"King Lear", ‘Divide and Rule’, and Contemporary India: Reading King Lear as a Postcolonial Text to Critique Patriarchal Nationalism in Contemporary India

By Preti Taneja.

Published by The International Journal of Literary Humanities

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published Online: October 16, 2014 $US5.00

Shakespeare’s tragic masterpiece is deeply concerned with patriarchy linked to kingship, gender relationships and familial control. Opening as it does with a partition of land, the play provides an extraordinary literary lens through which to explore and critique attitudes towards nationalism and gender in contemporary Indian society. These attitudes include the importance of ‘dowry’ and women’s roles as objects of material exchange between fathers and husbands, their considered ‘nature’ in bearing a duty of care to their fathers that eclipses all others, and their position, as Partha Chatterjee argues, as the embodiment and custodians of the spiritual purity and conscience of the nation and of its men. These are the norms both in Lear’s world and in Indian society, ancient and modern. Yet women’s marginalisation is accompanied, both in contemporary India and at the start of 'King Lear' by silencing and personal poverty in pointed contrast to power’s verbosity and material wealth. By considering responses to the play in the Indian context, and parallels between the play and Indian society, I show how the culture of ‘divide and rule’ in state and family lies at the heart of 'King Lear' as it did in India's Independence struggle, giving rise to war over contested land and women as representatives of it. Drawing on critical theory including feminism, Marxism and presentism, I will argue for a new postcolonial reading of the play and a fresh way of considering its dialectical relationship to India today.

Keywords: India, Shakespeare, King Lear, Postcolonial, Gender, Presentism, Contemporary Literary Theory

The International Journal of Literary Humanities, Volume 11, Issue 4, October 2014, pp.29-37. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published Online: October 16, 2014 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 413.716KB)).

Dr Preti Taneja

Leverhulme Postdoctoral Research Associate, Jesus College, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, UK