worse that e'er I was.... 
And worse I may be yet; the worst is not
So long as we can say “This is the worst.”    (IV. i. 25-28) 

The suggestion of these words that even a rock-bottom self-recognition is in a sense fictive—from which we may perhaps draw out the further implication that this fiction constitutes the most basic layer of those accommodations which make man's life worth more than beasts'—seems to reflect upon Lear's act of identifying himself with the wretched of the earth. For this was also, of course, an act of self-recognition. Lear saw poor Tom as, like himself, a discarded father: “... nothing could have subdu'd nature / To such a lowness but his unkind daughters” (III. iv. 69-70).

More significant, however, is Edgar's encounter in Act IV, scene vi, with Lear in the full flower of his madness, an encounter which begins with this exchange:

Edgar. But who comes here? 
     The safer sense will ne'er accommodate
     His master thus. 
Lear. No, they cannot touch me for coining; I am the king himself. 
Edgar. O thou side-piercing sight!     (IV. vi. 80-85)19

Edgar's second sentence alludes to Lear's fantastic get-up; he has already been described, two scenes earlier, as “Crown'd with ... all the idle weeds that grow / In our sustaining corn” (IV. iv. 3-6). More precisely, “accommodate” refers to the process by which he has come to display himself in this form—and at the same time implies a distinction between the image and that which generates it as a representation. Lear's mad response seems to take up and to challenge this implication; he cannot be accused of counterfeiting, because as king he has sole authority over the dissemination of his image. Which is to say that his garb, his chosen self-accommodation, does not misrepresent him. He is authentically mad—and he manages to say as much in one of the few ways which would not be automatically self-refuting.

This encounter provides in several respects a distorted echo of the first meeting between Lear and Edgar on the heath. These are both meetings at the frontier between sanity and madness—but the role of madman is now reversed. And whereas on that first occasion Lear was already approaching the boundary which with poor Tom's help he crossed, Edgar has been moving in the opposite direction; having some forty lines earlier discarded the last pretense of insanity, he is on the way to resuming his proper identity. More importantly, though, both encounters follow immediately an expressed concern with showing the heavens more just. In this instance, Edgar has just stage-managed the extravagant episode of Gloucester's miraculous fall from an imagined cliff—the lesson of which is an overtly fictive theodicy:

                       ... therefore, thou happy father, 
Think that the clearest Gods, who make them honours
Of men's impossibilities, have preserved thee.    (IV. vi. 72-74)

It is Edgar, if anyone, who could be touched with counterfeiting in this scene. And it is he himself who provides us with the appropriate word to describe this curative trifling with despair. What he has been doing, before Lear's entrance, has been to present his father with an accommodated image—or rather, an accommodated experience—of divinity. 

Calvin, who gives repeated emphasis to the “ignorance, vanity, poverty, infirmity, and—what is more—depravity and corruption” of mankind, explains the accommodations of scripture as being necessitated by the feebleness of our understanding: “For because our weakness does not attain to [God's] exalted state, the description of him that is given to us must be accommodated to our capacity so that we may understand it.”20 Of Edgar's accommodation of the powers that preside over the action of this play, one might say the opposite, that it is Gloucester's enfeebled condition, his willingness to believe that his “other senses grow imperfect /By [his] eyes' anguish” (IV. vi. 5-6), which makes it possible.

From the preceding analysis it would appear that two distinct senses of “accommodation” are active in King Lear. The first belongs to the semantic field surrounding the notion of natural law. Accommodation in this sense is a matter of the humanly necessary creature comforts (psychological as well as material) that rise out of a coherent system of bonds of mutual love and obligation; “unaccommodated man” is at the zero degree of human existence which corresponds to total exclusion from such a system. Accommodation in the second sense is a matter of self-presentation, whether divine or human. The statements of identity which it implies are insistently fictive, either because the attributes which define the self are taken by catachresis from some alien domain, and thus constitute a species of metaphor, or else (which is to say the same thing in different words) because the self which is presented is a fictive construct.

These two meanings of accommodation, while distinct, are closely related in the play. Both are simultaneously present in Edgar's words, “The safer sense will ne'er accommodate / His master thus.” They are linked in other ways as well—and in each case by the same character. Edgar's version of unaccommodated man, who inhabits a world of physical revulsion, sexual disgust, and demonic persecution, might be said to convey an unaccommodated perception of the gods—and the psychological state which corresponds to the fullest form of this perception is madness. Subsequently, though, his linking of the two meanings has a therapeutic end. The astonishing coup de théâtre by which he imposes on his father an accommodated understanding of “the clearest Gods” also serves to accommodate Gloucester himself, in a very limited way, by alleviating his despair. But if a persuasion that the gods care for human lives is thus one of the more basic of accommodations, so, conversely, the degree to which the gods take on accommodated form depends upon the degree to which human perceivers are themselves accommodated, either by the safety net of natural law or, failing that, by providential interventions, real or faked.



