Bare-Forked Animals: King Lear and the Problems of Patriarchalism
With a central character who is father and king, Shakespeare’s King Lear tests the limits of England’s new monarch’s theories of political patriarchalism. At its foundation is the idea of king as pater patriae, father of his country. Tracing the mythical beginnings of Scotland, King James attributed law-making powers to the king’s distribution of land. Going beyond the Union debate, this chapter rereads the first scene as an exchange of land for political allegiance. King Lear shows political patriarchalism’s destabilising effects. Lear undoes the English tradition of heritability of property, while Edmund’s betrayal of Gloucester represents the elevation of political fatherhood. Finally, though patriarchalism traces kingly authority to Adam, Lear’s reduction to an Adamic state is a descent, resulting from tyranny, into disorder.