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Edward Lear and the Play of Poetry$
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James Williams and Matthew Bevis

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198708568

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198708568.001.0001

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Lear and the Fool

Lear and the Fool

(p.16) 1 Lear and the Fool
Edward Lear and the Play of Poetry

James Williams

Oxford University Press

Being a Fool called Lear is a good joke, and Edward Lear enjoyed playing up to it. His letters make rueful allusion to his Shakespearean namesake, and his life and work echo that of the traditional literary Fool, the verbal trickster who uses a persona of folly to speak truth to power, and engage in the artful parody of art. This chapter considers how Lear handled his double-edged inheritance: the name of the King, and the vocation of the Fool. It examines how this tension illuminates the voices, ideas, and feelings at work in the poetry, in particular its relationship to authority, its complicated relationship with religion (redeemed somehow in the person of the Holy Fool), and his identification with animals and birds. The final section considers the ramifications of the Fool’s position as comic-tragic.

Keywords:   Edward Lear, fools, King Lear, Shakespeare, power, religion, the Bible, birds

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