Natural law and divine providence are both burning issues in King Lear—the former in the opening acts especially, while the latter becomes openly problematic only in the last scene of the play. One of the more subtle links between the two is provided by the second mode of allusive figuration with which I am concerned. The species of synecdoche by which Lear himself, in the first scene of Act I, signals the presence in this play of Calvin's God, has everything to do with the question of natural law; and it is in the closing minutes of the play, when the grotesque pietà21 of the dead Cordelia in Lear's dying arms revives echoes of this disjunctive synecdoche, that the notion of divine providence becomes a source rather of horror than of comfort.

But what distinguishes Calvin's God from that of any other Christian theologian? Two things, above all—Calvin's insistence on the complete and uncompromised sovereignty of God's will, and his absolute distinction between grace and nature.22 The autonomy of created beings, the possibility of free will, the very notion of contingency—all these are rejected by Calvin as derogations from the majesty of the Creator. The same emphasis on the divine will permits Calvin to sever at one stroke the tangled knot of scholastic speculations on the relation between free will and God's omniscience; God foreknows who will be damned and saved, he argues, for the very good reason that he has already willed it.23 If the ethical implications of this notorious doctrine of double predestination are disturbing—the reprobate “have been given over to [their] depravity because they have been raised up by the just but inscrutable judgment of God to show forth his glory in their condemnation”24—so also are the consequences of risking an ethical judgment of it. For, in Calvin's view, to question predestination amounts to “penetrating the sacred precincts of divine wisdom. If anyone with carefree assurance breaks into this place, he will not succeed in satisfying his curiosity and he will enter a labyrinth from which he can find no exit.”25

One need only remember what Theseus found at the heart of another labyrinth in order to see why the issue of accommodation is a crucial one in Calvin's thought. From a human perspective, he admits, events are fortuitous;26 this perception, however, is accommodated by the claim that all things, down to the minutest detail, are determined by providence. Yet Calvin insistently presses beyond this level to one on which his readers are confronted with the difference between the accommodation and the unknowable reality; the attributes of God are hedged about and finally rendered virtually meaningless by repeated assertions of his utter incomprehensibility.27 Contingency, one might say, has been displaced from the phenomenal to a transcendental realm—where it assumes the alarming form of a divine will which the faithful may term inscrutable, but which others (at their own risk) may prefer to call arbitrary and capricious. The supposed source of intelligibility, then, is itself unintelligible. 

These problems are compounded by Calvin's theology of grace. By maintaining a rigorous distinction between grace and nature, he condemns out of hand any principle that is natural rather than divine, but at the same time makes it hard to resist the conclusion that God's action in nature is itself perverse. Since this action is all-embracing, it eliminates any real autonomy of secondary causes. For while acknowledging the ordered rhythms of nature, Calvin does not want us to take them for granted, lest our sense of the absoluteness of God's monarchy be impaired. Nature thus becomes a sustained succession of miracles; the sun rises every day by God's command alone, and “not even an abundance of bread would benefit us in the slightest unless it were divinely turned into nourishment.”28 God, then, is omnipresent both in nature and in what we take to be its laws—but to what end?

The Law of Moses, Calvin says, was instituted by God to deprive mankind of any excuse for their inevitable sins; it is “like a mirror. In it we contemplate our weakness, then the iniquity arising from this, and finally the curse coming from both....”29 And the Law reflects God as well as man; in it “there is a perfect mirror of righteousness.”30 Calvin's understanding of natural law is identical. Nature is a reflection of our fallen state, for both within and around us it is wholly “contaminated by great immorality.”31 At the same time, though, nature shows forth the glory of God: “this skillful ordering of the universe is for us a sort of mirror in which we can contemplate God, who is otherwise invisible.”32 The true perversity of Calvin's view of nature lies in the fact that these two reflections are closely, perhaps causally, related. For although Calvin plays endless descants on the theme of the Fall, his insistence that God's will is the active cause of every event—including Adam's first disobedience—deprives the Fall of its explanatory force.33 And natural law exists for precisely the same reason as does the Law of Moses. “The purpose of natural law,” Calvin writes, “... is to render man inexcusable.”34

We are thus by nature (which is also to say by the will of God) capable of recognizing what is good and of understanding our own wickedness, but utterly incapable of stemming our evil impulses, or even of wanting to. Any positive sense of natural law has evaporated, leaving a universe that, since its incomprehensible governing will admits no rule of law, is “virtually lawless.”35 All that saves human nature from total wickedness is the constraining and converting action of an external force, God's denaturing grace.36

Certain analogies may by now have begun to suggest themselves between Calvin's universe and “the Lear world”37—between, for example, Calvin's nature and the goddess Edmund serves, or between the Calvinist recoil from nature and the anguished visions of perversity which fill Lear's mind once the bonds of natural law that he initially refused to recognize have collapsed around him. I turn therefore to what Stephen Booth has identified as a “dimness of distinction between Lear and God” at certain points in the play38—which may be a more systematic feature of King Lear than Booth's words imply.

