chapter  3
85 Pages

King Lear and the naturalized state of exception

In the fi rst Folio, King Lear is not listed among the Histories but among the Tragedies. Since the drama takes place in pre-Christian times, about 800 BCE, Lear is not burdened with the theological and dynastic ballast of Richard III or King John: the relationships do not appear too complicated, there are no explicit references to the chain of Lear’s ancestors, the constellation of persons is fairytale-like and pastoral rather than historical. But there are nevertheless arguments that justify linking Lear with the Histories, at least as their vanishing point. Besides the facts that genre boundaries in Shakespeare are fl uid anyway, that the 1608 Quarto version of Lear is titled a “true chronicle history,” and that a major source of the play is a work of medieval historiography, namely Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, Lear deals with the same themes of sovereignty and representation as the Histories, presupposes them, and is situated at their horizon. What has preceded the play in the historical dramas is the deconstruction of divine, transcendent law. King Lear adds to this a deconstruction of the overdetermined threshold fi gure of “natural law” as it is emerging in Shakespeare’s time. It will be shown that this transition from the unfolding of divine law to the unfolding of natural law entails a dissolution of the boundaries that used to enclose the theatrical curse.