Poor TomLiving "King Lear"

Poor TomLiving "King Lear"

Simon Palfrey

Print publication date: 2015

ISBN: 9780226150642

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

Poor Tom offers a new model of Shakespearean life, and a new reading of King Lear. It is arranged in two interweaving modes: first, moment by moment analyses of the Edgar-part’s scenes; second, meditations upon possibilities—philosophical, theological, political—generated by the action. Edgar-Tom is a figure without conventional limits, the personification of Shakespeare’s restless, species-traversing craft: at once the distillation and explosion of Shakespearean forms. Poor Tom epitomizes this, as a non-being that possesses the most alarming reality, and in doing so pushes the possibilities of theatrical life far beyond what is customarily allowed. The part incarnates the split-and-spliced, here-not-here morphology of both playtext and playworld. It takes on historical possibility, past and coming, as its own ever-mutating burden: at once a boundary-haunter at life’s extremities, wired for alarming advents, and directly at the cultural center, suffering the world’s necessities. Edgar/Tom becomes a figure of uncanny modernity, indeed futurity, a political and existential potential brought into relief by comparison with various analogues from scripture, art, theology, and philosophy both ancient and modern. He becomes Shakespeare’s most intimate sensor of what cannot be known, and yet may exist; or what cannot exist, and yet may be known. Edgar/Tom thus heralds the limitations of conventional theater. This is a world of echoes, intervals, hauntings, telepathy, irruptiveness, to which the daily senses are never adequate. Its possibilities are discovered only through trusting to voices, and paying sleepless attention. Edgar-Tom alone knows what it means to live—and survive—King Lear.