One need not have seen Paul Scofield in the role to recognize Lear, in the first two acts of the play, as in some sense an archaic presence. He does not make the same distinctions between himself and what surrounds him as do the self-contained Cordelia and Kent, the apostles of the plain style, or the utterly selfish Goneril, Regan, and Edmund. If the self is an isolated monad whose skin is its frontier, then it is true, as Regan observes, that Lear “hath ever but slenderly known himself” (I. i. 292-93). For he evidently sees his identity as constituted by the whole network of his possessions and social inferiors—and as his words to Goneril in Act II make clear, his daughters are part of this extended self:

But yet thou art my flesh, my blood, my daughter, 
Or rather a disease that's in my flesh, 
Which I must needs call mine: thou art a boil, 
A plague-sore, or embossed carbuncle, 
In my corrupted blood.     (II. iv. 219-23)

A similar meaning may be conveyed by his warning to Kent in the opening scene: “Come not between the Dragon and his wrath” (I. i. 121). Almost automatically, one understands by this “the object of his wrath.” But Lear's words make no distinction between the Dragon's wrath and Cordelia, its object. And what this conflation of object and emotion seems to imply is that both are understood by Lear as his attributes—or rather, for the moment, as a single one. Where we would separate subject from object, self from other, he does not. Yet the possibility that Kent could intervene between the Dragon and his attribute, his draconitas, suggests the insecurity of this extended self.39

Other more radical problems with this regal self-extension are already apparent in the broken ritual of Lear's abdication and division of his kingdom. This ritual takes the outer form of a test. Yet as the first lines of his speech reveal, Lear has already decided on his daughters' dowries:

Meanwhile, we shall express our darker purpose. 
Give me the map there. Know that we have divided
In three our kingdom....     (I. i. 35-37)

Since the love-test is intended as no more than a ceremonial revelation of this predetermined purpose, Lear has also effectively decided on his daughters' responses. Cordelia, however, challenges his right to do so. When pressed, she replies with a stilted, perhaps spiteful, yet courageous exposition of natural law—of the bonds of love, honor, obedience, care, and duty that mutually tie children to parents and husbands to wives. But her father is interested only in obedience to his will, and the public shames of his daughter's independence, her thwarting of his “darker purpose,” brings out a violent capriciousness.

I am not concerned here with the intriguing question of why, as Alfred Harbage put it, the only daughter who honestly loves her father can respond to him “only with declarations of her love of honesty.”40 What interests me rather is the fact that Cordelia's assertion of natural law is made in the face of a royal power which, in its final gestures as such, is approximating itself to a form of divine rule incompatible with any positive notion of natural law. In effect, Lear's ritual is a displacement into dramatic action of the relation between Calvin's God and the universe he rules; it is a synecdoche of the kind I have described.

I have commented on Lear's sense of himself as extended into the lives of his offspring and subordinates. Cordelia's talk about her bond is meaningless to him in part because he cannot conceive of his daughters as being separate from his commanding will to the degree that any form of moral linkage could be required. The curiously proleptic quality of his test of their love—in earlier versions of the story it is a real test, with none of the explicit predetermination that Shakespeare adds to it—corresponds to the vocabulary of Lear's opening speech. This “darker purpose,” “fast intent,” and “constant will” (I. i. 35, 37, 42) is of course properly regal—but similar terms were also currently applied in Elizabethan England to the hidden, fixed, and inscrutable determinations of the Calvinist God.41 As with Calvin's God, who could be opposed only by human or demonic wills whose very motion he himself determined, Lear's language seems scarcely to concede the independent existence of other wills, much less the possibility of any real dissent.

The question of hypocrisy, in this context, acquires real bite. Lear is satisfied with the declarations of Goneril and Regan because their words conform to his will and to his apparent view of his daughters as extensions of himself; their professions of love are a fitting reflection of his regal and paternal beneficence. He is offering his kingdom; they must in return focus all their love on him. Cordelia's plain words make a radical challenge to this structure. If Goneril and Regan are not what they seem to be, then Lear is not what he thinks he is. Cordelia's love is an expression of the reciprocal ties of natural law, not a response to the manipulations of a single controlling will; it is relation, not reflection, and promises independently willed action, not ceremonial professions. As she says in her own defence, “what I well intend, / I'll do't before I speak” (I. i. 224-25). By implication, her father should recognize his own will as bound by the same ties, and he should be looking not for those reflections of his generosity which his ritual demands, but for acts of love proceeding out of his real familial relations with his daughters.

