The Weight of Pathos in King Lear
One of the most profound and puzzling moments in Shakespeare’s corpus appears in King Lear, when Edgar leads the blinded Gloucester to an imaginary Dover. In this pathos-filled scene, Edgar pretends to bring his father to the cliffs, where Gloucester believes he will fall to his death. Since Gloucester is not actually at the edge, he does not fall and die, but Edgar is able to convince Gloucester that he has fallen.
The scene is puzzling because it shows that Gloucester is so ill-attuned to his spatial perceptions that he is willing to entertain the story that he has fallen. Why does Shakespeare stage this trick? To respond to the question, we will puzzle through some of Shakespeare’s poetic play with the nature of weight.
Natalie Elliot is a faculty member at St. John’s College, where she teaches cross-disciplinary courses in classics, history of science, mathematics, English literature, philosophy, and music. Natalie’s research focuses on early modern literary works that explore the cultural and philosophical significance of scientific discovery and technological change. Her past research has uncovered Francis Bacon’s mythological teaching on life-extension and explored the conflicts between classical tragedy and scientific progress. At present, she is at work on a book that explains Shakespeare’s poetic engagement with early modern science. Natalie holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of North Texas, where she specialized in political theory and focused on the study of politics through literature. In addition to her appointment at St. John’s College, Natalie has held research and teaching positions at The Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics and American Institutions, Indiana University’s Hutton Honors College, and Southern Methodist University.
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