By Harold Bloom
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Additional resources for William Shakespeare's King Lear
In this regard, as in others, King Lear is very reminiscent of Ecclesiastes. The depiction of suﬀering in King Lear has often been compared to the Book of Job,5 which, of course, focuses upon the suﬀering of an individual; and the protraction of Job’s suﬀering as well as his protests against it do indeed suggest the magnitude of Lear’s heroic characterization. But there is no Satan at the beginning of King Lear, nor a whirlwind from which God speaks at the end to make the play’s extraordinary sense of heartfelt pain even intellectually explicable.
There is no scene in Shakespeare that represents the wrench of death more absolutely or more painfully; and the scene is not merely the conclusion of the action of the play, it is its recapitulation, the moment in which the whole of it is crystallized. In this regard, as in others, King Lear is very reminiscent of Ecclesiastes. The depiction of suﬀering in King Lear has often been compared to the Book of Job,5 which, of course, focuses upon the suﬀering of an individual; and the protraction of Job’s suﬀering as well as his protests against it do indeed suggest the magnitude of Lear’s heroic characterization.
In the background we pick up hints that Albany and Cornwall are at loggerheads, but are forced to compose their diﬀerences and unite against a threatened invasion from France, partly encouraged by Cordelia, although in the foreground action nothing has yet happened to Lear that would justify such an invasion. At the end of Act II we still don’t feel that Gloucester’s statement “his daughters seek his death” is quite true yet, though they certainly don’t care if he does die. But within an hour or two Gloucester’s concern for Lear becomes strictly forbidden, and his action in helping the king to get to Dover is, from Cornwall’s point of view, the basest treachery.