Although he speaks of “nature” and or “merit” (I. i. 52), Lear is constructing a secular analogue to divine grace. Cordelia's response, because it is autonomous and assumes, moreover, that Lear's will should be governed as much as hers by natural law, amounts for him to a rejection of his “grace”; and it deprives her, in secular terms, of his “grace and favour” (I. i. 228). But Lear is no God. Not even a tyrannical king has such power, and his words “Nothing will come of nothing” (I. i. 89) alert us to a parallel failing in knowledge. This simple fact of Lear's humanity is the basis of the most thoroughly disjunctive ironies generated by his synecdochic relation to Calvin's God. If the gracious offer of his kingdom could be a continuous one, the hypocrisy of Goneril and Regan would be meaningless; they would necessarily continue to reflect his commanding will that they love him. (In Calvin's Institutes, it is above all those who fail to persevere in grace—who have not, that is, been given the grace to persevere—who are qualified as hypocrites.)42 But as an earthly, not a heavenly king, Lear can only give his kingdom once, and with it he gives his power; a monarch who has abdicated can no longer dispense grace and favor. Released from the constraining need to reflect their father's will, and unhampered by the bonds of natural law, Goneril and Regan at once assert their perversity. And their urgent assessments of Lear's “unruly waywardness” (I. i. 297)—which are correct, of course, but what stands out is the coolness, the contempt—are immediately followed by Edmund's exuberant celebration of Nature, the goddess to whose “law”—a law of dog-eat-dog, of usurpation and betrayal—his “services are bound” (I. ii. 1-2).

Once it has been identified, this strange disjunctive synecdoche can be seen to resonate throughout the play. Cordelia's echo of Luke 2: 49 in Act IV, scene iv—“O dear father! / It is thy business that I go about” (IV. iv. 23-24)—is one instance of this. A clearer echo, and a powerfully ironic one, is evident in Lear's response, two scenes later, to the blind Gloucester's recognition of him: “I know that voice.” The mad king plays an associative game with “I know” that shows him, once again, to be not altogether a pagan:

Ha! Goneril with a white beard! They flattered me like a dog, and told me I had the white hairs in my beard ere the black ones were there. To say “ay” and “no” to everything that I said! “Ay” and “no” too was no good divinity. When the rain came to wet me once and the wind to make me chatter, when the thunder would not peace at my bidding, there I found'em, there I smelt'em out. Go to, they are not men o'their words: they told me I was everything; 'tis a lie, I am not ague-proof.  (IV. vi. 95-105)

In his inability to rule the thunder, in his subjection to ague and to the elements which bring it, Lear has wry evidence that he is not omnipotent, and his repeated “'ay' and 'no'” makes a sliding allusion to at least two New Testament passages. The white and black hairs of Lear's beard evoke, it would seem, the words of the sermon on the mount: “Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay ...” (Matthew 5: 36-37)—an injunction which is repeated in James 5: 12.43 But Lear's recognition that what his elder daughters fed him was precisely a subservient “ay” and “no” seems to summon up, through a kind of lateral drift, the words of St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 1: 18-20: “But as God is true, our word toward you was not yea and nay.... For all the promises of God in [Jesus Christ] are yea....” The hypocrisy of Goneril and Regan was indeed “no good divinity.”

These shifting allusions are an anachronism; let us then be wholeheartedly anachronistic and say that in the words to which Lear alludes St. Paul is attempting to distinguish his own message from that of Jean Calvin. Through his Word, Calvin's God promises salvation to all who will have faith, yet his hidden will withdraws this promise from all but the elect. This God presents himself as just and merciful, but through his Genevan prophet makes it known that to take these words in any human sense is to mistake the accommodation for the reality. In a very disturbing sense, his word toward us is both “ay” and “no.”

In the last scene of King Lear, the audience is confronted with a related, but infinitely more terrible, conjunction of “ay” and “no”—one in which synecdoche and accommodation, and the related issues of providence and natural law, figure together, with devastating results.

