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That Crazy Green Man!

Kennedy, "Shakespare's King Lear" -- Jerz: EL150 (Intro to Literary Study)

"Perhaps the Elizabethan audience would have construed Lear's insanity as a religious regression."

I thought that this quote was interesting, because the play is set before Christianity. Would Elizabethan audiences have recognized this fact and seen a possible Green Man reference as an homage to a bygone era? Because, strictly within the time period of the play, if we're talking about "religious regression" from Christianity, there's no Christianity to regress back from.
In fact, I haven't found any religious meanings in the play; to me, the play actually seems kind of atheistic. Nothing suggested to me that there was any kind of responsible higher power. Gloucester makes a reference to the gods as just killing people for fun like somebody would kill a fly. The tragedy at the end really doesn't seem to stem from anyone's moral fault but just on the unfortunate circumstance that the message didn't get there on time. Edmund says something about the wheel of fortune determining things. I thought that Shakespeare was actually expressing religious doubts here, but this essay makes me realize that he's also depicting a world before Christ died to redeem everyone of their sins. Maybe this reference to the Green Man is sort of a direct connection between the seeming senselessness of the world (Lear's madness) and the more freewheeling back-to-nature culture pagans were supposed to have lived in. Certainly the Greek gods are characterized as more capricious and random in their actions than the God of Christianity. Maybe Shakespeare is actually depicting the chaos of a world before Christ. This essay definitely made me think about paganism and how Elizabethan Christians would have viewed it much more than I previously did.

Comments (1)

John Fish:

That's an interesting observation. I myself was wondering why Shakespeare had chosen to set this play in pagan times and, frankly, could find no answer. If he did so to make a statement about a world without Christianity, as you're suggesting (though I disagree that such a statement should be made), it would certainly make sense for him choosing the setting he did.

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