The suffering body in KING LEAR.
The Greek word “pathos” means “suffering”, through this etymology and its relationship with the very genre of the play at stake, we understand the notion of suffering is central in the plot. Indeed, King Lear is a play in which the whole kingdom is soon turned upside-down by the political mistakes of the King who is supposed to be all-ruling and almightybut who fails to accomplish his mission properly and undergoes the ensuing consequences of his foolishness. Taking into consideration the various aspects evoked in it, “the suffering body” might be considered as a metaphor for Lear’s flawed state and realm, Lear’s subjects, Lear’s family, Lear’s own body, and more largely, all the experiences the numerous characters involved go through in theplay. It seems clear suffering and its ongoing most probable consequence, that is to say, death, appear as purgatorial experiences. Thus, the suffering body is a kind of epitome for political, physical, mental and psychological sufferings. Suffering entails pains and wounds, hardships and failures, disease and treason, grief and punishment, disgrace and exposure. Yet, paradoxically enough, sufferinglinked with knowledge and understanding, also appears to be a normal step which accompanies the characters along their quests and journeys into nothingness, into nakedness, into exposure and into madness. And back from those journeys, suffering allows the characters to get answers to their questions, to get their real status and legitimacy back, to reach restoration of their own selves bydiscernment and recognition of their own mistakes, and to reach a new, better order in the best cases. However, in the worst cases, suffering leads the characters to live paroxystic experiences through a tragic fate, death principally and even symbolic suicide. Indeed, remembering the fact the play verges on the Absurd, the course of action irremediably converges towards the universal triumph of death, itneither leads us to the vision of a transcendental and inescapable justice nor to that of an ultimate nothingness. Discovering then the meaning and the origins of “the suffering body” and the ones concerned by it, is what I will try to analyse in a first part. Then, as “the suffering body” is a necessary experience which is achieved through the succession of several processes, I will study whysuffering is more convincingly apprehended as a remedy leading to a cured body. The resulting thrust into the realm of the Absurd will be explored in a final movement hinting that “the suffering body” is doomed to experience the ultimate throes of death.
I. Meaning, origins and people who suffer from it.
The origins of suffering in the play are intrinsically linked to the first faultyepisodes of Act I, scene 1. First, it is Lear’s initial statement that “nothing will come of nothing” that prefigures and predisposes the tragedy of what is going to happen. This is the assertion upon which the king bases, his unnatural rejection of one of his daughters, Cordelia, and it is also the whole transactional process which determines his division of his kingdom/ realm, by speaking theappropriate hyperbolic words and receiving matching land in return. So Cordelia’s answer “nothing” resonates/ reverberates with her father’s words, and Lear’s reply to it triggers the whole tragic action of the play, so that right from the start in fact, Lear appears to be mistaken and proves the whole realm to be faulty in his image. Yet by delegating his responsibilities, separating his bodypolitic from his body natural, by banishing his offenders, the king indulges in a freedom that was not his, but God’s one. This unthinkable and impossible demise creates a self-division, a split between his heart and his head, his public and his private life, which leads him to experience the vulnerabilities of his body natural. Moreover, the wrong use which is made of language, and the trampling on...
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