On Teaching Lear

H/T to Stuart Elden, who linked to J.J. Cohen’s thoughts on teaching King Lear. It is one of my favorite texts to teach (and read), and I’m often amazed how much, given work on sovereignty and bare life, the work has not been written on after the Agamben wave. (I mean, come on, the essay writes itself, given the Lear’s madness and reduction to “but a man” in the middle of the play.) This is beautifully written:

And so I ended by confiding that each time I teach the play I swear it will be my last. I asked my class, should I indeed take Lear off the syllabus? Should this be my last class on Lear? I was curious to hear what they would say. I feared they would tell me what I suspected: that I’d hurt them by making them face such darkness, such a void. They reacted viscerally, and with unity: NO. Lear must remain. They told me how the drama hurt but spoke to them, how despite the assumption that college years are the happiest and most free of care in life the play’s bleakness resonated with thoughts they had, with tragedies they had faced. No one claimed that they had been made better for the play; it isn’t medicine, and it isn’t a humanist’s bible. But something in the drama’s imagining of the worst and then the trapdoors that open and bring us even lower touched them profoundly.

2 comments

    1. Thanks. Yeah, I’m luck that USD offers Phil and LIt courses, since that let’s me dip in Shakespeare at will and pull back what I find. I find Lear daunting and I’m never not taken by the final scenes.

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