6 “Thou Pray’st Thy Gods in Vain”: King Lear in: The Unheard Prayer
In the Bible God allows Job to be tested in order to demonstrate the strength of his faith. In King Lear the King tests his daughters in order to demonstrate the. One of the most debated passages in King Lear is the brief outburst in which illegitimate son Edmund, who is present: Kent. Is not this your son, my lord? Glou. His breeding, sir, hath . The close relationship of the two words is indicated by. goodness, and Kent, Albany, and Edgar finally approach her faith in a recognizable world . ly upon the gods; and Cordelia, Lear, Gloucester, Kent, Ed - gar, and.
She is the one who "disincarnates" the divine in a non-systematic and non-thematizable way. She is the one who overawes, obsesses, and afflicts Lear. She is the one who summons and solicits him from "beyond being. Rather, it is to suggest that Shakespeare was every bit as invested in the interpersonal relationship as was Levinas and appears to have entertained a number of similar ideas, including the idea that transcendence is an effect of interrelation, not ecstasy or apotheosis.
Pace Levinas, Shakespeare intimates in Lear that the only epiphanies we can expect in this life are interhuman--but they are no less transcendent for all that. There can be no "knowledge" of God separated from the relationship with men. The Other is the very locus of metaphysical truth, and is indispensable for my relation with God. He does not play the role of a mediator. The Other is not the incarnation of God, but precisely in his face, in which he is disincarnate, is the manifestation of the height in which God is revealed.
It is our relations with men. Geoffrey Bickersteth, for instance, believes that the man who wrote Lear was "unconsciously 1 Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, trans.
Duquesne UP, Chambers sees the play as carrying us through Purgatorio and into Paradiso, and Edgar Fripp concurs, calling Lear "the noblest spiritual utterance since La Divina Commedia. She is the divine agent of grace whose gift of love culminates in what Paul Siegel terms "the miracle": This miracle is the redemption of Lear for heaven, a redemption analogous to the redemption of mankind, for which the Son of God had come down to earth. The analogy between Cordelia and Christ, who redeemed nature from the curse brought on it by Adam and Eve, is made unmistakable, although not crudely explicit.
And she is made to speak the words of the biblical Jesus, echoing his "know ye not that I must go about my fathers business? When Jesus refers himself to his father's business, he does so to reject the claims of his mortal parents and assert the primacy of his otherworldly 2 See Geoffrey L.
Man and Artist2: Qtd in William R.
Elton, King Lear and the Gods Lexington: U of Kentucky P, Stephen Greenblatt et al New York: A Facsimile of the Edition, intro.
U of Wisconsin P, When Cordelia uses the phrase, her meaning is quite different.
The business to which she pledges herself does not belong to her father in heaven but to her literal, flesh-and-blood parent. And so it is with the other moments in the play. Time and again, religious imagery and language confer upon Cordelia a form of piety, yet this piety does not imply or entail any direct connection with the divine.
As he sees it, Shakespeare is trying to strip divine love and godly mercy of their transcendental guarantees so as to find and fully imagine their human equivalents. In Cordelia's case, this results in a character that resembles Christ--not because she is a type or analogue of him--but because she models what "Christ-likeness" could or would look like in a world without God.
Although I find Strier's interpretation intriguing, I am hesitant to accede to his assertion that there is no transcendental dimension to Cordelia's devotion, for it quite clearly suggests something of the sort to a great many of us.
It is no accident that G. Wilson Knight repeatedly uses the word "transcendent" when talking about Cordelia no fewer than five times in the span of two and a half pages! This beyond may not be the beyond of the Christian afterlife or a Protestant heaven, but it bears no small resemblance to the "beyond Being" that Emmanuel Levinas associates with true transcendence.
In what follows, then, I would like to think through Levinas's ideas on transcendence and ethics in such a way as to map out a new pathway for approaching Shakespeare's great tragedy. As unorthodox as it may sound, I propose to shed light on the darkling religiosity of King Lear by turning--not to the theological doctrines of early modern Christians--but to the postmodern ethics of a twentieth- century Jew. Wilson Knight, The Wheel of Fire: Interpretations of Shakespearian Tragedy, 4th ed.
London and New York: Routledge, Lehnhof, "Relation and Responsibility: As he told Philippe Nemo, "I am not afraid of the word God. In professing this, though, Levinas does not presume that God discloses Himself directly in this world.
Quite the contrary, Levinas insists that God cannot be contained within a human reality or mortal present. Existing out of time, immemorially, Levinas's God is utterly asynchronous with humanity. But if God is not imminent, He is nevertheless manifest--and what makes Him manifest is the face of the other person autrui. It is here that the Transcendent, infinitely other, solicits us and appeals to us.
As Levinas explains it, the first word of the face is a command: According to Levinas, the human face is so destitute, exposed, and menaced, that it arrests all egoism.
In the face of the other, the "I" experiences the full force of what Levinas calls "the resistance of what has no resistance," and the immediate effect of this resistance is to command me, as a master commands, to take responsibility for the other. While it might seem axiomatic to suppose that my face must command the other just as her face commands me, Levinas is emphatic that interrelation cannot be experienced from the outside, as a symmetry or reciprocity.
It can only be experienced from the inside, where the only thing to be seen is one's own obligation. The "I" is never on equal footing with the other, which is what Levinas means when he says that the 11 Qtd in Jacques Derrida, Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas, trans.
Stanford UP,4. An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, trans. Verso, Although Badiou intends this as an indictment of Levinas's philosophical authority, it gives Levinas a certain standing in the present study, since the phrase that Badiou applies to Levinas's philosophy seems a perfect fit for Shakespeare's tragedy. If we are to explore the inchoate theology of King Lear, who better to guide us than a philosopher of "decomposed religion"?
