A Crown Divided: Lear’s Two Bodies

By Anthony Burns.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

William Shakespeare, when writing King Lear, questioned the powerful existence of the sovereign, and created a troubling scenario questioning what happens when the sovereign relinquishes power to those not worthy to lead. By placing a finger upon a map and dividing the lands between his daughters, Lear creates a schism inside his kingdom. Lear symbolically ripped his kingdom asunder, because he thought he was creating a state where he would still wield the power of the sovereign, but would no longer have to deal with the heaviness that comes with wearing the crown. However, in dividing his kingdom, he separated himself from his citizens, and relinquished the source of his power. Sadly, in creating a will for separation between the Sovereign and his people, Lear made himself a sovereign’s exception and named himself the homo sacer (a theoretical figure that is worth absolutely nothing in a society). Once exiled from his kingdom, the audience sees Lear exemplify the homo sacer figure, one who resides in zoé, or bare life, and must compete with nature to survive.
The penultimate example of Lear’s new transformation happens in during Act IV. Lear, in his desire to regain his kingdom, fashions a crown of shrubs and then places them upon his head. In this moment, we see Lear attempting to recreate his sovereignty, but only being able to place this false crown upon his head, a crown, and an act, that represent nothing. My essay deals with the political figures of Karl Schmitt’s Sovereign, Giorgio Agamben’s homo sacer, and Shakespeare’s King Lear. It expands upon the theory that King Lear represents throughout the play both the figure of the sovereign and the homo sacer; characters that symbolize the two sides of the proverbial coin conceptualizing the political body.

Keywords: Homo Sacer, Sovereign, King Lear, Giorgio Agamben, Karl Schmitt, William Shakespeare, Politic

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 9, Issue 7, pp.83-94. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 806.761KB).

Anthony Burns

Adjunct Faculty, English, Tarrant County College, University of North Texas, Bedford, Texas, USA

Anthony (Tony) Burns is a MA Graduate from the University of North Texas.

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