National Messianism and English Chorography in King Lear

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Abstract

Through a close reading of Shakespeare's King Lear, this essay surveys English nationalism in a very specific moment-at the time of King James's accession and his propagation of the Union of kingdoms, which was soon followed by his edict of "Naturalization of the Scots". This political claim of the Scottish monarch was in conflict with his English subjects' allegiance to English nationhood, thus creating an ambiguous allegiance between the two. Shakespeare, as James's English subject, had to negotiate between the absolutist claim of the Union propagated by the Scottish monarch and his own allegiance to English territory. Thus how this ruptured consciousness creates textual-national ambiguities in Shakespeare's play and how his political negotiation develops what Hans Kohn calls "national messianism" are the most important concerns in this essay. In King Lear, along with Cordelia's redemptive features, if the national messianic craving is expressed through regional identity, it is through Kent. In early-modern literature, Kent, which includes Canterbury (the locus of the national shrine) was often a geographical symbol of essential Englishness. The regional topography of Kent expresses past English identity as uncompromised by Scottish contamination. This chorographical allegiance to English regional territory properly explains the reason why at the end of the play the stage heavily gravitates toward Dover-the end of Kent/England-embodying all the national messianic images. The Shakespearean geopolitics represented in King Lear thus negotiates the huge gap between the Scottish monarch's absolutist rhetoric of Union and English nationhood forming a national ambiguity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)685-703
Number of pages19
JournalEnglish Studies
Volume94
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2013 Oct 1

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All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory

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