Essay on Stampfer and The Catharsis of King Lear

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Stampfer and The Catharsis of King Lear

At the end of King Lear, when the only characters left standing are Albany, Edgar, and Kent, is the audience supposed to come away from the play with any feeling other than remorse? This search for emotional release by the audience is one which J. Stampfer believes is the most profound problem in King Lear.

The overriding critical problem in King Lear is that of its ending. The deaths of Lear and Cordelia confront us like a raw, fresh wound where our every instinct calls for healing and reconciliation. This problem, moreover, is as much one of philosophic order as of dramatic effect. In what sort of universe, we ask ourselves, can wasteful death follow suffering and torture?

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Stampfer then introduces the critical approach to Lear’s death that he is going to disagree with. The stance Stampfer chooses to criticize is one from A.C. Bradley’s book Shakespearian Tragedy. Bradley recognizes that Lear is deceived and dies in that vein, but feels that actors who portray Lear must act his last lines with joy. After quoting Bradley, Stampfer further extends the argument he will later contradict, saying, "Some recent critics have gone much further than Bradley in an attempt to build from Lear’s momentary emotion at death a ‘chance which doth redeem all sorrows,’ and make the play’s ending a transfigured vision of attained salvation" (362). This emphasis that Stampfer puts on this argument which he is against gives him a sense of objectivity, which strenghtens his yet-to-be-discovered reading of Lear’s death.

The problem Stampfer has with Bradley’s view of the death is that Bradley’s argument is solely based on Lear’s last lines. This is where Stampfer’s disagreement emerges:

He leaves unremarked, however, the fact that this illusion is not a new and

sudden turn, but recurs three or four times in the last scene. It is, indeed, the main concern of Lear’s first three speeches on re-entering the stage, before he goes temporarily out of his mind (362).

Stampfer goes on to analyze each of Lear’s speeches after line 259, where Lear first acknowledges Cordelia'’ death. His own thoughts, inserted

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