Opportunity in Lucrece and in King Lear
This chapter makes important distinctions between pre- and post-eighteenth-century uses of the terminology of ‘circumstances’, ‘proof’, and ‘probability’. It shows that prehistories of probability such as those of Ian Hacking and Douglas Patey have underestimated its rhetorical and imaginative dimensions. Reading Cicero, Quintilian, Erasmus, Johannes Weltkirchius, and Rudolph Agricola, the chapter shows how classical and Renaissance treatments of circumstances (time, place, manner, motive, etc.) associate them not only with argument and narrative, but use circumstantial detail to arouse emotion and to produce vivid mental images (ekphrasis and enargeia). The chapter concludes with a reading of Lucrece that shows Shakespeare’s awareness of the association of probability, circumstances, emotion, and enargeia, and with a reading of King Lear that links its imagined offstage world to Lucrece’s characterization of ‘Opportunity’.
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