Agnostic Shakespeare? The godless world of king lear

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

12 Scopus citations


Just how daring was Shakespeare in imagining – and testing – the limits of religious belief, order, faith, and divine powers in the widespread providential culture of early modern England?; In particular, what does a dark experimental tragedy like King Lear, set in a pre-Christian world, tell us about the later Shakespeare’s willingness to examine a brutal world in which neither a Christian God nor “the kind gods” (to borrow Gloucester’s words, 3.7.35) respond to human savagery and suffering and offer any hope of consolation?; What does this tragedy about extreme old age, the devastating loss of a king’s political authority, the fragility of human life, and the shattering of the moral order tell us about Shakespeare’s exploration of a world in which there indeed seems to be no ultimate role for “providence” in human affairs?; To what degree did tragic drama itself enable Shakespeare to speculate in exceptionally daring, radical, and skeptical ways about religious assurances and beliefs in relation to catastrophic events?; This chapter attempts to address these questions and to do something more: to argue that Shakespeare was capable of taking great risks when it came to dramatizing religious beliefs (or their absence) and daring enough to write a drama that imagines a dark, pitiless world without God or gods in an age in which providential thinking dominated religious culture.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationShakespeare and Early Modern Religion
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781139208147
ISBN (Print)9781107026612
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


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