Providential justice is at work in the play; there is evidence of the fact in Edgar's discovery of the plot on Albany's life—which, had it succeeded, would have made Edmund King of England. But what is the quality of this justice; what kind of divine order does it reflect? The most darkly ironic and the best-remembered answer to these questions is offered by the blinded Gloucester when he encounters “poor mad Tom”:

I'th'last night's storm I such a fellow saw, 
Which made me think a man a worm. My son
Came then into my mind; and yet my mind
Was then scarce friends to him. I have heard more since: 
As flies to wanton boys, are we to th'Gods: 
They kill us for their sport.     (IV. i. 32-37)

But this is quickly countered by Albany's comment on the death of Cornwall: “This shows you are above, / You justicers, that these our nether crimes / So speedily can venge!” (IV. ii. 78-80). Albany's reaction to the deaths of Goneril and Regan is a similar one: “This judgment of the heavens, that makes us tremble, / Touches us not with pity” (V. iii. 230-31). But “most striking of all” (in Clifford Leech's words)44 are the lines addressed by Edgar to his dying half-brother:

The Gods are just, and of our pleasant vices
Make instruments to plague us; 
The dark and vicious place where thee he got
Cost him his eyes.     (V. iii. 169-72)

It is into this context, in which an unaccommodated view of chaos has been more than balanced by the defeat of evil and ensuing perceptions of a strict, though savage, order of providential justice, that Lear bursts with the dead Cordelia in his arms. Stephen Booth has admirably analyzed the agonies of anticipation the audience has been subjected to during this scene by Albany's failure, and later Edgar's as well, to press the essential question of the whereabouts of Lear and Cordelia.45 I shall not repeat that analysis; for my purposes it will suffice to quote Albany's response to the news of Edmund's writ of execution: “The Gods defend her!” (V. iii. 254). They have not done so.

Lear's final speeches enact the relation between a horrible and inscrutable reality and the saving illusion of belief in an intelligible order of divine justice. If at the play's end Cordelia were still alive, as Nahum Tate and Samuel Johnson would have her,46 then the problems of providence and natural law would be resolved at once in a great ecstasy of rejoicing. But the response to Lear's entrance with her body is one of apocalyptic horror:

Kent. Is this the promis'd end? 
Edgar. Or image of that horror? 
Albany. Fall and cease.     (262-63)

This spectacle is too appalling for steady contemplation; as I have already suggested, it revives echoes of the synecdochic relation between Lear and Calvin's God—displacing at the same time the traditional image of the pietà, that icon which uniquely mingles human and divine suffering and grief, and supplying in its stead a cancellation of redemptive hopes. Lear's attempts to persuade himself, against his terrible knowledge of the truth, that some faint breath of life remains in his daughter, are more than just grapplings with an inadmissible fact; they are, in addition, attempts to reconstitute the broken image of a redeeming sense of order:

This feather stirs; she lives! if it be so, 
It is a chance which does redeem all sorrows
That ever I have felt.     (264-66)

There is a repeated alternation, which wholly excludes despair, between the recognition of reality and an illusory perception that Cordelia still lives—a perception which implies the existence of an order of justice and redemption, but which at the same time envelops Lear again in madness:

I might have sav'd her; now she's gone for ever! 
Cordelia, Cordelia! Stay a little. Ha! 
What is't thou say'st? Her voice was ever soft, 
Gentle and low, an excellent thing in woman.     (169-72)

Lear drifts away from his surroundings. But he is called back to the dead Cordelia by the speech in which Albany proceeds to administer justice and lay down its principles:

All friends shall taste
The wages of their virtue, and all foes
The cup of their deservings.     (301-03)

This seems a greatly reduced form of justice; it makes no appeal to objective criteria or universal agents. However, Albany's use of the word “wages” and “cup” may produce in some listeners an odd awareness of distortion—for they can be heard, in this context especially, as an altered echo of relevant and important biblical passages. Behind “the wages of their virtue” one may hear St. Paul: “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6: 23)—or even the voice of Christ himself in the parable of the workers in the vineyard who all received equal wages, even though some had worked all day and some only a fraction of that time. God's free gift of redemption to the elect becomes, in Albany's mouth, a statement of a purely human justice—or at least of one that does not dare, with Lear and Cordelia before it, to make larger claims for its authority. And the cup from which the foes of Albany's state will taste their deservings may remind one either of David's covenant with God (“thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over” [Psalm 23: 5]) or of Jesus' prayer at Gethsemane (“Father ... take away this cup from me” [Mark 14: 36, also Luke 22: 42, Matt. 26: 42]). These biblical undertones, whether they imply undeserved suffering or unmerited reward, pull against Albany's use of the words; one might say that they contest the appropriation of these words by a merely human justice, even though the forms of divine justice which they evoke have been discredited. There is thus, within Albany's plain words, a complex hidden dialogue, a tug-of-war between radically different conceptions of the relations of merit to reward, and of suffering to evil.

Whether or not the ear catches such overtones, Lear's last words spring from Albany's speech as an overwhelming response to its inadequate overt simplicities:

And my poor fool is hang'd! No, no, no life! 
Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life, 
And thou no breath at all? Thou'lt come no more, 
Never, never, never, never, never! 
Pray you, undo this button: thank you, Sir. 
Do you see this? Look on her, look, her lips, 
Look there, look there!     (303-10)

I read “Do you see tis?” as a titanic denunciation. But out of the gesture which it invites, “Look on her,” the broken illusion rises once again. Emerging as it does from under the hammer-blows of the repeated “never,” it is all the more terrible an affirmation of the persistence of human needs.

