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Shakespeare’s Universal WolfStudies in Early Modern Reification$
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Hugh Grady

Print publication date: 1996

Print ISBN-13: 9780198130048

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198130048.001.0001

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What Comes of Nothing: Reification and the Plebeian in King Lear

What Comes of Nothing: Reification and the Plebeian in King Lear

(p.137) 4 What Comes of Nothing: Reification and the Plebeian in King Lear
Shakespeare’s Universal Wolf

Hugh Grady

Oxford University Press

In the 1608 Quarto version of King Lear, there is an image of a rapacious, self-destructive animal, similar to the universal wolf of Troilus and Cressida, which seems to be a metaphor for reification. Both this metaphor and the thematic logic of the play (in each of its closely related versions) describe reification as a social process seeking the ruin of traditional values, human life, and society generally in an amoral, instinctual drive to power with an inevitable Hobbesian outcome. King Lear's thematics locate the play in the terrain not only of Michel Foucault's theories of power, but also, perhaps more tellingly, in that of the recent work of Jürgen Habermas. This play enacts a logic of resistance to power troubling to Foucault's theories of subjection, but consistent with Habermas's treatment of problems of legitimation. Furthermore, it deals with the related but culturally sensitive themes of social inequality, the basis of kingly authority, and the corrosive nature of power politics.

Keywords:   King Lear, reification, metaphor, Michel Foucault, universal wolf, legitimation, power politics, social inequality, kingly authority

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