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Stage, Stake, and ScaffoldHumans and Animals in Shakespeare's Theatre$
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Andreas Höfele

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199567645

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199567645.001.0001

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‘I'll see their trial first’: Law and Disorder in Lear's Animal Kingdom

‘I'll see their trial first’: Law and Disorder in Lear's Animal Kingdom

Chapter:
(p.171) 5 ‘I'll see their trial first’: Law and Disorder in Lear's Animal Kingdom
Source:
Stage, Stake, and Scaffold
Author(s):

Andreas Höfele

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199567645.003.0006

Shakespeare’s arguably most searching investigation into the nature of the human, King Lear, also offers his most varied and polysemous zoology. Older interpretations that see in the play a telos of redemption in which humanity is purified in suffering and ultimately reclaimed from the bestial must founder on the rocks of un-distinction which the play strews out in its staging of order and chaos, sovereign and savage, man and beast. From the initial eruption of Lear’s self-bestializing wrath to the two trial scenes in Act 3, the play exposes the ascendancy of brute force over human ‘kindness’, the regression into a proto-Hobbesian state of nature revealing the bestial wildness lurking in the very core of the social order. This trajectory of bestialization intersects with a perception of the animal not as an emblem of human degeneracy but as fellow creature.

Keywords:   law (and disorder), sovereignty, torture, animal trials, bestialization, human-animal boundary, Shakespeare, King Lear, Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, Jean Bodin (on sovereignty)

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