To recapitulate: I have argued that the last ritual of Lear's reign was a dark refection of the rule of Calvin's God. His dispensation of grace and favor was a synecdochic parody of Calvinist predestination and grace; he responded to the alien notion of natural law with violent capriciousness; and his abdication released a Nature of truly Calvinist perversity. The true horror of the last scene lies not only in the anguish which it induces, but also in its intimation that while Lear has acquired a humbling knowledge of the shared humanity of kings and madmen and has subsequently experienced a redeeming love, the power that presides over the action remains fixed in the position that Lear occupied in the first scene. An audience that has begged to think of Cordelia's love as the true image of heavenly power, and not just an illusory accommodation, is left with the image of the dead king collapsed across his daughter's body. Lear has called for a looking-glass: “If that her breath will mist or stain the stone, / Why, then she lives” (V. iii. 261-62). The imagined mirror remains empty, unstained by the breath of life.




1  See The Book of Job Illustrated by William Blake, ed. Michael Marqusee (London: Paddington Press, 1976), pl. 2, 5, 9, 11, 13-17, and 20; and the “Introduction,” pp. 13-14.

2  Reproduced by Kathleen Raine in William Blake (London: Thames and Hudson, 1970), pl. 66, p. 89.

3  “On Sitting Down to Read King Lear Once Again,” Keats: Poetical Works, ed. H.W. Garrod (London: Oxford University Press, 1956), p. 380.

4  The first of these is reproduced in Raine, pl. 54, p. 77; the most accessible reproduction of the Lear painting is perhaps that on the cover of the 1977 reprint of Shakespeare's Tragedies: An Anthology of Modern Criticism, ed. Laurence Lerner (1968; rpt. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1977).

5  For evidence that Calvinism constituted the theological orthodoxy of Elizabethan England, see A. D. Nuttall, Overheard by God: Fiction and Prayer in Herbert, Milton, Dante and St John (London: Methuen, 1980), pp. 21-31; and Alan Sinfield, Literature in Protestant England 1560-1660 (London: Croom Helm, 1983), pp. 1-14.

6  This argument bypasses much of the recent critical work on King Lear, which has been very largely concerned with distinguishing between the Quarto and Folio texts as separately conceived versions of the play; the fact that it is equally applicable to both versions may suggest the unwisdom of overemphasizing the differences. This is also the reason why I have felt free to use a conflated text. My quotations are from the New Arden King Lear, ed. Kenneth Muir (1952; rpt. London: Methuen, 1978), and are identified by act, scene, and line numbers.

7  See, in particular, Roland M. Frye, Shakespeare and Christian Doctrine (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963); William R. Elton, “King Lear” and the Gods (San Marino: Huntington Library, 1966); Rosalie L. Colie, “The Energies of Endurance: Biblical Echo in King Lear,” in R. L. Colie and F. T. Flahiff, ed., Some Facets of “King Lear”: Essays in Prismatic Criticism (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1974), pp. 117-44; Robert G. Hunter, Shakespeare and the Mystery of God's Judgments (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1976), pp. 183ff.; Howard Felperin, Shakespearean Representation: Mimesis and Modernity in Elizabethan Tragedy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977), pp. 86-106; G. R. Hibbard, “King Lear: A Retrospect, 1939-79,” Shakespeare Survey 33 (1980), 1-12; and Jonathan Dollimore, Radical Tragedy: Religion, Ideology and Power in the Drama of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries (Chicago University of Chicago Press, 1983), pp. 189-203.

8  L. C. Knights, Some Shakespearean Themes and an Approach to Hamlet (1959; rpt. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1970), p. 79.

9  Kenneth Burke, “Four Master Tropes,” in A Grammar of Motives (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969).

10  In insisting on the discordant rather than integral or natural relationships involved in this form of synecdoche, I intend a contrast with that kind of synecdoche (a trope, rather than a figure of thought) which Angus Fletcher describes as “teleologically controlled.” As he writes in Allegory: The Theory of a Symbolic Mode (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1964), p. 85: “Synecdoche is described by Quintillian as 'letting us understand the plural from the singular, the whole from a part, a genus from the species, something following from something preceding; and vice versa' (Institutes, VIII. vi, sec. 19). A synecdoche could then easily fit the logical criterion of an element of an allegory, since in itself it would always call to the reader's mind some larger organization of symbols to which system it bore an integral relationship.”

11  Origen, Contra Celsum, tr. Henry Chadwick (1953; rpt. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), IV. 71, p. 240. Compare St. Augustine, De civitate Dei, XV. 25; also X. 13, and De doctrina christiana, I. 6.

