“Few new books on Shakespeare—and indeed on literature in general—are likely to excite more pleasurable anticipation than this one by Sherman Hawkins.”
—Michael Goldman, Professor Emeritus of English, Princeton University; author of Shakespeare and the Energies of Drama, Acting and Action in Shakespearean Tragedy, and On Drama: Boundaries of Genre, Borders of Self
Perhaps the most important, difficult, and unresolved issue in Shakespeare studies is the question of Lear’s last lines; the whole meaning of Shakespeare’s greatest and most controversial tragedy depends upon it. In the 1608 Quarto, it is “O,o,o,o”—that zero to which the Fool compares Lear himself. In the 1623 Folio, the King’s last words are “Look on her! Look, her lips! Look there, look there!” No one but Lear sees what he points us to envision. Is it epiphany or delusion? Is Lear’s tragedy nihilistic or redemptive? In search of an answer, this book deploys a wide spectrum of critical approaches: close scrutiny of the rival texts and comparison with the plays sources, the unique double structure of Lear, its symbols and imagery, its visual and verbal scriptural allusions, even its numerology. The book enlists its readers in a quest for final meaning, not unlike the movement of the play itself towards Dover and the extreme verge of its imagined cliff, that high place where life borders upon death and earth meets sky and sea.
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