The Dialectics of Speech and Silence in Shakespeare’s King Lear

Bilal Tawfiq Hamamra


This article deploys the critical lines of new historicism, feminism and performance studies to argue that Shakespeare’s King Lear is a critique of King James I’s absolute authority and the destructive ideology of gender difference via the binary opposites of speech and silence. A new historicist reading would argue that the dominant male powers in King Lear eliberately foster the subversive behaviour of others (Cordelia, Regan, Goneril, Edmund) in order to crush it publicly and so assert their dominance. However, in this paper, I argue that King Lear is a trial of language, ending with the renunciation of patriarchal speech and the subordination of male figures to Cordelia’s silence. Following materialist feminist criticism, I argue that Regan and Goneril are reproducers of the masculine ideology of power, property and linguistic domination. While Shakespeare criticises male figures’ absolute voices that are ventriloquised by Regan, Goneril and Edmund, he represents silence as a subjective space of truth and honesty and a site of rebellion against unjust speech as illuminated in the figure of Cordelia whose silence undermines Lear’s game of words.


Silence; Speech; Absolute authority; Ventriloquism; Madness; Boy actors

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