12  For a different, but perhaps related, use of the metaphors of bridge and chasm, see Jacques Derrida, “The Principle of Reason: The University in the Eye of Its Pupils,” Diacritics 13 (Fall 1983), 3-20, especially 6-11.

13  Xenophanes, frag. 23, in G. S. Kirk and J. E. Raven. ed., The Presocratic Philosophers (1957; rpt. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), p. 169.

14  See, for example, Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, tr, Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), I. x. 2, I. xi. 3, I. xiv. 3, I. xvii. 12-13, II. xi. 13, II. xvi. 2. The idea of accommodation is also implicit in I. xvi. 9 and III. xviii. 9.

15  Xenophanes, frag. 15, Kirk and Raven, p. 169. Fragments 11, 14, and 16 (p. 168) are denunciations of anthropomorphism.

16  For Anaximander's explanation of the cause of thunder, see Kirk and Raven, p. 128: “Anaximandrus omnia ad spiritum rettulit: tonitrua, inquit, sunt nubis ictae sonus...” (Seneca, Qu. Nat. II, 18). According to Holinshed (quoted in Muir, p. 222), the reign of King Leir ended “in the yeere of the world 3155, before the building of Rome 54”—which (with due allowances made for the wholly fantastic nature of Holinshed's chronology) brings him within hailing distance of these Greek thinkers.

17  Quotations are from the New Arden The Second Part of King Henry IV, ed. A. R. Humphreys (1966; rpt. London: Methuen, 1971).

18  Felperin, Shakespearean Representation, p. 102.

19  In the Folio (which omits the Quarto's scene iii), this is Act IV, scene v. The Folio reading of “crying” for "coining" is presumably corrupt.

20  Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, I. i. 1, vol. 1, p. 36; I. xvii. 13, vol. 1, p. 227.

21  The identification of this stage image as a pietà is Robert G. Hunter's, in Shakespeare and the Mystery of God's Judgments, p. 185.

22  As Jean-Daniel Benoît has observed, double predestination is not “comme on l'a parfois soutenu, le centre du calvinisme, mais plutôt la dernière conséquence de la foi en la souveraineté absolue de Dieu et en la grâce du Christ; elle constitue non pas un point de départ, mais un aboutissement.” Benoît, ed. Calvin, Institution de la religion chrestienne (5 vols., Paris: Vrin, 1957-63), vol. 4, p. 406 n. 1.

23  Calvin's view of divine sovereignty and of its consequences with regard to contingency, free will, and human autonomy is clearly set forth in his Institutes, I. xvi. 1-9, I. xvii. 1-5, vol. 1, pp. 197-217. On free will, see further II. ii. 1-11, II. ii. 26-27, II. iii. 5, II. v. 1-19. On the primacy of the divine will, see III. xxiii. 6, vol. 2, p. 954: “... [God] foresees future events only by reason of the fact that he decreed that they take place....”

24  Institutes, III. xxiv. 14, vol. 2, p. 981.

25  Institutes, III. xxi. 1, vol. 2, pp. 922-23.

26  See Institutes, I. xvi. 9, vol. 1, pp. 208-09.

27  Bishop Berkeley identified the denial of God's attributed “in every intelligible sense” with atheism, arguing that “he who comes to God ... must first believe that there is a God in some intelligible sense; and not only that there is something in general, without any proper notion, though never so inadequate, of any of its qualities or attributes: for this may be fate, or chaos, or plastic nature, or anything else as well as God.” Alciphron or The Minute Philosopher, Fourth Dialogue, 18, in The Works of George Berkeley Bishop of Cloyne, ed. A. A. Luce and T. E. Jessop (London: Nelson, 1948-57), vol. 3, pp. 164-65. David Hume subsequently wrote, to similar effect: “The Deity, I can readily allow, possesses many powers and attributes, of which we can have no comprehension: But if our ideas, so far as they go, be not just and adequate, and correspondent to his real nature, I know not what there is in this subject worth insisting on. Is the name, without any meaning, of such mighty importance?” Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, ed. Norman Kemp Smith (1947; rpt. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, n.d.), p. 158. I am indebted for these references to A. D. Nuttall, of New College, Oxford.

28  Institutes, I. xvi. 2, and III. xx. 44, vol. 2, p. 909.

29  Institutes, II. vii. 7, vol. 1, p. 355.

30  Institutes, III. xviii. 9, vol. 1, p. 831.

31  Institutes, I. i. 2, vol. 1, p. 38.

32  Institutes, I. v. 1, vol. 1, pp. 52-53.

33  Institutes, III. xxiii. 7, vol. 2, p. 955: “... no one can deny that God foreknew what end man was to have before he created him, and consequently foreknew because he so ordained by his decree.” See also Calvin's “Articles Concerning Predestination,” in J. K. S. Reid, ed. and tr., Calvin: Theological Treatises (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1954), p. 179.

