This essay argues against Shakespeare critic David Kastan’s nihilistic reading of King Lear. While I agree that nothingness lies at the heart of the tragedy, I maintain that the recurring theme of nothing does not depict a world devoid of meaning. Rather, Shakespeare suggests that the recognition of the abyss is necessary in the quest for higher meaning. I approach this debate through various philosophical lenses, presenting a reading that equates wisdom and nothingness. Cordelia’s recognition of the limitations of human knowledge first introduces this idea. I detect elements of the divine nature of nothingness in the seemingly nonsensical speeches of Edgar and the Fool, illustrating the nature of divine truth as being something outside the realm of human understanding. Lear, dismissing this divine wisdom as false, consequently falls into a state of diseased madness as he consumed by his obsession with material reality. And so, I hold that Shakespeare ascribes meaning to nonsense, asserting that only through the recognition of nothingness can one approach divine truth.
"Something in Nothing: A Discussion of Madness and Wisdom in King Lear,"
The Criterion: Vol. 2018
, Article 6.
Available at: https://crossworks.holycross.edu/criterion/vol2018/iss1/6