By commanding me from on high, the other puts me in mind of The Most High.
Theology and Ethics in King Lear | Kent Lehnhof - miyagi-marugoto2012.info
Or, as Levinas phrases it, the ethical height of autrui is "the manifestation of the height in which God is revealed.
By perpetually exceeding my totality and by imposing on me an obligation that never ends, the other supplies me with the idea of infinity, hence, of The Infinite. As a consequence, Levinas commonly uses religious terminology to talk about interrelation. For Levinas, the encounter with the other is an "epiphany," a "visitation," and a "revelation," and the approach to the other is both an "invocation" and a "prayer.
All this might seem an overly complex or roundabout way of addressing Shakespeare's tragedy, but I believe that Levinas's notion of "disincarnation" can discover a great deal in the play's numinous treatment of Cordelia. When Levinas teaches that the other bears "the trace of God," does this not ring true of Cordelia?
Is it not suggestive to say of Lear's daughter what Levinas says of autrui: In posing such questions, what I want to suggest is that Cordelia figures into Shakespeare's play much as the other figures into Levinas's philosophy.
She is the one whose imperiled alterity arrests our egoism and ordains us to an exhausting ethical responsiveness. She is the one whose ethical height overawes us and puts us in mind of the divine.
She is the one through whom the Transcendent speaks, summons, and solicits. If we look at Cordelia through a Levinasian lens, we soon see that she is characterized by nothing so much as her exposedness and her alterity.
The young girl who takes the stage in act one is both vulnerable and menaced; nevertheless, she effectively resists reduction or assimilation. Cordelia cannot be bent to her father's will-- 16 Levinas, Totality and Infinity, Indiana UP, A quick survey of the critical literature shows that we do not know what we are supposed to make of her behavior at the beginning of the play "Nothing," indeed!
From start to finish, in life and in death, Cordelia is an enigma, exceeding our grasp at every moment. Her otherness is a theatrical construct--at least in part--but it appeals to us nonetheless. We feel the dimension of the divine opening up around her, even if it does not conform to our ready-made theological concepts.
For Levinas, this non-conformity is apropos, inasmuch as neither God nor the other is amenable to adequation or thematization. Both are infinite, irreducible--which is why the encounter with autrui or in this case, Cordelia is shot through with the traces of God. To entertain such thoughts is to give welcome to my basic premise, which is this: This is because Shakespeare's play--at least as I read it--is less interested in enacting a priori theological precepts than in exploring what it is like to be confronted by one who is irreducibly other.
To be sure, this is the moment to which the play keeps returning: Encounters with alterity are the substance of this play, just as they are the substance of Levinas's philosophy. But if both authors present the interpersonal encounter as crucial, neither is under any illusion that it is comfortable, which is why Levinas talks of it as a "trauma" or a "wound" and why Shakespeare makes of it the matter of tragedy.
Interrelation may put us on the path to transcendence, but it does so painfully, by overthrowing and overburdening us. As Levinas says, the face-to-face dethrones or deposes the sovereign ego, thrusts it into a distressed and difficult realm of relation, and afflicts it with an obligation it can neither fulfill nor flee.
When the play begins, Lear is doing just what Being does: And Goneril and Regan, with an eye on their own enrichment, are willing to play along. Venally performing the obsequious parts to which they have been put, they offer 19 Cf.
James Kearney's claim that "the play seems interested--in the Poor Tom scenes particularly--in dramatizing the experience of a particular phenomenon: Their hypocrisy enables the king's fantasies of self- sovereignty, and things move along smoothly enough.
But with her bare "nothing" Cordelia brings to a crashing halt this inauthentic play of the same. As an answer to Lear's question, Cordelia's reply is irrecuperable, but its message is clear: This eruption of alterity upends in an instant the power relations that Lear has used to structure his contest.
After expending all of his political capital to make himself the center of attention, Lear finds himself supplanted by a daughter whose powerlessness comprises a more compelling claim to that place. Her vulnerability speaks more loudly than his majesty, obliging him to attend to her.
King Lear and the book of Job » King Lear Study Guide from miyagi-marugoto2012.info
And in that moment of attention, Lear knows himself to be a usurper and a murderer, wholly and completely responsible for the one before him. As Sears Jayne remarks, Lear reacts with "that violence which characterizes the actions of people who are stung by the consciousness of their own guilt. And persist he does, at least for a time. From one moment to the next, Lear disowns his daughter and leaves her without a dowry, as if he could relinquish his responsibility by renouncing his paternity.
Finally Job himself is covered in boils from head to foot.
6 “Thou Pray’st Thy Gods in Vain”: King Lear
Only after much soul-searching, and weathering the advice of some unhelpful friends Job's comfortersis Job restored to health and prosperity in recompense for his patience and loyalty to God. When Lear casts off his clothes in the storm, it is likely that many people watching would have been reminded of Job. In the Bible God allows Job to be tested in order to demonstrate the strength of his faith. In King Lear the King tests his daughters in order to demonstrate the strength of their affection Both Lear and Job are reduced from high status and prosperity to the lowest condition of man.
Imagery The words of Job find many echoes in the events of King Lear: They thrust the needy from the path and force all the poor of the land into hiding. Lacking clothes, they spend the night naked; they have nothing to cover themselves in the cold. They are drenched by mountain rains and hug the rocks for lack of shelter. Lear dies with no such certainty.
English Standard Version King James Version 1Why are not times of judgment kept by the Almighty, and why do those who know him never see his days? English Standard Version King James Version 1There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. For Job said, It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.
Thus Job did continually.
Satan answered the Lord and said, From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.