34  Institutes, II. ii. 22, vol. 1, p. 282.

35  Richard Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, ed. Christopher Morris (2 vols., London: Dent, 1954), Morris's “Introduction,” p. ix: “... most Protestant philosophers had conceived the universe as being virtually lawless. For them there was only one law, the Law of God; and, since men are incapable of understanding this, God's operations must seem purely arbitrary or capricious acts of will.” Hooker differed from Calvin in regarding God's will as being itself governed by law—by “the Counsel of his own will” (Ecc. Pol., I. ii, vol. 1, p. 153). “Nor is the freedom of the will of God any whit abated, let, or hindered, by means of this; because the imposition of this law upon himself is his own free and voluntary act” (vol. 1, p. 154). Although this law is hidden from men, Hooker's assurance of its existence provides a sanction for a quasi-Aquinian hierarchy of lower structures of law.

36  See Institutes, III. iii. 8, vol. 1, p. 600: “... when [the prophets] recall man from evil, they demand the destruction of the whole flesh, which is full of evil and perversity.... Nor can we think of the flesh as completely destroyed unless we have wiped out whatever we have from ourselves. But since all emotions of the flesh are hostility against God [cf. Rom. 8: 7], the first step toward obeying his law is to deny our own nature.” As the context makes clear, this denial and destruction can only be achieved by God's grace working in us.

37  I allude to John Reibetanz, The “Lear” World: A Study of “King Lear” in its Dramatic Context (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1977); this book contains not a single reference to Calvin.

38  Stephen Booth, “King Lear,” “Macbeth,” Indefinition, and Tragedy (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1983), p. 161 n. 5.

39  Muir quotes a similar interpretation of this line, supplied to him by J. C. Maxwell, on p. 11 of his edition.

40  Shakespeare: The Complete Works, ed. Alfred Harbage et al. (Baltimore, Maryland: Penguin Books, 1970), p. 1060.

41  Thus in Hooker's writings one finds—but only in passages where he is engaged in controversy with Calvinist opponents—references to God's “more private occasioned will,” his secret determination” (Ecc. Pol., V. xlix. 3, 5, vol. 2, pp. 197, 199), and to “God's unsearchable purpose,” the “concealed causes of his secret intents,” “his secret purposes,” “God's fore-appointed and determining will,” “eternal decree,” and “irrevocable sentence” (“Fragments of an Answer to the Letter of certain English Protestants,” (Ecc. Pol., vol. 2, pp. 507, 513, 516, 521, 524, 531). Such expressions were of course not restricted either to a Calvinist context or to the discourse of theologians: Montaigne writes of “Gods secret desseignes ... the secrets of Gods divine will, the incomprehensible motives of his works.” The Essayes of Michael Lord of Montaigne, tr. John Florio (3 vols., London: Oxford University Press, 1904-1906), I. xxxi, vol. 1, p. 257. But they occur with particular frequency in Calvin's writings: see, for example, Institutes, I. xvii. 1-2, vol. 1, pp. 211-12: “secret plan ... secret judgments ... hidden judgments ... secret plans ... incomprehensible plans....” This same passage may contain an analogue to Lear's “darker purpose”: “For since Moses proclaims that the will of God is to be sought not far off in the clouds or in abysses, because it has been set forth familiarly in the law [Deut. 30: 11-14], it follows that he has another hidden will which may be compared to a deep abyss...” (I. xvii. 2, pp. 212-13). Compare I. xviii. 3, vol. 1, p. 234: “... the light in which God dwells is not without reason called unapproachable [1 Tim. 6: 16], because it is overspread with darkness.”

42  See Institutes, III. iii. 10-11.

43  The context of this latter injunction is ironically appropriate: “Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation. Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray. Is any merry? Let him sing psalms” (James 5: 11-13).I have quoted here, and throughout this passage, from the Authorized Version.

44  Leech, “The Implications of Tragedy,” in Lerner, ed., Shakespeare's Tragedies, p. 293. (This is an excerpt from Leech's Shakespeare's Tragedies [1950].)

45  Booth, pp. 5-17.

46  Johnson wrote, in his notes on King Lear: “In the present case the publick has decided. Cordelia, from the time of Tate, has always retired with victory and felicity. And, if my sensations could add anything to the general suffrage, I might relate, that I was many years ago so shocked by Cordelia's death, that I know not whether I ever endured to read again the last scenes of the play until I undertook to revise them as an editor.” Samuel Johnson, Rasselas, Poems, and Selected Prose, ed. Bertrand H. Bronson (New York: Rinehart and Winston, 1958), p. 297.