The Promised End: Some Last Words on 'King Lear'

A.P. Riemer


I find it curiously appropriate that my last academic or scholarly public lecture l should be concerned with King Lear, because more than thirty years ago my career as a literary critic began with an essay on the play published in a literary journal which has long since vanished from the face of the earth. In preparing for what is in effect a valedictory lecture on Shakespeare - for after leaving the university in July I intend to devote my time to writing and to literary journalism - I found a copy of that ancient periodical and read an essay which I had long ago forgotten yet an essay that proved curiously and embarrassingly familiar.

My main reaction to it was largely one of embarrassment. The essay was very much the work of a young man: ambitious, full of self-importance and more than a little impressed with himself. In four or five thousand words I set the world right on King Lear, sweeping aside the scholarship and criticism of the past to offer my own, unique and indisputably correct version of Shakespeare's tragedy. Nowadays I am not so convinced of the inevitable rightness of my literary opinions - or perhaps I have evolved a critical style that seems less arrogant, more modest. I would no longer presume to give a definitive reading of a mysterious and self-renewing work of art in fifty thousand let alone five thousand words.

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